Undergraduate Student Government President Truman Fritz resigned his position Tuesday following student outrage over posts on the Instagram account @black_at_usc claiming that he engaged in several acts of racial misconduct and microaggressive behavior.
“[Vice President Rose Ritch’s and my] vision of strength in unity came about from our desire to build bridges, but as I look to the year ahead, I no longer believe this vision is possible with me at the helm,” Fritz wrote in a letter to the student body. “As the leader of USG, I recognize that accountability is exercised as decisive and tangible action meant to bring diverse voices into positions of power. As your President, I recognize that I have lost the trust of those I represent.”
Fritz’s resignation comes after the circulation of a petition calling for his impeachment that has amassed 1,514 signatures to date and a formal impeachment complaint — both organized by Abeer Tijani, a rising senior majoring in global health. The following week, student organizations including the Black Student Assembly and the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment released statements calling for USG to proceed with Fritz and Ritch’s impeachment as well as the resignation of the USG Executive Cabinet.
“After much discussion, our community is in need of a leader who is better suited to represent our views and interests, and will push for a more anti-racist, progressive climate at USC,” BSA shared on Instagram.
In his letter, Fritz wrote that in order to push for the University to uphold equity for all students, his resignation is only the first step in USG’s mission to lead the change it wishes to see as well as a step in his own “longer journey of growth, education and actively engaging in allyship.” Fritz wrote that looking forward, the Executive Cabinet and Senate must create a leadership team that reflects the diversity of the student body in a transparent and thorough process.
“I know my resignation will bring about more questions than answers, but I am certain USG will have more to announce about the succession process soon,” Fritz wrote.
On June 1, Fritz and Ritch wrote that USG and Graduate Student Government stand in solidarity with the Black community in an email to the USC community following worldwide protests against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd. However, Tijani said she felt uneasy once she read about the experiences Black students have had with Fritz that were shared on @black_at_usc, which posts anonymous accounts of anti-Black racism experienced by students, staff, faculty and alumni. She emailed Fritz June 26 calling for his resignation, stating that Fritz’s true commitment to anti-racism would only be evident if he took action in uprooting the system of “deeply-rooted racism” set in place, including within USG leadership.
“I just did not feel comfortable having someone represent my community and also knowing that … Truman has verbally ostracized my community in multiple instances, and then Rose just having this history of silence and not vocally being vigilant about being an anti-racist ally,” Tijani said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “In this instance, I thought the silence was complicity.”
Following Fritz’s statement on Instagram later that day announcing the establishment of an educational initiative and book club within the Executive Cabinet in light of the allegations, Tijani moved forward with a formal complaint calling for his impeachment.
According to USG bylaws, an undergraduate student may file a complaint outlining specific violations of the USG constitution, bylaws or code of ethics, against the president with the Speaker of the Senate, Gabe Savage. Within 10 academic days, the Senate must vote whether to proceed with disciplinary action by two-thirds majority. In line with impeachment proceedings, if Fritz is voted to be impeached, then the Senate will vote to remove him from office by five-sixths majority.
“You have chosen to protect your privilege under the guise of flowery diction and conciliatory promises to ‘do better,’ instead of responding to the demands of your constituents ‘head on,’ in your own words, and truly doing what is best for the USC student body,” Tijani wrote to Fritz in an email, of which she shared screenshots on Instagram June 26.
Through a mutual friend, former USG Sen. Manda Bwerevu, Tijani got in contact with Fritz and Ritch. Alongside Jephtha Prempeh, a rising senior majoring in nongovernmental organizations and social change who has also been urging the University to address anti-Blackness on campus, Tijani said she has pushed to meet with the two to discuss the prospect of impeachment in more detail.
“I feel like what everyone wants to know, especially after Truman’s statement, is why they wanted to keep their posts as president and vice president even after quite sufficient public outcry,” Tijani said.
According to Prempeh, they and Tijani have yet to meet with Fritz and Ritch. While they originally scheduled a meeting June 29, Fritz and Ritch canceled last-minute, citing mental health issues. Tijani said that while she believes their mental health issues are valid as reasons for cancellation, the “elephant in the room” was the fact that Black people are going through struggles of their own in the current social climate.
“To have a system favor you at this time because having access to us to talk to, to help figure out how to solve your problems or build this trust is a privilege of yours,” Prempeh said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “And being able to decide that the outward response is too much for you to handle, rather than thinking that the problems in question are too much to handle for Black students or for other students at USC, that’s another level of showing that privilege.”
For the meeting rescheduled for July 1, Fritz and Ritch canceled again because they needed to “go in a different direction” before they could meet as a group, Prempeh said. To Prempeh, pushing for the meeting almost became a waste of time.
“Just for them to, as leaders, agree to this conversation is a really good thing because at this time, what more can you do than actually speak with Black students?” Prempeh said. “[But] if you’re going to say we support them, or we support this notion that your lives matter, the first thing to do is to show up.”
Additionally, Tijani asked Fritz and Ritch if she could record their conversations to share with fellow students on Instagram, but on both occasions she said she was met with silence.
For the past few weeks, Tijani and Prempeh have been in communication with BSA co-director Jaya Hinton. According to Hinton, BSA did not want to make any public statements or actions until it spoke with the Black undergraduate student community. Prempeh, BSA’s creative experience co-director, said BSA helped Tijani and them bring more awareness to the calls for Fritz and Ritch’s resignation.
“Recognizing that was the first step and kind of backing us publicly and making a statement for the removal of Truman and Rose was kind of just an important step that BSA took to bring some publicity to the issue,” Prempeh said.
Tijani said that moving forward, she hopes students can give Fritz and Ritch the space to be able to reflect on their actions and understand why difficult choices like the resignation of their positions are necessary for a future of anti-racism at USC to be possible.
“Racism is so deeply embedded into every facet of life that you can be a good person and still be racist, but it’s whether or not we’re willing to tolerate that and whether or not we can actually open up and create the spaces for anti-racism to actually exist,” Tijani said.