Following posts on the @black_at_usc Instagram account detailing racial misconduct by then-President of the Undergraduate Student Government Truman Fritz, a petition with more than 1,500 signatures called for his impeachment. Former Senator Isabel Washington also resigned following the dissemination of crude text messages she sent. Additionally, after allegations of complicity in incidents of racial misconduct and calls for impeachment, Vice President Rose Ritch recently resigned.
This sudden turnover in USG reinvigorated a long-running dialogue questioning if USG adequately represents the entire student body.
Although these resignations may have been the first step in coming to terms with the failures of USG, they are by no means a long-term solution. In order to sustain meaningful change past resignation, USG must enact change within its organization, at its very core, and come to terms with its history of exclusion and lack of representation. However, it is also up to the student body to vote and continue to hold its leaders accountable.
In many ways, the problems of USG are simply a microcosm of the United States government. In the 2018 midterm elections, only 36% of voters ages 18 to 29 cast a vote. With even more dismal numbers, the 2020 USG presidential election voter turnout was just under 24%. Young voters often attribute their disinterest in voting to their feelings that voting is an ineffective way to bring about change or their lack of knowledge about the voting system.
Analysts find that young people feel less invested in local elections, despite the fact that local leaders are essential to making the day-to-day decisions that directly impact the community.
At USC this is no different, as the USG president acts as the bridge between the student body and administration, spearheads student initiatives and leads the executive branch of USG. Students should certainly want to choose who holds a position with so much power.
Abstaining from voting, even at the university level, sets forth a continual cycle of dissatisfaction and lack of engagement. Although increased voting can lead to a more representative candidate, it can only do so much if there is no diversity on the ballot to begin with.
From 2006 to 2014, no women ran for the position of USG president — a fact so astonishing that the Los Angeles Times wrote a piece in 2014 pondering why USC had such few female leaders compared to other student governments. To put it in perspective, six women served as student body presidents at UCLA during this same timeframe. It was not until the 2015 election that USG President Rini Sampath and Vice President Jordan Fowler became the first all-women ticket to win the election in the school’s history.
USG did not just lack gender diversity in elections; from 2006 to 2014, few people of color were elected and almost all of the elected presidents were members of Greek life. In 2014, out of all the men that ran for president, only one was not involved with Greek life.
In 2017, Sen. Daniel Million resigned from his position, stating that as one of only two Black men in USG, he did not feel welcome and witnessed unfair hiring practices and judicial processes throughout his tenure.
It is easy to point out that all of these things happened years ago and ask what relevance it holds today. These issues did happen with different people at the helm of USG. That being said, with the events surrounding the calls for Fritz’s subsequent resignation, it is evident these systemic problems do not simply disappear as new people are elected into office. Lack of diversity and inclusion issues are ingrained in the organization in a way that cannot be easily remedied.
The problem with USG’s priorities are even evident in its budget, which was more than $2 million in the last academic year, with $1.4 million devoted to programming.
Concerts Committee, which puts on events like Springfest, received $600,000 out of this $1.4 million budget. Concerts Committee’s budget is greater than that of the Latinx Student Assembly, International Student Assembly, Queer and Ally Student Assembly, Environmental Student Assembly, Black Student Assembly, Asian Pacific American Student Assembly and Academic Culture Assembly combined.
The discrepancy of budget allocation between entertainment and cultural organizations raises the question of if the statements put out by USG are simply performative. If the organization truly cares about supporting diversity on campus and within the organization, budget reallocation is a concrete first call to action.
The critical way in which USC students interacted with USG in the past few weeks undoubtedly led to changes in leadership. However, if there is decreased pressure on USG and a return to complacency following Fritz’s resignation, students have simply slapped a Band-Aid over a bullethole.
More than just replacing leadership, we must recognize the historical problems USG had, and will continue to have, if left unchecked. The student body must mobilize and increase voter turnout to put who they want into office. On the flip side, USG must create a more welcoming and inclusive space and expand its outreach to make people from a variety of backgrounds, races and cultures feel comfortable enough to run for office in the first place.