Private universities need to invest in public service

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Students love to fantasize about college being their first taste of the real world, freedom and independence. Similarly, parents consider these four years of undergraduate education to be the most instrumental in shaping their children’s futures. USC embraces this idea of existing in the “real world” quite literally; its structure is a microcosm of greater American society and government. The resemblance at a student-level is uncanny, with our Undergraduate Student Government formed through a combination of appointees and elected officials just like our federal government. 

Unfortunately, yet not at all surprisingly, our University’s institutionalized anti-Black policies and elitist conduct mimic that of the federal government and the officials in Los Angeles all too well. 

The Los Angeles Police Department is one of the most violent in the country, shooting an average of 45 victims each year. Since May and the beginning of a series of mass protests, Black Lives Matter LA data tracking revealed that officers fatally shot 11 people. 

The USC response? Well, for one, the USC community waited for five days after George Floyd’s murder before receiving a performative statement from President Carol Folt. Beyond that, the administration failed to meet students’ growing demands for a strong anti-racist institutional stance. Activists have been pointing to numerous administrative policies that perpetuate anti-Blackness both on and off campus, including the disproportionate policing of Black students and community members by the Department of Public Safety and the immortalization of a known eugenicist and a former USC president. 

Pair these blatantly insensitive and discriminatory practices with the testimonials of Black students on campus evidenced through the @black_at_usc_ Instagram account, an anonymous student testimonials page of the experiences of Black students on campus, and we arrive at the image of a university fundamentally at odds with its mission to champion “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion are words that cannot be thrown around lightly. It is a travesty for the University to take a surface-level oath promising to ensure these three pillars are met for every single Trojan yet fail to enact substantive reform. 

USC is one of the richest and most well-connected schools in the country, yet as the old adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. This phrasing suggests that the powerful automatically embrace a sense of duty to a greater purpose, which is hardly ever the case. Having great power must come with great responsibility because power without responsibility is fundamentally unchecked abuse. 

Universities are microcosms — small worlds emblematic of the larger society. If our University is to be representative of the American people, then USC needs to work far harder to achieve true inclusivity. 

This means critically evaluating and implementing the demands from student organizers in recognized student organizations such as the Black and Latinx student assemblies and USC Students Against Labor Exploitation. This means hiring more Black and Indigenous staff, divesting from DPS and most importantly making a concerted effort to diversify the student body. Students of color, in particular Black, Indigenous and Latinx students, want to attend universities that recognize their lived experiences rather than ignore them. Every student desires a university that works in their best interest, not one that bends its morals under the weight of a more prominent, wealthier force. 

Fostering a vibrant educational environment means serving those in the surrounding communities as well. USC can do far more to connect with the public high schools in Downtown Los Angeles and provide them with educational and extracurricular programming, thereby doing its part to combat the pervasive educational inequities that elite institutions inherently tend to perpetuate.

We are living in a historic moment, one of intense division yet simultaneously a fervent desire for transformative change. The University can engage in the latter, but only if the administration realizes that the USC image thrives because of our community of students and faculty, not in spite of it. Instilling a strong, Universitywide commitment to equity within all Trojans demands administrative action first. Listen to the students who genuinely want to see the University progress, and fight on alongside them — not against them.