USC plans Fall 2021 events in light of the coronavirus

Graphic of people in a Zoom meeting and a building.
USC’s 2021 commencement was the first large in-person event held since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, with almost 15,000 students and 30,000 guests attending the 14 ceremonies. (Isabella Melendez | Daily Trojan)

Fourteen in-person ceremonies later, USC’s 2021 commencement was the first large in-person event held by the University since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, drawing almost 15,000 students and 30,000 guests to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in mid-May. Since then, University officials have utilized the outcome of commencement as a foundation for planning more in-person events for the Fall 2021 semester.

According to Associate Vice President of Cultural Relations and University Events Adam Rosen, almost 1,000 people contributed to executing in-person commencement, with 350 people staffing each of the 14 ceremonies. Individuals from various departments contributed, the main ones including Cultural Relations and University Events, USC Department of Public Safety and the Coliseum.

“I think we’ve all become more versatile … In the future, I think we’ll have a level of hybridity to [large events] and it’ll be a combination, or there’ll be things that are only done in person or only done virtually because of one reason or another,” Rosen said. “I think it makes us much stronger to have gone through this [pandemic].”

Rosen said he believes some events conventionally held in-person may transition to the online modality, taking into consideration the positive feedback received from virtual audiences at events this past year and the capacity limits that venues present.

“There are so many events that we identified where our audiences were far larger than they would have been had they been in person, whether that was about the capacity of the venue they were in or the ability to watch it from your couch in your pajamas,” Rosen said.

However, as USC prepares for the Fall 2021 semester, it is not clear what the coronavirus guidelines from Los Angeles County and the state will look like when the semester begins. For now, Rosen is using Gov. Gavin Newsom’s June 15 deadline to fully reopen its economy as a sort of litmus test for University guidelines for large gatherings.

“I personally feel like we’re going to be in some type of distancing and some level of masking and capacity limit for a while. I don’t know that June 15 is going to remove all of those, but California is doing great on keeping infection [rates] down and we keep dropping in tiers which is amazing,” Rosen said. “I’m hopeful that by the fall, those limits will be as minor as possible.”

Dan Stimmler, vice president for auxiliary services and chief operating officer of the Memorial Coliseum, has overseen the work business operations and auxiliaries have done with the USC Office of Environmental Health and Safety and USC Student Health. The different departments have come together to create a comprehensive team ready to act on the ever-changing status of coronavirus guidelines throughout the last year.

With infection rates decreasing and the number of people getting vaccinated increasing, Stimmler is hoping to see 100% occupancy for football games.

“Obviously, we’ll react to whatever status COVID is at, and we will adhere to the county and state guidelines that they lay out for us, but my personal thought is, if we continue to come out of COVID as strong as we are, then we should be able to host a full season of games with fans,” Stimmler said.

Although it is still unclear that the University will mandate mask-wearing, safety measures, such as serving meals in containers, social distancing and wearing face masks may be implemented to ensure spectators are safe at games.

Stimmler, who also works with operations at USC Housing, said their goal is for dorm rooms “to have double occupancy and as normal of an academic year and housing as we possibly can.”

“From an operational side, we have enhanced safety measures and cleaning operations that adhere to standards that have been developed over COVID,” Stimmler said.

Additionally, Student Affairs is developing programming for incoming sophomores who did not get to have the freshman experience in the hopes that the transition from being away from home for the first time and meeting new people can be facilitated by support from the University.

Miko Mariscal, a rising sophomore majoring in sociology, is excited for big in-person events, however, with slight apprehension.

“I’m excited for them, of course, because things are getting better, but I am still worried about harming the communities that surround USC and especially because everyone’s excited to party and get back to normal,” Mariscal said.

Even though Mariscal has been a college student for a full year, she has not had the opportunity to experience campus life and is looking forward to the simplicities of going to the library, exercising at the gym, taking a walk and anything else that gives her the chance to step away from her computer and get a change of scenery.

Mariscal said that being at home has made her feel stuck as a high school student, but that, after waiting an extra year to move in, she is more than ready to be immersed in the USC community.

“I kind of still feel like I’m in high school. Maybe it’s just a lot of the people that graduated during 2020 that feel this way because we never really had our college transition moment,” Mariscal said. “I’m excited for what USC can bring me with experiences and being immersed and being seen as a college student, things like having the North Face backpack and the bike.”

Ben Miller, an incoming junior majoring in chemistry, is looking forward to returning to campus and attending large events such as football games, as long as guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are followed. Miller said it’s the “small things” that he misses the most. 

“I love just walking around the campus,” Miller said. “It sucks just in between classes sitting in your bed and then logging on to the next class. It’s always more fun to see people skateboarding around when you’re going from class to class.”

Students are not the only ones anticipating the move-in day. Magnolia Ycasas, whose daughter Ina, a rising sophomore majoring in writing for screen and television, is all for her daughter going to campus in the fall. Though she worries about large gatherings, Ycasas feels more comfortable with Ina going to them knowing she is vaccinated.

“As a parent, I’d like her to experience all those events, especially because [the students] missed out on so much,” Ycasas said.

After over a year of distanced working and learning, USC officials and students are eager not just for big events like tailgating, football games and parties but also for the return to daily campus life.

“I just think the general sentiment in enthusiasm is high,” Stimmler said. “Where it was so fun before when you meet new students in the first week of school, I think that will be amplified by 20. The first home football game, I think that’s going to be amplified by 20 too, because people are ready to get back to normal life and experience all those things for the first time again.”