USG elects discuss South Central community involvement plans

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Undergraduate Student Government President-elect Divya Jakatdar plans to collaborate with local businesses and vendors to bridge gaps between USC and the South Central community. (Tomoki Chien | Daily Trojan)

Divya Jakatdar and Michelle Lu secured 38.12% of the vote from a field of five presidential slates Feb. 28, and were elected Undergraduate Student Government President and Vice President, respectively. They ran on a campaign platform they named ACT — an acronym for “Accessibility and Affordability, Community and Transparency.” The Daily Trojan reached out to the incoming presidential slate, along with the incoming USG senators, for interviews regarding their approach to neighborhood relations. 

The notion of “community” is a pressing one for USG as the University continuously looks to improve its relationship with the surrounding University Park neighborhood through efforts like the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, the Neighborhood Academic Initiative and TRiO. Currently USG Senators, Jakatdar and Lu have worked on neighborhood involvement and developed further plans for their tenure, which begins April 4. Several senate projects are in the works currently to involve students in their local community. 

“[The External Affairs Committee] is working on the Restaurant Crawl, which would be able to expose USC students to local businesses and small restaurants around the community and have them support local businesses,” Lu said.

The Senate is also working on involving local community members in a project to make food on campus more inclusive, Jakatdar said.

“I’m working on a project to add halal and kosher tags to foods in USC Dining materials,” Jakatdar said. “In our conversations with some of the stakeholders, they’ve mentioned a lack of diversity in our approved vendors list. So one of the things [involved in that process] is seeing what local businesses we should be bringing in to increase the diversity of the vendors that we have.” 

As their term approaches, Jakatdar and Lu said they are formulating plans to foster neighborhood involvement based on their experience leading similar initiatives. Among those ideas are ways to encourage students to get out into the University Park neighborhood. 

“We want to encourage participation [in the community],” Jakatdar said. “In high school, we used to give out ASB cards which had deals at all the local restaurants, so we are seeing if we can also collaborate with local businesses to encourage that kind of involvement.” 

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Senator-elect Halle Schaffer wants to improve student perceptions of South Central, as she feels that many see the area as “unsafe” and “unclean.” (Tomoki Chien | Daily Trojan)

The 12 candidates elected to the USG Senate were also announced at the Feb. 28 meeting. Among those elected was Halle Schaffer, a sophomore majoring in political science, who wants to prioritize improving what she sees as a negative perception that many USC students have of the neighborhood in which they live. 

“I sense a very negative connotation from USC students about the South [Central] community,” Schaffer said. “There’s a perception that everything is super unsafe and it’s unclean and that you kind of just want to stay in your bubble at USC. And I think our role at USG is to try to bridge that gap and break down these misconceptions and stereotypes of the South [Central] community.”

Among the new senators-elect is Rudra Saigal, a sophomore majoring in economics, who said he wants to utilize USC’s existing student organizations to foster community relationships.

“I would like to work on trying to see if USC can provide more resources and support to RSOs that are already involved a lot with working in the community,” Saigal said. “[These RSOs] have had difficulties with funding, so trying to streamline that process for them, trying to see how USC and USG can best help them.”

Bryan Fernandez, a freshman majoring in political science, wants to connect with local youth through USC athletics in his senate tenure. 

“In the non-big basketball games, it’s pretty empty,” Fernandez said. “I want to see if we can work with athletics to give out some tickets to the South Central community and invite them to campus.”

Above all else, the incoming USG officials encouraged students to get involved and explore their local community. VP-elect Lu praised USC’s weekly farmers market as an example of that.

“Being able to bring in local vendors and have students be able to purchase food and other items are a great way to get the community involved and for students to see the positives that the community has to offer,” Lu said. 

Jakatdar and Lu said they will continue to seek feedback on their community involvement efforts, as well as the rest of their work in office. 

“We’re definitely open to input especially as we kind of formulate our priorities over the next one and a half months,” Jakatdar said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the Restaurant Crawl as a Senate project. The External Affairs Committee, which is in charge of the project, is not part of the Senate.