Rally for inclusive desks launched by graduate students

A social work student led the protest after her letter to the editor went unnoticed.

Kathleen Rodriguez Makepeace, a graduate student studying social work, organized the event to advocate for plus-sized bodies. (Giselle Nissenbaum)

The Trousdale North Entrance is often lined with booths from various student organizations, outreach groups, and proselytizers, shouting and beckoning for students to come talk to them. But Wednesday afternoon, a group of over 20 protesters, including students in the course “Policy and Advocacy in Professional Social Work,” joined the commotion, holding signs, wrapping themselves up in yellow caution tape and chanting, “One size does not fit all, desks are way too small.”

During the chanting, members of the group went around and passed out fliers that juxtaposed the University’s official definition of well-being — one of USC’s six unifying values — with a generic picture of a classroom with fixed desk chairs. Demonstrators also asked passersby to sign a petition and received 125 signatures by the end of the protest. The group is planning on sending the petition to Facilities Planning and Management, the Office of the Provost and Ann Marie Yamada, the associate dean for inclusion and diversity at the Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

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Kathleen Rodriguez Makepeace, a graduate student studying social work, organized the event in an effort to advocate for plus-sized bodies.

“When we think of accessibility, it’s usually those who are visibly disabled,” Makepeace said. “Plus-sized bodies are usually stigmatized against because there’s a lot of weight stigma.”

Students came from the class to complete their third and final assignment — participate in a “guerrilla protest.” Makepeace said the protest will serve as a useful experience because as social workers, they have to advocate for their clients’ rights. 

Makepeace originally wanted to bring some of the offending chairs from various USC buildings to the protest but decided against it due to logistical problems and fear of getting in trouble with the University. They opted to bring some foldable, uncomfortable chairs of their own.   

“The colors of the chairs we have right now aren’t as vibrant, but the yellow [caution tape] garners attention,” Makepeace said. “It’s caution. Be cautious of the chairs, because sometimes the chairs — they’re uncomfortable to sit in, and they hurt sometimes.” 

This wasn’t Makepeace’s first attempt at advocating for plus-sized bodies. On March 21, the Daily Trojan published a letter to the editor from Makepeace, where she argued it was “time to blame desks rather than our bodies.” She said she decided to organize this protest after the letter didn’t garner enough attention. 

Giselle Nissenbaum, a graduate student studying social work who attended the protest, said it was “disheartening” to be ignored by some of her fellow Trojans. She said she prompted some students to see things from the perspective of a plus-sized person. 

“People [are] not really taking five seconds out of their day to just to hear what’s going on for other students,” Nissenbaum said.

Nicholas Chang, a sophomore majoring in economics who tabled with the Hong Kong Student Association next to the protest, said it was difficult to convince the University to spend money on even the most popular initiatives. He noted that even the petition in March to stop USC from demolishing recreational tennis and pickleball courts to make way for new athletics facilities — which obtained over 1,000 signatures — failed to gain traction with the University. The courts have since been demolished.

“If [the University] caters to every student population and they cater to every need, they would go bankrupt,” Chang said. “Ideally, [USC] makes it more inclusive for everyone. That should be the best-case scenario, but sometimes it’s not possible. But I also admire [the protestors] for coming out and supporting their friends and other people who are suffering.”

Makepeace said she hopes to meet with USC administration to voice her concerns.

“We would want our students to be comfortable where they’re receiving their education because that’s what we all want to achieve, a better education, a better life,” Makepeace said.

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