Daily Trojan Magazine

Letter to the Editor: Our queer leaders cannot be collateral

President Carol Folt, Vice President for Student Life Monique Allard and Assistant Vice Provost for Student Life, Student Equity and Inclusion Naddia Palacios, we charge you with perpetuating homophobic violence.


(Vivienne Tran / Daily Trojan)

Content warning: This article contains descriptions of homophobia and violent discrimination against LGBTQIA+ students.

To President Carol Folt; Vice President for Student Life Monique Allard; and Assistant Vice Provost for Student Life, Student Equity and Inclusion Naddia Palacios:

We are shocked, pained and horrified that two queer members of the Student Life Free Expression team, Megan van der Toorn and Kiara Dade, have been used to attack and silence students within the USC Divest From Death Coalition.

A significant portion of the students participating in the Gaza Solidarity Occupation were queer; and yet, van der Toorn — director of Student Equity and Inclusion Programs Intercultural Services, including gender equity programs and the LGBTQ+ Student Center — and Dade — coordinator for Justice Equity Diversity Inclusion Programs — have been harbingers of the administrative regulations which deprived students of basic needs such as safety and protection from police brutality. They’ve witnessed firsthand the intimidation and suppression by the USC Department of Public Safety, and yet their roles on the Free Expression team constrain them to spewing rhetoric about “acceptable” forms of protest.

During the encampment, van der Toorn and Dade acted under the guise of liaisons, communicating with student negotiators with the veiled intention of forcing students to decamp. They continually prefaced with concerns for our safety and well-being, while making decisions that compounded the trauma we experienced on the first day of the encampment, such as prohibiting students from using blankets while sprinklers went off the entire night. They also positioned themselves as incapable of intervening in DPS’ intimidation tactics and violence, but they had both the duty and agency to speak out against the countless cases of physical assault and careless life endangerment of students. Just hours after the encampment began, footage spread of DPS officers assaulting a Palestinian student organizer, putting him in a chokehold and pinning him to the ground with a knee to his neck, a police tactic that is against DPS policy: “Please note, DPS does not authorize the use of lateral vascular or other neck restraints.” There is no doubt Kiara and Megan had access to this footage, and yet — instead of stepping in when students were brutalized once again that night — they ignored students’ pleas for lessening DPS engagement. They refused to even acknowledge how traumatizing and unjustifiable DPS’s use of force was when student liaisons (all of whom who are queer) shared their experiences with them.

By serving as tools of a fascist administration, van der Toorn and Dade have willingly allowed themselves to be weaponized, tokenized and reduced to mere instruments of control, all while cloaked in the language of equity and inclusion. As they attempt to maintain the facade of neutrality, they embody the insidious role of peace police, where the oppressed are manipulated into policing their own. This is a continuation of USC’s long history of institutionalized homophobia and violent suppression, exemplified by the 2022 settlement involving the abuse of queer students by Dennis Kelly.

The concept of “Student Affairs” was a Nixon-era policy following the Kent State massacre to install a buffer between university administrations and their student bodies through cultural intermediaries to quell student frustration and anger. Under the distant direction of Allard through the mobilization of trusted queer intermediaries — van der Toorn and Dade — USC Student Affairs has lived up to its intended purpose: to pacify the students who are demanding change and enable President Folt to nefariously misrepresent what students communicate to justify the militarized police violence and brutality.

The pinkwashed tactics Folt’s administration uses to pit queer leaders against their own students serve only to suppress the reality: A disproportionate number of those who have been abused by USC’s aggressive actions toward protesters are queer. Our students were critically misgendered and violated by Folt engaging the paramilitary Los Angeles Police Department forces, which has historically been mobilized to violently dismantle queer liberation organizations. If the admin did not know the majority of protesters were queer, why did they only send two queer SEIP staff as the primary liaisons?

“DPS hasn’t ever made queer USC students feel safe,” said a USC junior who participated in the encampment and spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety. “I remember when my friends and I were sitting on the lawn, and a group of officers yelled out ‘faggots’ at us. When we yelled back, they came and checked our IDs just to flex their power. That’s targeted and intentional queerphobia. It’s indicative of how police forces marginalize queer students and jeopardize their sense of safety on campus.”

Since the beginning of the encampment, the fourth floor has been silent. No one is at the SEIP centers because they have been at the encampments, at citywide protests and standing beside the other queer students of color at universities across Southern California. It is insulting and facetious the way Folt’s administration is attempting to celebrate Pride Month weeks after they barred queer students of color from their only housing, from their graduations and from their communities. There is no pride in genocide.

“We’re having conversations across multiple identities in Student Equity and Inclusion Programs. I want to be intentional about intersectionality and expand our offerings for students to explore gender, gender identity, and gender equity during their time at USC,” said Palacios in an interview with USC Today just one year ago.

We’d like to respond by calling this statement what it truly is: utter flatulence. Despite her history of working in violence prevention and advocacy, Palacios has deployed our queer leaders against students, led police to brutalize students and has done the direct opposite of “supporting” us. For Folt and Palacios, our lives and voices are collateral for their careers.

“For many of us, the LGBTQ+ Student Center has been the first and only safe space we’ve had at USC,” said another USC junior who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. “Megan was someone who I really related to and respected, so this felt like a stab in the back.”

For many students coming from social environments where being openly and explicitly queer was largely discouraged, the center presented a new space where many of us felt we could express ourselves in totality. Now, people who have previously presented themselves as “one of us” have been set firmly in opposition. Van der Toorn is a role model who students admire as an openly lesbian adult in a position of power. The same goes for Dade, who coordinates intercultural and justice-based workshops at USC and works with students at the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs.

“I have watched Kiara advocate for change by educating our classmates about what it means to pursue justice, equity, diversity and inclusion,” said a USC senior who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear for their safety. “Seeing them be used to further student injustice and intimidation enacted by the administration feels contradictory. Now, I am not sure how to navigate conversations with them. I am not sure how or if this trust can be rebuilt.”

This treacherous complicity represents a stark betrayal of our queer community and its radical, liberatory lineage. The recent actions of these leaders diverge from the long history of queer liberation marked by disruptive demonstrations like the riots at Compton’s Cafeteria to The Black Cat Tavern protests and the infamous Stonewall Rebellion. By using its queer leaders to project their own pacifying objectives, the administration has betrayed the trust of its queer students and weakened these invaluable bonds. By placing the responsibility of student suppression onto two queer women leaders in our space, you force them into a corner of contradiction.

Van der Toorn and Dade’s actions have material consequences, reinforcing the administration’s power and perpetuating systemic harm all while queer students are stripped of housing, employment, and education. This is a manifestation of a broader strategy to dismantle and depoliticize our movements. We must recognize and resist these tactics, reclaiming our power and reaffirming our commitment to collective liberation.

We call on readers to demand that USC stop weaponizing our SEIP leaders to suppress the free speech of student protesters. Instead of turning our trusted mentors from all of our cultural centers against our community, the administration must let them do their job, which is to support students, not oppress us. Whether you’re queer or an ally, we ask you to email Naddia Palacios demanding that she release SEIP staff from free expression duties and stop mobilizing against protesters.

Folt, Allard and Palacios — the students, staff and faculty are putting you on the stand. Now you must answer: Who do you serve? ❋

The Student Community of the LGBTQ+ Student Center and Justice Equity Diversity Inclusion at USC is a group of undergraduates who are not affiliated with the Daily Trojan. The group’s letter does not represent the views of the Daily Trojan’s staff.

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