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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

USC Student Governments Call For Change In Campus Climate

USC students issue a resolution to improve on-campus diversity.

After USC’s Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath became the target of a racial epithet, tensions grew at the private university among students and student leaders. The event brought to light a much larger problem at the university –a lack of diversity and effective resources and polices to positively affect underrepresented communities at USC. 

Now, student leaders are demanding school administrators implement stronger policies to enforce and address diversity concerns and racial insensitivity. 

“We are asking USC to reprioritize its resources, develop a strategic plan, and show us that diversity is important here at USC by creating something that students can believe in,” said Sampath. 

Weeks of meetings and planning on behalf of the undergraduate and graduate student governments, along with other campus organizations, led to the creation of the “Diversity Campus Climate Resolution.”

The document outlines initiatives campus organizations believe will help move the university on a more unified path. 

The resolution calls for administration to increase access to demographic metrics to students and staff as a method to improve transparency on how the institution handles recruitment and enrollment of people with diverse backgrounds. The resolution also asks that university officials increase the number of students, faculty, staff and trustees to reflect national demographics by 2025. 

The leaders say the policies that are currently in place are not sufficient enough in combating weaknesses in the school’s diversity.

“A lot of things we have in place like our bias and reporting mechanism is reactive. It’s asking students to report on these things after somethings happened to them,” the USG President said. 

Co-director of the Women’s Student Assembly Shyann Murphy said this is not the first time students and administration have confronted the issue of insensitivity and failure in supporting minority communities. 

She said there are many marginalized groups on campus, like the LGBT community, who feel out of place at the institution. Other groups like the Women’s Student Assembly are constantly battling sexual assault cases and only receive small, surface-level changes from the administration, if any at all. 

“We’ve realized if we all come together and we say that we are tired of this and we are tired of admin pushing us away and demand a campus that’s safe for all people from marginalized backgrounds then we can make a bigger impact,” said Murphy. 

The vice president of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry told the Los Angeles Times there is a disconnect between students and administrators over perceptions of the university’s efforts to combat bias. He noted the institution organized a “reporting system for bias several years ago and also handles complaints in an office dedicated to enforcing Title IX federal laws barring discrimination.” 

The program Carry references is the same system Sampath says is ineffective in answering the needs of students. 

Some USC students sympathize with the fight the student governments are waging at the university. 

“I don’t have a problem going to administration about a racial issue,” said USC graduate student Cindy Robinson. “But, it would probably not be my first move because I don’t feel like it would be a priority of theirs to address.”

Professors, too, weighed in on the importance of having students exposed to a diverse faculty. USC law professor Jody Armour said students naturally want to be exposed to faculty members with diverse backgrounds because it provides them with skills to take to the workforce and beyond. But, he says it is especially crucial for underrepresented groups. 

“Diverse professors help students who are in underrepresented groups to see that they too belong in a university setting,” Armour said. “If they look around and they don’t see anyone that’s from their social group as a leader in the classroom, it sends the signal that perhaps they really don’t belong.”

In addition to adding more diverse professors to help address the diversity shortage, USG and GSG have also asked that the university hire a vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion that would be available on a daily basis to help remedy racial mishaps. 

Sampath said the vice president of diversity is perhaps one of the most important sections listed in the resolution. 

“The vice chancellor at UCLA was able to speak out and help the students dealing with incidences of racism after their most recent incident with “blackface.” So, we need somebody like that at USC to be able to take on those incidences and educate our campus community on being more culturally aware and sensitive,” Sampath said. 

The student leaders said the resolution is extremely comprehensive and includes hiring a Title IX investigator because sexual assaults are a part of the problem as well. Sampath said they are taking a look at the problem from all fronts including sexuality, race and ethnicity. They believe the resolution is a crucial first step in getting the administration to act. 

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