As students across USC protested during the nationwide Climate Strike last week, a familiar face stood beside them: newly inaugurated university President Carol Folt.
Folt, whose inauguration fell on the same day as the climate protest, has a new vision for the campus. It involves a slew of sustainability initiatives which some USC community members say are going in the right direction.
“Today we are turning a page at USC,” Folt, the first female president of the university, said during her inauguration on Friday.
Amidst helping university recover from recent scandals, Folt has undertaken the goal of pushing the campus in the direction of sustainable environmental practices. An environmental scientist herself, Folt is sharing her passion for lowering USC’s carbon footprint in the community.
The university is working on the 2028 Sustainability Plan, of which Folt will play a major role. Following her inauguration, she held a university-wide zero waste luncheon to kick off the emphasis on sustainability.
Later that day, Folt also joined hundreds of students in the climate strike, organized on campus by the Environmental Student Assembly (ESA) as part of a global student strike.
Andy Wood, a member of the ESA, said the organization is optimistic in regards to Folt’s proposed changes.
“The last administration was pretty much non-responsive when it came to sustainability questions of any kind. And the fact that president Folt has named sustainability verbally as one of her top priorities is really promising,” Wood said.
Wood also said Folt’s attendance at the protest was significant because “she was there to see that 250 to 300 students were coming out on a game day, on her inauguration, during classes just for the idea of sustainability on campus.”
Believing student action and involvement is what drives policy change within university administrators, Wood added, “that’s what actually shows [Folt] that people care and gives her a platform to go to other people in the university.”
While in the past, USC has not put sustainability in the forefront of its policies, Folt is planning to set the bar high when it comes to lowering USC’s carbon, water and waste footprints. And while her initiatives seem ambitious, Wood said he is receptive to the more aggressive stance.
“I don’t think anything is necessarily impractical,” Wood said. “It’s having the courage to set those goals and even if you don’t meet them, setting ambitious goals means you’re closer to where you need to be anyway.”
Folt said she is aiming for a “student-led” presidency. In order to achieve this, “you don’t try to stop protests,” she said, adding that she wants to be receptive to student voices on campus.
In an interview after her inauguration, she said protests should be given a space to play out, and she tried to give the students time when it occurred on Friday.
“I really believe that if you are at a university where students don’t protest sometimes, I don’t know what that university is,” Folt said.
USC student Rachel Hood said that Folt has a large role in setting a sustainability standard for the university.
“If we’re expecting the country, the world, to be more sustainable, the university is the perfect place to start… this is the next generation that is going to continue to implement these things,” Hood said.