Earlier this month, USC students used TikTok to document their voluntary quarantine at the USC Hotel after testing positive for COVID-19.
Controversy over USC students staying at the hotel arose on platforms like Twitter and Instagram, where users voiced their opinions about students spreading COVID-19 despite the university’s remote semester.
Instagram account @trojanspreaders, which sarcastically documents large USC student gatherings, said their concerns were about students temporarily living around the campus spreading the virus to majority Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities surrounding USC.
In an interview with ATVN, Alia Atkins, a senior living near USC, said that student gatherings, like those documented on @trojanspreaders, reflect the privilege of USC students.
“The kinds of people that I’m watching walk around without masks are never the people who live in the community. They’re obviously USC students,” said Atkins. “A lot of them seemed to come from privilege, whether it be racial privilege or economic privilege.”
Atkins said she views students who don’t adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, like wearing masks and practicing social distancing, as selfish and uncaring.
“I think it’s crazy that you can be so privileged to the point where you don’t care about anybody around you in your surrounding community,” said Atkins.
The USC Hotel accommodations, while not mandatory for students who test positive, are offered to limit the spread of COVID-19 in multi-person living spaces. Students are given $70 in room service per day, as well as free water and coffee.
Students took to Twitter to voice their frustration about a TikTok posted by user @carebearlover777, whose account has since been deleted, documenting their lifestyle at USC this year and their recent time in quarantine.
The video shows the USC student in a montage of photos from various parties and social gatherings with a subtitle reading, “life in college before September 8th,” before ending with a scene of the USC Hotel room where she is quarantining with the subtitle reading, “Now I have corona.”
User @jawbreakher_ tweeted to USC’s and university president Carol Folt’s Twitter accounts about the TikTok video, asking, “Where are these consequences you speak of for students who are not following health guidelines? Expulsion? Suspension?”
Another Twitter user and USC student, @homeslicedice, also took to Twitter to express their disbelief over the TikTok video.
“Literally what are y’all flexing,” tweeted @homeslicedice. “Being so privileged that you don’t care that you’re putting so many BIPOC folks at risk?”
The @trojanspreaders account reposted @carebearlover777′s TikTok with a satirical caption reading in part, “omg good thing we got to stay at the usc hotel when we caught the ‘deadly virus.’ Imagine sleeping in a hospital bed next to poor people.”
Jennifer Arias, a sophomore, said she takes the behavior shown on Instagram and TikTok seriously as a member of the surrounding community that she said USC impacts the most.
“I grew up in this area. So I really take this very personal because I know that this pandemic could get out of hand,” said Arias. “So many families can suffer from it and they won’t be having the opportunity to stay at a hotel with meals. It’s very privileged, very inconsiderate of the area to be showing that off.”
She sees the @trojanspreaders Instagram account as a way for students to vent their anger at the irresponsibility of those living near campus.
“It’s just a wake-up call that this is how people feel towards you and you should probably be making a change,” said Arias. “We need to respect the community around us that doesn’t have the same resources that USC is providing us with.”
Some of the students making the TikToks argued that their actions were not damaging to the community. Senior Katherine “Kiki” Feldman was permitted to quarantine at the USC Hotel a month ago, despite currently taking a gap semester. She said making TikToks during her hotel quarantine was a way to fight boredom and loneliness.
“Honestly, I was just working all day. There’s not much to do in there,” said Feldman. “So it was a fun way to pass the time and think about something other than the work and being claustrophobic.”
Even though Feldman intended for the videos to be harmless, she did receive some negative comments, mostly from UCLA students who saw the TikToks as Feldman bragging about her accommodations.
“It wasn’t really the intent to brag. It was more of a creative outlet for me,” said Feldman. “There were also high schoolers who left comments like ‘Wow. Now I’m really starting to consider USC.’”
Summer Spiegel, a sophomore who quarantined at the USC Hotel for nine days in September, also made TikToks during her isolation to combat boredom. She said that despite creating videos about having COVID-19, her intent was not to minimize the seriousness of her situation.
“I’m simply not bragging,” Spiegel said. “It’s not like I wanted COVID. It was not fun.”
While Spiegel did not receive any negative comments about her TikToks, she does not agree with the backlash some of the more viral videos received.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making them as long as they’re in quarantine,” said Spiegel. “I feel like it’s not a bad thing. They’re facing a lot of backlash really for no reason.”
TikTok user @carebearlover777 did not respond to Annenberg Media’s repeated interview requests by the time of publication.