Editor’s note: This story was reported by the Beacon Project, a student journalism initiative supported by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. It is independent of the university’s administration.

Before the pandemic put this year’s college football season on hold, Alpha Phi Alpha, a Black fraternity, had hosted an annual tailgate party for 15 years in a row with Omega Phi Beta, a Latina sorority, at the USC Homecoming game. Most years, the tailgate had been an opportunity for students to connect with alumni, a day of relaxed networking and chit-chat, but last year’s event was met with wire fencing and heavy patrolling by the university’s Department of Public Safety.

Many students who attended the Oct. 19 gathering did not know why the fencing and officers were there, but they suspected racial discrimination was at play, especially because they did not see the same security measures in place at other tailgates on campus.

“Just approaching the scenario, we were instantly bothered by the cage,” said Nadine Isaacs, one of the attendees. “It seemed like we had been segregated.”

Isaacs, an alumna of the Marshall School of Business, had attended the tailgate multiple times in the past, but this was the first time she had seen the group separated from others on campus by fencing.

The heavy DPS presence made many students uncomfortable, she said. “We’re already a Black student body that feels a certain way about cops, just in general. And then you’re just chilling with your hands on your gun. Like, that’s gonna make many of us feel uneasy.”

After homecoming, Isaacs organized a Change.org petition calling on the school administration to address the alleged discrimination and over-policing of Black students at the tailgate.

“Educated individuals simply seeking to be part of the Trojan Homecoming experience were highly regulated by police officers and security,” read the petition. “We are tired of the blatant discrimination and demand the same respect afforded to other organizations on campus.”

The petition, which has more than 800 signatures, was flooded with comments from students and alumni detailing their experience at the tailgate.

Monica Rivera, one of the signatories of the petition, is a 2012 alumna of the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and a former member of Omega Phi Beta. She said many people were upset about the fencing and viewed it as discriminatory.

“What I’ve noticed on campus from previous events is that the only events that are gated are ticketed events,” she said, noting that the joint tailgate was a free, non-ticketed gathering. Yet there was the fence. “As soon as I saw that, I was like, ‘Well, that’s kind of weird.’”

She also noticed the heavy presence of DPS officers surrounding the tailgate, limiting who could enter and exit the gated area. She said that no officers gave a clear explanation as to why this particular tailgate was fenced in.

A 2019 homecoming tailgate party hosted by a Black fraternity and a Latina sorority was surrounded by fencing and patrolled by DPS officers. Attendees said they did not see the same security measures at other tailgates on campus. (Photo courtesy of Monica Rivera)
A 2019 homecoming tailgate party hosted by a Black fraternity and a Latina sorority was surrounded by fencing and patrolled by DPS officers. Attendees said they did not see the same security measures at other tailgates on campus. (Photo courtesy of Monica Rivera)

Patrick Auerbach, senior vice president of alumni relations, said in an email to the Beacon Project that university policy required any registered tailgate serving alcohol to have a six-foot fence “to prevent people from passing alcoholic beverages to individuals under 21” and that “numerous other organizations registered and served alcohol at their tailgates for Homecoming in 2019.”

In a follow-up email, he said this six-foot fencing was used in several tailgates and organizers of the Alpha Phi Alpha/Omega Phi Beta tailgate were informed that fencing would be used.

Rivera said she had never seen this type of fencing at previous years' tailgates.

When questioned about the increased security presence, DPS Assistant Chief David Carlisle said it was an issue of overcrowding, not policing the crowd. “The LA Fire Department and the fire marshal were concerned about the ingress and egress in an emergency and asked us to stop allowing people to enter the tailgate,” he said.

Isaacs said she heard the same concern when she questioned the fire marshal on the day of the tailgate, but she believed the crowd did not seem big enough to warrant the increased police presence. “I looked around where I was standing, and there was nobody near me,” she said.

Following the petition, a group of students and alumni, including Isaacs, met with members of the Office of Equity and Diversity several times to express their concerns with the handling of the tailgate and to hear the administration’s response.

As a result of these meetings, the administration said it would consider changes in fencing for future tailgates. Students repeatedly brought up concerns of the over-policing of events attended by Black and brown students. Those concerns were not directly addressed by the administration in these meetings, according to Isaacs.

“Our demands were written down on paper, we made them very clear, but it just seemed like the meeting was to kind of appease us in a way, like ‘We heard your concerns,’ but that’s about it,” said Isaacs. “There was no sort of administrative action after that.”

The 2019 homecoming tailgate party was not an isolated incident. The Beacon Project spoke to 19 current and former students about their interactions in recent years with the university’s Department of Public Safety. The students and alumni argue these interactions highlight a pattern of racial profiling by the department.

The stories told by Black students and alumni include repeated instances of being stopped on campus by DPS officers and asked to show identification, often while standing next to white students who were not asked to do the same. Students and alumni noted multiple instances where parties and events with primarily Black crowds were shut down more often and quicker than parties attended by mostly non-Black students. All told, these stories reflect a disturbing, years-long trend of DPS officers allegedly targeting Black students.

When presented with a list of incidents, Lauren Bartlett, senior director of university communications, declined to provide comment beyond pointing the Beacon Project to previous statements that senior leadership had shared with the campus community.

Black students and alumni have approached the USC administration repeatedly in the last decade, asking for their issues with policing practices to be addressed, but those concerns have been met with little action beyond empty promises and the creation of ineffective task forces, according to students and alumni interviewed for this story. Now, in a moment of heightened public pressure to create tangible change for Black Americans, USC has rolled out a variety of plans to address racial discrimination on campus. These plans include the revitalization of a Community Advisory Board that will advise the university on how DPS should engage with the community.

Students and alumni worry, however, that these plans are not enough to combat what they view as deeply entrenched biases in DPS policing practices.

“Back even in 2010 and 2011,” said Rivera, “we were arguing on campus and calling for DPS town halls because our friends were getting stopped around the school or around campus.”

STUDENTS STOPPED AND SEARCHED

Racial profiling by DPS remains a part of the USC college experience for many Black Trojans. Over the course of conversations with Black students and alumni, the Beacon Project determined that Black students face disproportionate profiling by DPS officers. Incidents range from minor to severe, but they end up having lasting effects on these students' well-being, making them feel unwelcome and unsafe on and around campus.

One of the most common ways Black students feel racially profiled is when they are stopped by DPS and asked for identification. Black students repeatedly told the Beacon Project they were disproportionately stopped and hassled in comparison to their non-Black counterparts. While DPS says it does not keep demographic information on who officers stop and arrest, student experiences speak to patterns in policing practices.

Jonathan D’Aguilar is a sophomore studying public relations. One night in the Fall 2019 semester, he was returning to his dorm in the USC Village with a group of friends. The university’s security policy requires all students to show ID when entering the Village after 10 p.m., but D’Aguilar and his friends had arrived around an hour before the cutoff. D’Aguilar, the only Black person in the group, told the Beacon Project he was stopped by a DPS guard before he could enter.

“When I started to approach the gate, he asked me for my ID and I told him, ‘No, like the Village is still open, I don’t see why I need to show my ID,’ and he just kept asking,” said D’Aguilar, who said he eventually showed the officer his ID because he was being physically barred from entering the Village and returning to his dorm. D’Aguilar recalled being infuriated by this treatment, especially because no other students in his group were stopped or questioned.

“DPS definitely creates a hostile environment on campus,” he said. “When I come across DPS officers, I just put my head down or look the other way, because they question us more frequently. They watch us closely, more closely than they watch any other students on campus.”

These kinds of stops happen off campus, as well. Gbenga Komolafe, now a senior, lived his sophomore year in Cardinal Gardens, an apartment complex owned by USC. Students are not required to show any identification or swipe in to enter the apartments; they only have to use a key to the gates that surround the complex. Komolafe said he was returning home around 2 a.m. one morning when he was stopped by a DPS officer outside the apartments.

“I was trying to go back home and I unlocked the gate. This DPS officer stopped me and wouldn’t let me in without showing my ID,” Komolafe said. “I didn’t have it on me 'cause I don’t carry it around like that.”

The officer kept him from entering the property until his ID number could be verified, Komolafe said. Meanwhile, other residents walked in without being asked for identification.

“That was really triggering for me,” he said.

Several other Black students interviewed by the Beacon Project shared similar experiences. Those who had not been stopped for ID knew friends who had.

In June 2020, an Instagram account with the handle @black_at_usc began sharing anonymous stories from Black students, alumni, faculty and staff, detailing their experiences of anti-Blackness at the university. Racial profiling by DPS was mentioned in several posts, and many of those stories involved students walking around or studying on campus late at night and being asked by DPS to verify their identities. But there were also stories that took place off campus in the middle of the day.

“DPS saw my friend and I standing in his backyard,” read one anonymous post, “did a full u-turn, pulled into his driveway, got out of their car, made us stop what we were doing so they could ID us… Mind you this was broad daylight around 11 AM. Apparently Black people standing in their own backyard is suspicious at USC.”

LAPD’s shutdown of the May 2013 party resulted in protests, as well as a class-action lawsuit against the department. (Photo by Jeremy Fuster/Neon Tommy)
LAPD’s shutdown of the May 2013 party resulted in protests, as well as a class-action lawsuit against the department. (Photo by Jeremy Fuster/Neon Tommy)

A CLOSED CAMPUS

Stopping students to check for identification became a common part of DPS policing practice in 2012. Concerns about student safety were heightened after the April 2012 murder of two Chinese graduate students, Ming Qu and Ying Wu, who were shot in a car one mile from campus. Six months later, four people were shot when a gang member fired into a crowd at an on-campus Halloween party. In response to those incidents, USC implemented new security measures, including an increase in the number of DPS officers patrolling campus and the surrounding area, as well as restricting entry to campus every night between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The implementation of a closed-campus policy gave DPS the power to check the identification of every person entering campus after 9 p.m. and to stop anyone on campus who was suspected of not being a student or employee. When asked how DPS officers are trained to determine potential suspects, DPS Chief John Thomas explained that officers are taught “there has to be reasonable suspicion and probable cause” and to use methods of “constitutional policing,” though he did not point to specific training protocol.

Both Chief Thomas and Assistant Chief Carlisle expressed a desire to develop further tools and methods to shed light on officer biases in their stops.

Many students have raised issues with these seemingly unchecked powers to stop and search, as it can allow officers to act on their ingrained biases. In the 2019-20 school year, only 5.3% of USC students identified as Black.

This situation creates tension between Black students and DPS, said Jaya Hinton, a junior at USC and co-director of the Black Student Assembly. “This fear of police is so deeply ingrained in Black people, just as much as white supremacy is ingrained in the police.”

Ola Bayode, who graduated in 2013, recalled racial profiling being an inescapable reality for Black students during his time at USC. One evening in his final semester, Bayode told the Beacon Project, he was walking on campus when a DPS officer stopped him and asked for ID.

Suddenly, Bayode said, the officer pulled a gun on him, claiming he fit the description of a suspect in the area. Under duress and frustrated by yet another unjustified run-in with police, Bayode said he spit on one of the officer’s cars. For this reason, his subsequent attempt to file a complaint landed him in the USC Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards office.

“I got in trouble for it,” he said. “I had a disciplinary action for it because I ended up spitting on their cars after they had pulled a gun on me.”

An anonymous post on the @black_at_usc Instagram described a similar interaction with DPS: “They took my USC ID and went back to their spot, comparing it to the picture on their phone. They come back and give me back my ID, with the explanation that there was a ‘suspect’ in the area and they wanted to be sure I wasn’t him They showed me the photo - it was a 50-year-old man with graying hair who bore no resemblance to me.”

Another anonymous post explained the environment of fear created by these interactions: “Non-Black students at USC will never understand the feeling of reading the suspect description of a DPS report and making sure you don’t wear similar clothes to that for at least a week.”

BEYOND STOP AND SEARCH

Along with being unnecessarily stopped and asked for identification, Black students experienced several other forms of profiling by DPS officers, according to interviews conducted by the Beacon Project.

Kalan Leaks graduated from USC in 2016. In the spring of his junior year, a concerned friend made a wellness check call to Campus Wellbeing and Crisis Intervention. When there is strong enough reason for concern, that office sends DPS officers to check in on the student. Those officers are supposed to help the student call counseling services and speak to a mental health professional.

That afternoon, four DPS officers in full uniform arrived at his door, said Leaks. The officers asked if they could come in, and Leaks said no. “They came in anyway, so I was like, ‘Why did you ask if you’re going to come in anyway?’” he said. “Within the first 15 to 30 seconds they put me in handcuffs, and I was not being violent at all.”

Leaks said DPS acted with unnecessary aggression when they handcuffed him for around 80 minutes. An officer held a phone to Leaks’s ear for the call to USC Student Counseling Services, as he was still in handcuffs. He was only uncuffed after an LAPD officer came to his apartment and verified he was OK to be released, according to emails sent by Leaks to the Office of Equity and Diversity following the incident.

Leaks believed the situation would not have unfolded the way it did if he were white. “It’s like a Black guy with suspected mental health issues, you know, that’s a double whammy.”

Research conducted at UC Berkeley has found the intersection of Blackness and mental health can result in increased scrutiny and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.

After the 2015 incident, Leaks said he spoke to employees at the Student Counseling Services and reported the incident to the Office of Equity and Diversity, who said they were deeply disturbed with the way the wellness check was conducted. In 2018, DPS formed a Crisis Intervention Unit made up of four officers who receive specialized training to effectively deal with individuals undergoing mental health crises. According to Assistant Chief David Carlisle, these officers work closely with the Campus Wellbeing and Crisis Intervention office to effectively respond to wellness checks on a case-by-case basis.

Students aren’t the only ones subjected to race-based profiling by DPS. In a 2013 story for StreetsBlogLA, Sahra Sulaiman walked the neighborhood around campus, speaking with approximately 50 Black and brown young men and boys. Nearly all of them told stories of being stopped and harassed by DPS officers. Some were even frisked and handcuffed.

In 2015, Empire actress Taraji P. Henson said in an interview that her son had been racially profiled and stopped on campus for having his hands in his pocket. The actress had planned to enroll her son in USC, she said, but would be sending him to Howard University, instead. DPS Chief John Thomas said afterwards in a statement that it was unclear which law enforcement agencies were involved, but he was “deeply disturbed” by these allegations, adding that he had “personally experienced racial profiling as a teenager.”

In a town hall with constituents in fall 2019, Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson shared his own experiences of racial profiling by DPS. In response to a question about DPS targeting “undesirable” people, Harris-Dawson said he had been stopped and questioned when coming to campus to work out while wearing gym clothes.

One of the more heinous examples on the @black_at_usc Instagram account describes a late-night encounter with a DPS officer who allegedly used racist and transphobic slurs: “After walking past and the DPS officer being able to see my face closer under a street light, he used the T-slur and N-word to refer to me under his breath. I’ve never picked up my pace quicker to get away from a situation.”

After a concerned friend called in a wellness check on Kalan Leaks, four DPS officers in full uniform arrived at his door. He said they couldn’t come in. They put him in handcuffs. (Courtesy of Kalan Leaks)
After a concerned friend called in a wellness check on Kalan Leaks, four DPS officers in full uniform arrived at his door. He said they couldn’t come in. They put him in handcuffs. (Courtesy of Kalan Leaks)

STUDENTS NOT COMFORTABLE FILING COMPLAINTS

Though students of color say racial profiling is all too common in the USC community, the incidents often go underreported to university officials. Many of the students interviewed by the Beacon Project attributed this discrepancy to not feeling comfortable filing a report, as well as an unclear and unpublicized process for doing so. Few of the students and alumni interviewed for this article had filed reports with the Department of Public Safety or university administration.

To file a complaint, students must navigate the DPS website by first clicking on the “Contact Us” tab, followed by “Give Feedback.” Until recently, The page read, “Complaints against DPS employees may be filed by contacting a DPS watch commander or supervisor and giving details regarding the incident, or by completing the DPS complaint form.” The website has recently been updated to include more comprehensive instructions on filing a complaint against a DPS officer.

Many students interviewed by the Beacon Project said they would not feel comfortable reporting racial profiling directly to DPS, the same group accused of the bad behavior.

Complaints of racial profiling or discrimination are not processed through DPS, however. According to Michael Blanton, head of the Office of Professionalism and Ethics, any complaint DPS receives concerning discrimination is supposed to be forwarded to the Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX, which then opens an investigation into the incident and gathers evidence. If an individual DPS officer is found culpable of racial discrimination, USC’s central HR department determines what to do next, with suggested corrective measures ranging from mandated bias training to termination.

When asked about the number of complaints related to racial profiling by DPS, Blanton said he could not provide specific figures.

As for students underreporting incidents, Blanton acknowledged the system for filing a complaint was not publicized enough and that the process as a whole was unclear. He said he hoped to improve communication to the USC community in the coming academic year.

On June 11, 2020, as demonstrators took to the streets around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, USC President Carol Folt sent an email to the campus community detailing six initial actions the university would be taking to confront anti-Blackness. Among the actions was the reformation of a community advisory board for DPS, “an independent voice advising the university on best practices regarding safety, policing, and the engagement of DPS with our community.” In a July 9 town hall, Folt said the advisory board would report directly to her and that she wanted to “get things right” this time around.

LAPD AND DPS: A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP

The relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the USC Department of Public Safety is a large concern for many on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood, especially given LAPD’s long history of racial violence and brutality.

Since 2014, the two agencies have operated within a Memorandum of Understanding, which allows DPS to act as peace officers within the two square miles surrounding campus. This peace officer designation gives DPS the power to issue personal service citations, conduct follow-up investigations and access LAPD communications, which includes radio transmissions and internal reports. In return, DPS must report any incidents of “significance” and issue daily and monthly reports to LAPD’s Southwest Division.

DPS officers also attend LAPD academies for six months, according to Chief Thomas, followed by additional training from DPS.

In a July 2020 town hall, Thomas said it would be nearly impossible to fully cut ties with LAPD. If the MOU is broken, he said, LAPD would have full policing power over campus and the surrounding area, an unusual step of making a major private university fall under the jurisdiction of a big city police department.

Many students and neighborhood advocates would not want that to happen. In addition to LAPD’s infamous track record of racial discrimination and brutality throughout the city, the violent shutdown of a primarily Black student party remains a vivid memory for the campus community.

It happened in the early morning of May 4, 2013, when nearly 80 LAPD officers showed up at a party hosted off-campus by USC undergrad Nate Howard. The party, attended primarily by Black students, was one of many events in the surrounding neighborhood that night. Howard had wanted his party to run smoothly, so he registered the event with DPS and hired professional private security.

Around 2 a.m., someone called in a noise complaint, and LAPD officers were dispatched to break up the party. The first few officers to arrive told the host to turn down the music and have the crowd disperse. As people began to leave, the DJ thanked everyone for attending and made some final announcements on the microphone, plugging his social media and telling guests to get home safe, which prompted LAPD to call for backup.

A video taken by Lamar Gary, an undergrad at the time, showed the officers blocking off the road, preventing students from leaving the area. The situation quickly escalated and students began filming with their cell phones. Though LAPD was the major force shutting down the party, DPS officers were also on the scene, according to the Daily Trojan as well as students interviewed by the Beacon Project.

Rikiesha Pierce, a senior at the time, said several of her friends were tackled by officers for no apparent reason. “At this point, my head is spinning,” she said. “Everything is starting to spiral out of control.” She tried to speak with the officers, she added, but things only continued to escalate.

Bayode was also at the party. The police presence “only created more chaos as they were just tackling people left and right,” he said. “All that does is incite more anger from the crowd.”

Six students were arrested, including Bayode. Several students said they sustained injuries at the hands of LAPD officers.

“I was bleeding from my nose,” said Bayode. “I had scars on my shoulder. I wasn’t the one who actually suffered the most injuries.”

Meanwhile, a party across the street, hosted by a student theater club and attended primarily by non-Black students, was left alone after being given an initial warning to quiet down, according to Pierce, who had briefly attended the other party.

The party was the tipping point following a year filled with tension between DPS and the Black student community. In an op-ed for the USC publication Neon Tommy written less than a month before the May party, Pierce had described several instances of over-policing of events attended by Black students that school year.

“USC has been largely ineffective in addressing this issue for students of color,” she wrote. “Plain and simple, there is no ‘safe’ place for students of color to party.”

Following the May party, a group of concerned students, including Pierce and Bayode, began working to improve the relationship between the Black campus community and both LAPD and DPS. They organized a town hall and held a sit-in. They also filed a class-action suit against LAPD alleging racial disrimination. The lawsuit was eventually settled for $450,000 in Aug. 2016.

“That summer, instead of me doing internships and looking for jobs as I prepare for my life post-school, I’m over here in meetings with the LAPD and DPS talking about sensitivity training for officers,” said Bayode.

After months of conversation, little concrete action was taken beyond a new policy stating that DPS, rather than LAPD, would be the first line of defense when responding to a noise complaint. The department also set up a specific team of “party patrol” officers, which would respond to noise complaints and keep parties under control, according to Thomas. No other changes were made in the department’s relationship with LAPD, he said.

“Those meetings really fell short of their intention,” said Pierce, “because ultimately, once we actually started to have those meetings with senior leadership at USC, and also senior leadership at the LAPD and DPS, we realized that they weren’t really vying for progressive change.”

Though parties have not been shut down with the same intensity since 2013, similar incidents continue to occur. In interviews with the Beacon Project, many students said DPS responded more quickly and aggressively to noise complaints at primarily Black parties than other parties in the surrounding neighborhood.

Jahnessa Palmer, a master’s candidate at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, attended a Black graduate student mixer a few blocks north of campus in spring 2019 that she felt was unfairly shut down. Palmer said the party was relatively small and quiet, especially in comparison with the many other parties going on up and down the street.

“I want to say there were less than 30 people there and we had very low music playing,” said Palmer. They received an initial warning from DPS officers to turn down the music, she said. They complied, but after 10 or 15 minutes, the officers returned and shut down the entire party. “You couldn’t even tell it was really going on compared to every other party.”

Anaiah Brown, who graduated in 2020, told the Beacon Project she had a similar run-in when DPS came to her friend’s party to address a noise complaint at an April 2019 party. Brown said officers showed up to the party and she agreed to go speak to them. She said the officers aggressively asked her for multiple forms of identification and personal information like her home address. When Brown questioned why they needed this information, the officers became more aggressive. At one point, she said, they told her “they could see where this is going,” which she interpreted as racist dog-whistling. Brown then started filming the encounter with the officers. In the video, Brown asked the DPS officers for their badge information and questioned why they were shutting down the party. The exchange was cordial but tense.

“I felt like if I was a different race, they wouldn’t have addressed me like that,” she said.

When asked about DPS protocol for addressing noise complaints, Thomas said partygoers are supposed to receive fair warning, giving them a chance to quiet down before being asked to disperse. When questioned about the April 2019 party in particular, Thomas responded via email that DPS had followed protocol in responding to a noise complaint.

“The officer spoke to a student who lived at the address, and the student said the music would be turned down.”

Seventy-nine LAPD officers showed up at a party attended primarily by Black students in May 2013. (Photo by Rikiesha Pierce)
Seventy-nine LAPD officers showed up at a party attended primarily by Black students in May 2013. (Photo by Rikiesha Pierce)

INEFFECTIVE TASK FORCES

In 2015, then-Provost Michael Quick formed two task forces in response to student advocacy on racial profiling by DPS. The first was the Provost’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, tasked with making general, university-wide suggestions to improve campus climate. Within that council was a second group called the Community Advisory Board, focused specifically on making proposals towards eliminating racial profiling in DPS policing practices.

The community board barely got off the ground. A roster of faculty, staff, students and community members was announced for the 2016-17 school year, but the board only met twice and no actionable items came out of their meetings.

“These things were just self-aggrandizing one hour ‘meetings,’” Mai Mizuno, an alumna and former member of the Community Advisory Board, wrote in an email to the Beacon Project about the meetings. There was no transparency to the proceedings, she said, which kept the university off the hook from enacting real changes.

Sarah Toutant, a PhD candidate at the Rossier School of Education who attended one of the meetings, agreed, calling the gathering another example of a university throwing together “a task force or a board of some sort and it never goes anywhere.”

Mizuno echoed Toutant, but even more bluntly: “The university administration will happily lean into the theatrics while cheating its audience of students from attaining actual systemic change.”

As for the Council of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the group met several times, but very few of their suggestions were implemented by the administration.

Philana Payton, a current PhD candidate in the School of Cinematic Arts, served on the Provost’s Diversity and Inclusion Council for the 2015-16 school year. In a Twitter thread posted this June, she outlined her frustrations with working on the council. She wrote how a group of students met weekly for almost the entire school year and devoted countless unpaid hours to developing recommendations—only to have most of them go unimplemented.

How much good can a task force do? What power does it have? These questions resurfaced this summer when Folt sent out her email to the campus community detailing the university’s initial plans to combat anti-Blackness. The Community Advisory Board — the same one that got off to a false start in 2015 — and the Diversity and Inclusion Council — which failed to lead to any implementable change in 2015 — were being revived, the USC president announced. The original DEI task force had recommended more than 20 actions, but so far the university had just followed through on two: having deans appoint diversity liaisons in each school and posting the university’s diversity demographic data online. Folt said she would create a new DEI committee of students, faculty and staff, whose “top priority will be to identify structural and institutional processes that perpetuate racism and inequality.”

Students have expressed concern with these initiatives, given the ineffectiveness of previous task forces. Michael Mikail, a junior, published an op-ed in the Daily Trojan about it. “We are past the identification stage,” he wrote.

“So many of the main institutional problems at USC are not ambiguous, and they are definitely not new.” To think so, he wrote, “is to ignore and erase the actionable demands Black community members have consistently brought to the administration well before the recent protests.”

These concerns were echoed by nearly every one of the students and alumni interviewed for this story. Many were doubtful that a task force could remedy years of discriminatory practices and a deep-seated policing culture. Students and faculty have already begun formulating lists of direct demands to hold DPS accountable.

The Black Student Assembly will be working with DPS to develop more in-depth bias training and improve the relationship between the student body and the department. The assembly has directly asked for increased transparency and student involvement in the decision-making process when it comes to DPS.

Others making demands to the administration include the @black_at_usc Instagram page, which asked for the university to divest funding from DPS, and requested additional de-escalation training. The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation asked for a complete defunding of DPS.

CHANGE COMING

On June 8, more than 200 faculty members sent a letter to Folt and Thomas calling for greater transparency on DPS’s budget and policing practices. The initial letter received no response from Folt or Thomas. In a second letter sent a month later, members of faculty called for a stronger and more robust plan for change.

“Creating task forces, adding more administrators and new bureaucracies, holding listening sessions, surveying students, and requiring corporate-style trainings have thus far failed to yield substantive change,” they wrote.

In his interview with the Beacon Project, former student Bayode repeated this concern that task forces were not enough to combat the issues. The problem of racial discrimination is pervasive and ongoing, he said. He said there were already plenty of listening sessions when he was at USC.

“We talked about sensitivity training,” said Bayode. “We talked about doing more in the community to make students feel less threatened by the impact of the presence of law enforcement. None of that stuff was implemented after I left the school.”

Hinton, co-director of the Black Student Assembly, said she was worried about USC’s history with task forces, but she remained hopeful Folt could ensure greater accountability.

“I would look at Folt’s history as representative” of a desire for justice, she said, “as opposed to USC’s history, because USC definitely has a history of ignoring that kind of thing.”

In her July 9 town hall, Folt said she was committed to making meaningful change.

“I actually think we have a chance to do something really effective here,” said Folt, " and to build the kind of safe and welcoming and wonderful community that we want."

On Aug. 4, Folt provided an update on the progress of the university’s diversity initiatives, detailing some of the initial steps being taken, such as the naming of 19 community members to the advisory board for DPS.

Etienne Kabwasa-Green, who graduated in May 2020 and was the lead organizer of USC’s Black Lives Matter march, said that regardless of how it gets done, it’s time for the administration to step up and take concrete action.

“At this point, it shouldn’t be our jobs to ensure our safety,” she said. “It should be on them and they’re not doing enough.”