Students make their voices heard at climate protest

Between the presidential inauguration and the football game, students took time to demand immediate environmental justice

On a Friday packed with events on USC’s campus, student protesters chanted, raised signs, and demanded action as they gathered around Tommy Trojan at Hahn Plaza to protest against climate change.

The demonstration took place just hours after President Carol Folt’s inauguration, and before the men’s football game against the Utah Utes. At a time that could have been buried beneath larger events, a noticeable amount of students showed up to the protest to make their voices heard.

The event, dubbed “The Climate Strike” on social media, was organized by the Environmental Student Assembly (ESA) and Environmental Core (Ecore) - an environmental activism group on campus. Leaders from Undergraduate Student Government (USG) also showed support.

Students on campus joined thousands of protesters around the world demanding climate action.

“Definitely an awesome gathering, more than I’ve seen at a lot of other student gatherings,” said Undergraduate Student Government President Trenton Stone.

President Folt herself even made a star appearance halfway through the strike, greeted by students cheering and chanting, “Carol! Carol!”

Grabbing a megaphone and standing alongside protest organizers, Folt encouraged the dozens of students that gathered, staying true to her early promises of running an administration committed to sustainability.

“It means the world,” she said. “It literally means the world.”

The strike was a positive turn in the day for President Folt, whose morning inauguration was interrupted by student protesters. Students at the protest championed Folt’s dedication to fight climate change, and expressed greater hope for the future.

Last week, Folt restored the Public Transit Subsidy Program, which will subsidize 50% of transit costs for the faculty and staff that enroll.

“Everyone is talking about sustainability to some degree,” said USG Vice President, Mahin Tahsin. “I think that really is unique to the fact that Carol Folt is talking about it.”

Tiana Shaw-Wakeman, a student who organized the event and has been protesting since her freshman year, noted a stark difference in support between Folt and that of USC’s last President, Max Nikias. Shaw-Wakeman said when she hosted her first rally “yelling against [then-President Max] Nikias” in her Sophomore year, Nikias did not show up to address students.

“It’s a monumental shift from what I was used to. I think that signals a change for USC, not just for climate change,” she said.

Students from a variety of disciplines took the stand throughout the afternoon to make their case for sustainability and advocate for the issues that concerned them the most.

Jose Hernandez, a sophomore majoring in industrial engineering, used his platform to encourage students to eat less meat.

“I wanted to deliver a message that actually influence people’s behaviors,” Hernandez said. “If each one of us changes, that’s a huge impact.”

While many saw the strike’s support as a sign of hope for the future, some students noted that a majority of the school was absent; a signal that more support is needed to mobilize change.

“I think it was great, I think the speakers were great, but I don’t think we had enough people,” said Noa Zimmerman, a junior at USC who is also involved in the youth-based environmental group, Sunrise Movement. “There’s power in numbers and right now the indifferent people greatly outnumber the heroes and villains combined so without more involvement change isn’t gonna happen.”

As students filed away from Hyman Plaza at the event’s end, organizers acknowledged it as a first step on to a long road towards a more sustainable future.

“This was probably the most important the history of USC sustainability,” said Nathaniel Hyman, co-president of ESA at USC. “We hope to become a model university in making sure that we can minimize our impact on the environment.”

“My heart is glowing,” said Shaw-Wakeman.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of a student. It is Noa Zimmerman.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakingly referred to ESA as the Environmental Student Association. It is the Environmental Student Assembly.