Protests hit close to home as students raise concern with university practices

USC administration announced their commitment to address issues such as renaming the Von KleinSmid Center and future relationship with the LAPD.

The USC administration is facing criticism for its perceived lack of support for Black students after the death of George Floyd and protests against police brutality formed across the country. Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25 after one of the officers pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nine minutes.

Vice President of Student Affairs Winston Crisp said the administration is using this moment to create lasting change in the USC community.

“I know there have been consultations with a number of faculty members, a number of student groups, student group leaders, employee groups and community groups to begin to create avenues for those kinds of conversations at the wider level,” he told Annenberg Media.

On May 31, six days after Floyd’s death, President Carol Folt addressed the Trojan community through an email to encourage a call to action.

“[Floyd’s death] weighs heavily on all of us. But we are Trojans, united as a university dedicated to the fundamental principles of equality and inclusion, education and discovery for the good of humanity,” Folt stated in her note. “We can make a positive difference, as we have for more than 100 years. I don’t have the answers today, but we will continue to seek them together.”

Folt received mixed reactions to her letter, with some students and alumni praising her leadership, while others were disappointed with the lack of action.

“True leadership. Thank you,” said alumna Prabhjot Kaur in a tweet.

“Thank you President Folt for your leadership,” another tweet from alumnus Joshua Moore stated.

Annenberg Media was unable to interview either of these former students before publication.

One student felt as if Folt’s statement was “neutral” and more for publicity.

“I think her statement was very bland,” said rising senior Ariadna Cruz, who is studying Latin American and Iberian cultures, media and politics, in a phone interview. “She really did not have the urgency that this demands.”

According to Crisp, members of the community, including student leaders, are working feverishly to solidify action items.

“It’s not always possible in that moment to give the details of what will be coming next,” said Crisp. “I understand the disappointment, but I think that people will see in this coming week that we will begin to be able to talk in more detail about a number of ways that we can move forward concretely.”

However, some students find it difficult to have faith in the university. Rising senior Jephtha Prempeh, who uses they/them pronouns, wondered why enduring student concerns remain unaddressed.

“If our system, composed of [Black Student Assembly], [Undergraduate Student Government], [Department of Public Safety], and the provost and the president’s offices, is supposed to serve us and listen to us, yet all these concerns are made and all these problems are named, then I don’t trust that a new conversation is going to bring any new solutions to the table, because that leads me to wonder why weren’t those solutions brought up before,” said Prempeh, who is pursuing a degree in NGOs and social change, in a phone interview.

Before Folt released her statement, Prempeh created a petition criticizing the university’s lack of action regarding the national protests. Titled “Carol Folt and USC MUST Acknowledge the Fight Against Antiblackness,” the petition currently has nearly 6,000 signatures.

“I felt like days had gone by and USC had nothing to say about George Floyd’s killing, about the uprising in the national community in support of Black folks and against police brutality,” they said in the interview. “I just knew that my voice alone probably wouldn’t be heard. I tend to feel very disconnected from many upper administration at USC.”

After Folt released her statement, Prempeh updated the petition to demand more concrete measures from the university.

“I felt completely disappointed [by the statement],” they said. “What is USC actually doing? In the three years that I’ve been here, I’ve heard many different problems circulating that we want to be addressed by our leadership, and yet we are left floundering and almost on our own to deal with the fact that our concerns aren’t being heard.”

Prempeh is preparing to present a list of actionable demands to Folt, which include the renaming of the Von KleinSmid Center (VKC), expanding mental health resources for Black students and the implementation of a non-Greek Black cultural house on the Row.

Following backlash on social media regarding several instances of discrimination against Black students by DPS officers, USG, BSA and DPS planned several meetings to address these concerns.

Student Body President Truman Fritz confirmed in an email that USG is working towards reinstating a Community Advisory Board that once operated above DPS. Faculty members have circulated a petition calling for “shared oversight of USC’s Department of Public Safety and for greater transparency around DPS’s budget, procedures and relationship to the LAPD.”

DPS Chief John Thomas said he plans to implement measures that align with former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which includes building trust, oversight and transparency, and training and education.

Crisp said he has faith in Thomas to make significant changes in DPS’s operations around the university.

“Chief Thomas is resolute about really using this moment, as horrible and tragic as it is, to move things forward,” said Crisp. “He’s certainly going to have my full support in that, and I trust that he’s going to have the support of the university.”

Crisp said that the administration is aware of student concerns and can expect clarification on a number of issues, including the renaming of VKC and USC’s relationship with LAPD, as early as next week.

USC students and the surrounding community have planned a march in support of Black Lives Matter on Saturday, June 6. The university will support the march by providing food and drinks.