University Of Secluded Children: What It Was Really Like Being A Black Student At USC


To The President & The Entire USC Admissions Committee:

Since the day of my acceptance into the University of Southern California, the promise of an all-inclusive “Trojan Family” had resonated with me so deeply that I had committed myself to this institution, asking for nothing more than what this campus seemingly already had to offer to its community. In fact, I was convinced that it was one of those “pressure points” that prompted my decision to join the best network of mindfully engaging students.

Especially coming from the East Coast, it goes without saying that finding a community is an integral part of a student’s general well being on campus, and so naturally, I felt comfortable knowing that USC builds community upon the five traits of a Trojan, which is rigorously instilled in your admission pamphlets. And yet while I accept the reality that I am not a freshman anymore, but a graduating senior, I am still compelled to ask: what would our campus look like if these traits were truly represented? If I am not being clear enough, where do black students fit in these descriptions?

I am not writing to express my concerns with the growing problems of the black community because truthfully you are not equipped to answer these questions without a clear understanding of how these issues are treated at the micro-level, specifically in our own campus. I am writing to question why I have been a part of this community for four years, and still have to show my Student ID to get into Leavey Library before night hours. I am writing to question why I have to carry a backpack at night because clearly I cannot be a student if there is nothing characteristic about me that would support my cause when I say, “I am just walking home.” I am writing to question why DPS authorities walk me to my classrooms, not for my safety, but for the safety of the other non-black bodies to ensure that I actually attend school here. Like I said, you cannot answer these questions, but maybe I would not be asking them if the picture of the Trojan Family had not painted such a brightly tantalizing image.

While I admit it is difficult to confront these problems almost every day I walk this campus, I think what saddens me the most is that even when the “Trojan Family” is not acting definitively as perpetrators, the faculty and student body at large are unprepared to respond in supportive ways. I would like to think that if minority students were truly part of the family, somebody would stick up for me in class when I am being escorted by a DPS officer for the wrong reasons. You would be surprised how much I am begging to accept that we have an intuitive community of individuals who would lend a voice or an ear when issues affecting any part of our community arise on campus. Still, intuition can be wrong, ignorance cannot always be bliss, and representation is all that is necessary.

I propose that if black students were represented more on campus, then there would be more conversations concerning issues that affect our demographic of people. With more representation comes an attentive generation of students and faculty, and consequently, a devoted effort to unify our campus through conversations and involvement. In the last year, the black incoming class of freshman at USC, including athletes, had been 4% of the entire student body.

In concrete terms, this statistic means that for every one hundred people you find, there are only four black bodies. That seems crazy, right? Granted, I understand that the admission process is getting tougher every year, and that standards for USC are getting higher (which we should be proud about), but what are the metrics that are being evaluated for a candidate, and how are they being evaluated in comparison to the other demographic of students in the pool? I mean, let’s be honest, USC is becoming a reach for everybody, so it is not enough to say that there are more black bodies walking campus than there ever have been before. That is not the point.

The point is that in a world where higher education is getting increasingly sought after by students, it is important to contextualize why this 4% number remains relatively constant every year. Of course, economic interests of the school could perhaps be more paramount than financing students’ education, but I would not like to think that the place I have accepted as my home for the past four years would condone this behavior.

All I am calling to do is to create more platforms for students of color to enroll our university, so that we may adhere to the responsibility of developing that Trojan Family we have claimed has already existed. It simply is not “right” to pride ourselves as one of the top schools with the most diversity when we do not feel that all of us are accurately and rightfully respected enough on campus. I look forward to the day that I would not be asked if I feel “weird being the only black student in class, ” because my responses as of lately have been “don’t you?”

Fight On,

Agazi Desta