USC rolls out the unwelcome mat

A guard closes a portable gate at USC under the new security precautions.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Dontez Sharpley approached the entryway to USC at Jefferson Boulevard and Trousdale Parkway late at night, expecting to make his usual trek through the campus to catch a bus home after a shift at the Starbucks across the street.

But as he walked onto campus, he was stopped by a security guard, who told him he was not allowed to pass through the university unless he was a registered guest. Exasperated, Sharpley, 22, ran along the perimeter before being stopped by another guard at another checkpoint.

“This is ridiculous,” he told this guard. “People getting off of work, trying to go through there and you’re telling them they can’t?”


This week marks the beginning of heightened security measures at USC that restrict late-night guests and require identification checks for all visitors between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Other measures, including the use of fingerprinting scanners at dorms and license plate recognition cameras, are also being introduced this semester.

The changes come after two violent incidents last year rocked USC and prompted new calls for tighter security: The Halloween shooting on campus that left four people wounded, and the two graduate students from China who were killed in a botched robbery less than a mile from campus.

Some students said they like the extra security. Others lamented the inconvenience. But some campus neighbors said the measure goes too far and makes them feel unwelcome.

“It goes both ways for me. Yes, it’s safe, but it can only sour relations with the community,” said USC sophomore Connor Gustafson, who notices many people passing through on their way to the Exposition Line.

Late-night visitors must now be preregistered online by a USC student, faculty or staff member. Outside promoters are also banned from working at USC social events on campus and Fraternity Row.

Until now, people roamed freely off and on USC, with many of them taking the safe, well-lit shortcut through campus. But with the new initiatives, USC closes most of its entrances after 9 p.m., blocking all but eight entryways with iron fences and temporary gates.

USC senior Reggie Mccollumm did a double take Monday night when he walked past the red metal gates."It looks like a prison,” he said, laughing. “This is a joke. I’m sorry, this is awful. Just look at it.”

Some community members say the new security policy may also complicate an already strained relationship with its University Park neighbors.

The increasing number of students living off campus have driven up rents in the neighborhoods, and community leaders say a $1.2-billion expansion project at University Village threatens to gentrify the area and push out the poor.

The limited late-night access fuels the divide, said USC alumnus Hector Sanchez, 32.

“It’s a place where people should be able to access,” Sanchez said. “Slowly but surely, USC is creating this divide of us versus them.”

As a youngster, Sanchez would bypass the liquor stores and gang violence on his way to watch the USC football team practice. He fantasized about one day joining them on the field.

“It makes you dream that you can come here,” he said. “Now it seems like they are trying to do the opposite by closing its doors and making it an unreachable place.”

But university officials said they have spent decades trying to foster strong ties with the community through academic programs that provide a pathway to admission for nearby underprivileged students such as Sanchez.

In an open letter announcing the new policy, USC President C.L. “Max” Nikias described the changes as “a small inconvenience” given how strongly he feels about the safety and security of the campus.

It’s a difficult balancing act, said Anne Glavin, president of the International Assn. of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

“I think USC is responding this way because they have to,” Glavin said. “They have to look at what their first priority is, and that’s their students, faculty and staff.”

Back at the security checkpoint at Jefferson Boulevard and Trousdale Parkway, longboarders, cyclists and commuters slowed to a stop as guards asked for USC identification. Friends were forced to part ways because some were not registered online beforehand. Others tried to make a dash around the gate, only to be promptly stopped by security.

Sharpley, the commuter, hustled to catch the 9:22 p.m. bus to his Baldwin Hills home, taking the long way around campus.

“This is a crazy situation,” he said, adding that the next one wouldn’t come for an hour. “This is exercise, but I pray to God I don’t miss my bus.”