USC student leaders demand action against campus racism

Rini Sampath, USC undergraduate student body president, and other student leaders are demanding an action plan against campus racism.

Rini Sampath, USC undergraduate student body president, and other student leaders are demanding an action plan against campus racism.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A month after the USC undergraduate student body president was attacked with a racial epithet, student leaders are demanding a campuswide action plan against bias, including the appointment of a top administrator to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

Rini Sampath, who made national headlines when she disclosed the racist incident against her on Facebook, presented the demands to the undergraduate student government Tuesday evening in a resolution crafted with several student organizations.

The resolution says that USC has “failed to produce action plans to address issues of bias and discrimination,” unlike UCLA, Brown and other campuses it cited as more actively working to ease the problem.

“Unfortunately, [USC] students have spoken out on this topic but there hasn’t been a strategic response,” Sampath said. “We need something that is proactive to change the culture.”


Ainsley Carry, vice-president for student affairs, said there was a “disconnect” between students and administrators over perceptions of university efforts to combat bias. He said the campus started a reporting system for bias several years ago and also handles complaints in an office dedicated to enforcing Title IX federal laws barring discrimination. In addition, he said officials have met several times with students since the Sampath incident.

But Carry agreed that officials could do more to prevent bias, rather than simply respond to it.

“Changing a culture and implementing solutions to ending racism on a college campus - those are complex issues; it can’t happen in 20 days,” he said. “But we’ve got to do a better job. It’s an important opportunity for us to create an education culture around respect for one another.”

Sampath, the daughter of immigrants born in India, was walking past a fraternity house last month when a student screamed at her, “You Indian piece of ...,” using a vulgarity, and hurled a drink at her.

University officials sent out a campuswide letter expressing sadness, anger and dismay; the USC Interfraternity Council condemned the action; and Sampath filed a federal discrimination complaint against the student, who reportedly has been evicted from his fraternity house.

But Sampath and other student leaders said much more needs to be done to address what they call a long-standing problem.

Around campus, including at a forum last month, faculty and students of color have spoken out about their experiences with bias: accusations of stealing their own bikes or selling contraband by security guards, stereotyped as athletes who gained admission only through affirmative action, anti-gay harassment that forced students to find new housing.

“What happened to Rini has gotten a lot of attention but these incidents happen far too frequently on an ongoing basis,” said Christina Gutierrez, vice president of the graduate student government.

The resolution was introduced Monday to graduate student leaders. Both student government groups expect to vote on it next week; assuming passage, the resolution will then be delivered to university administrators, Sampath and Gutierrez said.

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The chief demand -- to hire a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion and vice deans for such matters in each academic division -- was inspired by UCLA.

Earlier this year, the Westwood campus named Jerry Kang, a professor of law and Asian American studies, to head diversity and equity issues as a vice chancellor after an independent review of complaints of discrimination against some faculty members.

Other demands include:

  • A plan to measure and increase diversity of students, faculty, staff and trustees;
  • A $100-million fund by 2025 for scholarships, fellowships, programming and mentorships for underrepresented groups;
  • Mandatory diversity training for faculty and students;
  • Increased funding and space for cultural centers serving African Americans, Asians, Latinos, LGBT students and others;
  • An annual independent survey to gauge the campus climate toward diversity, equity and inclusion.

Carry said administrators would respond to the demands after students present them but said they appeared to be “great for discussion.”
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12:16 p.m. This article was updated to report that the resolution was presented Tuesday evening.

This article was originally published on Oct. 20, 7:33 p.m.