Opinion: What students of color are fighting for on college campuses

When I was 19 years old, I was turned away from a party because I am black. I was standing at the door of a fraternity on the University of Southern California’s Greek Row. I’d arranged to meet a friend there. I expected to walk through the door with ease, the way students do at student parties at USC.

But then I was asked to show my ID. The security guards wanted to see a state ID and not my student one. When I couldn’t produce it, they shooed me away with their flashlights and told me to get off the property.

As I waited for my friend to come out of the house that I wasn’t allowed to enter, I saw a group of white girls walk straight in without getting their IDs checked. A friend whose boyfriend worked security for the frat that night told me members of the fraternity instructed security not to grant entry to black girls for fear the Los Angeles Police Department would be more likely to break up a mixed-race party. (Reached for comment, the president of the fraternity in question said his frat “has never had a policy of denying entry to anyone based on race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.” He noted that certain “risk management concerns” including, “but not limited to” over-intoxication and not being a USC student were the only grounds for denying individuals entry to a party.)

Getting turned away from that party was the first time I felt alienated and isolated on a campus that had previously told me I belonged. It wouldn’t be the last.

Over the past several weeks, black students at the University of Missouri have repeatedly protested racial discrimination on their campus. In perhaps the most infamous incident, a pickup truck full of young people drove by the school’s student body president and someone shouted the N-word at him. Something similar happened at USC recently. When our student body president, who is Indian American, was walking along Greek Row, someone threw a drink and a racial slur at her.


These incidents are not unique, as evidenced by recent protests at Ithaca, Claremont McKenna and Occidental. Students of color on predominantly white campuses across the country face slights and slurs throughout their college careers. When it occurs again and again, with little response from college administrators, we can’t help but feel our schools are falling short on their promise of providing an inclusive environment.

Students at USC don’t have a hunger striker. We don’t have one unifying hashtag. Our Division I football team isn’t vowing to boycott games. But there are many students on campus who have felt, who feel, unsafe or wronged because of their race.

USC Undergraduate Student Government is calling for the provost to hire a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. This new vice president would be the point person for students when they feel they have experienced discrimination on campus. Missouri appointed just such an administrator in the wake of its leadership shakeup. USC responded by saying it would put together a diversity task force and that all of the school’s deans must identify diversity liaisons to address needs to their constituents.

This is only one step forward in establishing a culture of inclusion at USC. Discussions can help, and that’s what we’ve had on campus. But, so often, talks alone make students of color relive trauma with no promise of actual change. It is better for students to know who to turn to when these instances happen and how the university will correct the offending students’ behavior.

Students at USC, and across the country, are asking that college administrators do everything in their power to fight the culture that perpetuates this prejudice. When those efforts fall short, however, students need legitimate grievance policies to address these incidents.

That there are students at USC as alienated as students nearly 2,000 miles away in Missouri is not a coincidence. It’s a sign that racial discrimination on college campuses is a national problem that won’t change with inattention and deflection.

Jordyn Holman is a senior at USC and a columnist for USC’s Daily Trojan. Follow her on Twitter @JordynJournals.

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