Mention USC to a non-student, and their first reaction will probably be a reference to the crime-riddled neighborhood around the University. It’s no secret that USC’s position in South Central Los Angeles makes it infamous for crimes like robbery, assault and even homicide. And many take this issue as a reason to remain within the gates of the University, seemingly protected from the outside world.
USC takes many steps to protect students — and in fact, the University’s crime rates are lower than those of other Pac-12 schools of comparable size, including UCLA, UC Berkeley and Stanford University. But individuals must also take responsibility for their own safety — as well as realize that there is more to the University Park neighborhood than crime and danger.
In 2015, USC students reported 41 sex offenses, 59 cases of robbery (including motor vehicle theft and burglary) and nine incidences of aggravated assault on or near the University Park Campus, according to the Department of Public Safety’s Annual Security Report. Last week, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry sent out an email memorandum explaining what the University is doing to help promote safety while also urging students to stay aware of their surroundings.
Just a short walk off campus brings many students face-to-face with the realities of living in a big city, from homelessness to poverty to policing. As the University’s profile has risen, however, administrators have worked to isolate students from the problems that surround them, from putting up a large wrought-iron fence around campus (now complete with neo-Gothic-style entrance spikes) to hiring security personnel wearing yellow jackets to guard the street corners and providing free access to Campus Cruiser and Uber for students.
Once they arrive at school, most students adjust to its nuanced safety protocol. They receive TrojansAlert messages when potentially dangerous situations occur, have to show ID to enter campus after 9 p.m. and must follow a guest check-in policy that limits the number of non-USC students allowed in USC housing. On-campus housing has also implemented fingerprint scanners to know the exact identity of anyone entering dorm buildings.
Despite these and other safety measures, persistent armed robberies at ATMs, harassment on the street, petty theft and even murders have forged a culture in which students have become afraid of venturing out past the barriers of their school at night. While we cannot allow these perceptions and experiences to restrict our experiences at USC, we also cannot fail to take some collective responsibility for our own safety. As suggested in Carry’s memorandum, students should keep their phones and other valuable items put away while they are walking down the streets outside campus, and should always stay alert and aware of what is going on around them. This can be as simple as looking up instead of texting while walking.
Furthermore, USC must continue and expand its concern for students’ safety. For example, while the presence of security guards in yellow jackets may perpetuate feelings of safety, yellow jackets are not technically obligated to intervene in situations where students are attacked; they are only obligated to report incidents. Such policies are worth reconsidering, but more importantly, students should be further educated about safety protocol on and around USC so there is transparency and false assumptions do not result in dangerous situations.
That being said, fear of USC’s surroundings should not lead to students isolating themselves on campus. One way to amend the situation at hand is to establish bridges between ourselves — the student body — and the community around us. Numerous programs at USC, such as the Neighborhood Academic Initiative and Joint Education Program, connect students with youth at local schools as tutors and mentors. Other programs, such as USC Share a Meal, connect students with the local homeless community through distributing meals and other supplies to homeless individuals.
We cannot allow ourselves to disengage from the vibrant community that surrounds us because of exaggerated stereotypes and paranoia. Like students at all universities across the nation, we cannot be careless when walking down streets alone after dark. We must be mindful of our surroundings, and we should avoid placing ourselves in compromising situations.
But caution and community engagement are not mutually exclusive. To choose not to involve ourselves with the people and places around campus would shortchange our college experiences.
blastZONE spring 2017 Editorial Board