warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

USC's New Security Measures Further Compromise Relationship With Community

Jacqueline Jackson |
April 11, 2013 | 12:23 p.m. PDT


USC has implemented new security measures that include an iron fence around the entire campus. (Ting Chen, Creative Commons)
USC has implemented new security measures that include an iron fence around the entire campus. (Ting Chen, Creative Commons)
Each year, thousands of students in the U.S. begin college - a pathway by which youth grows into adulthood through the cultivation of individuals' interests and the development of individuals' minds. But for thousands of Americans who do not attend college, lack of access impedes individuals' ability to choose the college route.

Before I began college, to me, the University of Southern California (USC) represented hope and clarity. As a resident of L.A.'s Crenshaw District, I spent many days visiting and becoming acclimated to USC's campus. Whether I sat in Doheny Library to study for the SATs or outside the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to envision my future, exploring the campus gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the educational system and its resources. But USC eliminated that opportunity for the next generations of students with its new iron gates, ID-check-ins and strict visiting hours.

USC’s new security measures came as responses to two shootings near and on campus, and ongoing concerns about crime in the South L.A. neighborhood. One year ago today, two USC graduate students, Qu Ming and Wu Ying, were killed as they sat in their vehicle only a few blocks from campus. A shooting on Halloween night last year left four people wounded. These incidents, coupled with frequent “robberies” allegedly committed by local gang members or residents, were enough to cause the university to shift its relationship with South L.A.

USC added over 30 new cameras (some of which scan license plates for stolen vehicles) throughout the local neighborhoods surrounding USC, started 24-hour campus security officer surveillance in multiple areas where USC housing is located, built iron fences around the entire campus, set campus hours from 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and installed an online “visitor” service for students' guests. And if that wasn't enough, the university has also installed finger print scanners at the entrances to on-campus dorms rooms and new ID card systems at the entrances to on-campus libraries. Although the university has discussed these new security measures in terms of the security of USC's student population, USC's administration has refrained from discussing how these measures may affect the surrounding community USC supposedly supports.

Unfortunately, these types of events are all too familiar to the children that live in South L.A. To them, the university's response to crime symbolizes the construction of an off-limits, protected and powerful institution. USC has historically comprised an integral element of the South L.A. community. On an annual basis, USC donates 30 million dollars to the surrounding community, and the university boasts six partnerships with local elementary and junior high schools. Yet, for all its power and influence in Los Angeles, access to education in South Central L.A. has continually been a concern for residents. Currently, Los Angeles ranks 25th in education and LAUSD schools face a dropout rate of over 20 percent. And now USC has symbolically closed its doors to community members.

The overall population of USC (23 percent Asian, 39 percent white, 13 percent Latino and five percent black) indicates that perhaps USC is not as interested in supporting the community as it says. USC's determination to increase its appeal to international applications comprised at least part of the motivation for the new security measures. Perhaps, along with protecting the current student population, the new security measures were implemented more for admittance ratings than for community safety, as international students not only make up a large portion of the USC student body but also a large part of USC’s income.

A recent opinion piece published in Neon Tommy proposed that USC's new security measures constitute a "necessary evil" that figure in the continued success of the institution. But evil should never be necessary. There is a connection between USC and the South L.A. community that has undoubtedly led to USC's continued success, but will the institution's use of funds ever shift from protecting itself from the community to bettering the community itself? USC can create research and development projects that focus on the surrounding community, cementing rather than fracturing its relationship with South L.A. Right now, USC needs to expand its borders, not close them off. Seclusion will only cut off the life blood of the university's relationship to the and community.

USC can take as many strategic measures as it wishes to protect its student body and its investments, but security isn't just an issue for USC. A year after the tragic loss of Qu Ming and Wu Ying, areas surrounding USC are safer. USC students praise the campus security officers for stepping up after the shootings to improve safety. And even though over the past year Los Angeles as a whole has seen a drop in crime rates, the number of homicides and the substantial threat to the lives and livelihoods of people in the Los Angeles community still remain top concerns. 

When bullets spray throughout South L.A., the community wonders why the city doesn’t adequately protect its residents, just as USC students demand increased security when bullets fly near or on campus. When USC decides to respond by creating a physical barrier between itself and the community, it tries to keep away a community that could only benefit from the resources and inspiration USC has to offer. While some are happy with USC's new security measures, others have gone as far to say that USC has built a fortress around itself to deter not only "robbers or future crime," but also an influx of community members.

As I pass USC's gates and flash my ID to enter campus, I am exercising a privilege to not only be educated but also to be protected in my pursuit of education. Yet, when my long days are over and I prepare myself for a ride home through South L.A., the atmosphere changes. USC is a constructed oasis in the middle of a thriving yet struggling community. My dream, the one I dreamed while exploring USC's campus as a young person, has already been realized - I am a student at USC, able to take advantage of the wealth of educational resources it provides. My worry now is that the iron fences and other strict security measures will deter other community members' dreams of education and personal development that otherwise could have been realized. In light of the dilemma the new security measures causes, USC must ask itself how it can positively transform the community of which it is a part, no matter how reluctantly it accepts its location.


Reach Contributor Jacqueline Jackson here; follow her here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.