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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Trojan Family Weekend Alienates Large Portions Of Student Population

Ashley Yang |
November 17, 2014 | 2:05 a.m. PST


Parents turn out in cardinal red and gold for Trojan Family Weekend (Ashley Yang/Neon Tommy)
Parents turn out in cardinal red and gold for Trojan Family Weekend (Ashley Yang/Neon Tommy)
Every fall, the grand celebration of Trojan spirit that is Homecoming is matched by another football and family-centric event just weeks after - Trojan Family Weekend. All around campus and Greek Row from Thursday to Saturday were picture-perfect scenes of two-parent households, dressed in coordinated cardinal and gold spirit garb. The students, acting as impromptu tour guides, impressed their starry-eyed parents with the beautiful campus they have lived on for the past few months.

During this weekend that was a warm and joyous reunion for thousands of USC students, I felt like an orphan. 

So did many others, whose families either lived too far away or couldn’t justify the expense of round-trip air fare, a hotel room, dining out, and other incidentals on top of the programming fees to participate in the requisite parent activities - especially when their children will return home in just a few weeks for Thanksgiving and Winter Break (Parents’ Weekends in previous years took place in October - not too long after the start of the semester).

Fyn Foo, a freshman from Shanghai, said that she “definitely felt a little homesick when [she] saw other kids with their parents.” 

“Both my parents are really busy, so they just didn’t bother [to come]. But I’m going back during winter break, so that makes me feel so much better…I don’t think [my parents] even knew it was Trojan Family Weekend.”

Even those students who live close to campus didn’t buy into the festivities. Gigi Gastevich, a sophomore from Pasadena, said that she’d “much rather hang out with her [mom] and do the things [they] like than participate in organized parent activities.”

“I know several people, though, whose parents flew across the country just for those activities. We definitely couldn’t afford that if I lived far away.” 

Andrianna Ayotis, a sophomore from northern Virginia, was one of such students who felt that participating in Trojan Family Weekend was just too expensive. She is also a member of the Greek community, in which each fraternity and sorority also puts on additional events for the Weekend that charge an additional fee, on top of the one for USC-wide activities.

“Even the plane ticket was too much to justify, and if my mom had been able to come, we wouldn't have been able to participate in the ritual of Downtown L.A. fine dining or pay the cost for Greek events. I wish my mom could have to come to Presents (a tradition for USC sororities during Parents’ Weekend) and seen my walk down the aisle in an expensive white dress, but obviously none of those could happen because of money constraints.”

Ayotis said that seeing her friends with their parents didn’t make her feel too left out. But in conversations with her peers about their plans for Parents’ Weekend, she found herself on the receiving end of deprecating comments when she mentioned that her family wouldn’t be making an appearance. 

“The only times I've felt unhappy are when people suggest that the fact my mom couldn't come reflects badly on her parenting for not loving me enough or not being able to financially justify flying out.” 

It may feel like every USC student is from around L.A. or Orange County, but for a majority of undergraduates, the bill for Trojan Family Weekend can really add up. For the football game alone, there are tickets for the entire family (even if the student has a season pass, he/she has to purchase a separate guest ticket to sit with their parents) at $75 each, a myriad of adult tailgate options (all of which charge admission fees, the most expensive being $70 per person), and a parking pass ($30). The packaged options for Game Day run from $200-$400, depending on where the seats are positioned. Registration in Family Weekend programs require a separate fee, which increased as the event drew closer - but days before registration closed, the cost was $100 per parent.

Then there’s round-trip air fare, a three-night hotel stay, a rental car, and all the incidentals that come up in a pseudo-family vacation - including, but not limited to dining out, shopping, and tourist-y activities around L.A. Not to mention, this is one of the most lucrative times for the USC Bookstore, the exclusive destination for arguably overpriced USC swag - requisite attire at all football games and grinning family photos in front of Tommy Trojan. 

So who actually get to participate in Trojan Family Weekend? 

Students who live within driving distance and in-state would be the first guess, since their families are insulated from the hefty travel expenses and the logistics of planning a trip far away. But the weekend also attracts a good number of students from wealthy parts of the East Coast. Meanwhile, students from the Midwest and parts of the South and Southwest were conspicuously parent-less.

Geography aside, the football-centered social atmosphere is most attractive to families who are already part of the Trojan Family donor network. Parents’ Weekend is a great time for alumni to return to their alma mater in the cool Fall weather and re-live their glory days, drinking beer and getting rowdy over their college team. They’re also the ones who spare no expense with game tickets, “luxury” tailgates, and Trojan swag. But more importantly to the administration, they’re also the ones who pad USC’s coffers with their donations - which grandiose speeches made by President C. L. Max Nikias as part of the Family Weekend programming definitely encourage. 

Amidst all the excitement, it’s easy to forget about us, the “orphans” of USC who do not contribute to the economic machine that is Trojan Family Weekend. But that lack of acknowledgment also relegates a significant portion of the student Trojan family to second-class citizenship within that family.

Admissions statistics for the 2014 freshman class report that 17 percent of admitted students are from 80 foreign countries, and 39 percent are from states and U.S. territories outside of California. One in eight admitted students were the first in their families to attend college. And according to the Financial Aid webpage, more than 60 percent of USC students receive financial assistance, in the form of government loans or grants. 

Any student who meets one or more of these criteria are more likely to be “orphans” during Trojan Family Weekend than their wealthier, in-state and legacy-related counterparts. 

USC is proud of these statistics, because they present the Trojan family as a culturally and socioeconomically inclusive environment that offers a truly “world-class” educational experience. But they also indicate that “orphans” abound during Parents’ Weekend, a fact that the university whose family network we are supposedly members of conveniently ignores. 

We understand and accept that Trojan Family Weekend is a time for students to reunite with their parents during a busy academic semester and show them the new life they’ve made for themselves. But likewise, our university should also be aware of the fact that the “diverse” student population that benefits its reputation is largely feeling left out of USC events that involve parental attendance. There is little that USC can do to change the reality that some families are better situated to be physically present for their children when called upon. But if Trojan Family Weekend is to truly be a celebration of our entire community, the university must acknowledge the weekend’s “orphans” - and implement measures (such as a student tailgate or residential programming) to show that we matter just as much as the students whose families can afford to show up.

Otherwise, Trojan Family Weekend can only reinforce the socioeconomic exclusivity of full citizenship in the Trojan “family.”

Read more "Unpopular Opinions"  here. Reach Columnist Ashley Yang here; or follow her on Twitter. 



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