Cultural centers

USC Cultural Centers Team Up to Celebrate Identity and Diversity

Decorative monarch butterflies at the new First Generation Success Center Plus makes at least one student cry.

Monarchs live in a state of perpetual migration, moving from the United States to Mexico in search of a mild climate. This trait has made it a symbol for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

At the First Generation Plus Success Center, butterfly images surround the artwork that reads, “No human being is illegal.” The words made the student cry, said Alejandra Hong, head of Trojan Success Initiatives at USC Student Equity and Inclusion Programs, or SEIP.

The student said she has never felt so honored by USC, Hong said. “Another student said, ‘This is my mother’s story, my parents immigrated here; came here illegally to give us a better life.

The First Gen Plus Success Center, located on the second floor of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, is just one of many newly opened or renovated spaces for USC students from diverse backgrounds and their allies.

Other SEIP cultural centers include the Veterans Resource Center, Asia-Pacific American Student Services (APASS), LGBTQ + Student Center, La CASA, the Center for Cultural Affairs and Black Students (CBCSA) and basic student needs. There is also two living rooms which opened for the first time this semester: the Native American and Pasifika Student Fair and the Middle East and North Africa Student Fair.

Naddia Palacios, SEIP’s first senior director at USC, brought all the centers together under one roof. The move allows cultural centers to combine resources, expand services and offer more events and shared programming.

Students settle in at the Asian Pacific American Student Services Cultural Center. (USC Photo / Gus Ruelas)

The change reflects the intersectionality of USC’s population: students often have more than one or two identities. For example, it’s not uncommon for a veteran visiting the Veterans Resource Center to be a transfer student as well, or for a gay student to want to learn more about their Latinx culture as well.

“We are not monoliths; we are not just one identity, ”said Megan van der Toorn, SEIP Head of Signature Programs. “When our centers work together, when we co-program, when we show ourselves to each other in their respective spaces, it sets an example of what student life can be like. “

Each USC cultural center has its own location, programming, events, resources, and built-in advisors. Their goal is to make students feel welcome by giving them a non-judgmental space to be themselves.

“When students walk into a space like APASS, it’s almost as if some sort of burden has been lifted from their shoulders,” said Jonathan Wang, SEIP’s head of leadership and education. “They can feel like themselves.”

USC Cultural Centers welcome students, encourage them to embrace their identity

During the first weeks of classes, each center organized its own open house to welcome the students.

At the APASS event, K-pop performed in the background as volunteers handed out masks that read “Stop Asian Hate”.

Maria Tsiao, a junior at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, welcomed shy first-year students into space. Three years ago, she was the shy one.

She grew up in a Seattle suburb and attended a predominantly white high school. She didn’t really think about her Asian identity until she came to USC.

“I was lost,” Tsiao remembers. “Immediately someone at the front desk asked, ‘Are you here for APASS? We have snacks, coffee, tea – people were just relaxing. Even though I didn’t know anyone there, the environment was super nice.

At the new CBCSA space, students were greeted with works of art that celebrate the history and culture of Blacks and the African Diaspora.

Veterans Resource Center

The Veterans Resource Center helps provide veterans with a strong community to join once they leave the military. (USC Photo / Gus Ruelas)

The new furniture was so pretty that the students weren’t sure if they could sit on it – much like the very beautiful sofa forbidden at Grandma’s, joked Greedley Harris III, SEIP’s head of strategic partnerships.

“The students were thrilled and so excited about the new space,” he said.

During the SEIP realignment, Harris worked to build partnerships with other campus groups. For example, an added benefit is the new THRIVE pilot course “Black Identity and Well-Being”, which is taught at CBCSA by a professor from the USC Ms. TH Chan Division of Occupational Sciences and Occupational Therapy. The course is open to all majors and is intended to be an “exploration of the theme of fulfillment, including wellness, self-care, and connection as it relates to and intersects with black identity,” according to one. Description of the course.

If the pilot is successful, Harris added, the class could be offered to explore other identities.

Other new partnerships include developing identity-themed floors for sophomores with residential education and bonding with USC Athletics, as well as regular collaboration with student cultural assemblies. . Earlier this month, Harris said, the Black Student Assembly held one of its meetings in the new CBCSA space and had a high turnout.

Trojans explain why cultural centers of all types help build community through identities

Josue Rodriguez, who served in the Marines and is a senior at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, works at the Veterans Resource Center. He said it’s important for veterans to have a strong community to join after they leave the military.

“The moment you leave the service, you lose about 80% of your friends,” he said. “But being able to jump into another community, like the Trojan community here at USC, is pretty impressive.”

The Veterans Resource Center, one floor above the First Generation Plus Success Center, recently offered group therapy sessions to people who have served or know people who have served in Afghanistan in case they want to talk about the withdrawal of states. United of the nation and the unrest and deaths that followed.

At the LGBTQ + Student Center, graduate student Rachel Freeman-Cohen welcomed new students. She had been involved with the LGBTQ + center during her undergraduate years at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and she wanted to be a part of the USC community.

She knows firsthand how important these centers can be, especially for USC students who question their identity or have never been able to explore it.

Being able to access another community, like the Trojan community here at USC, is pretty impressive.

Jose rodriguez

“I’m from Temecula, which is a small, conservative town in Southern California. I didn’t know that the language was gendered, I didn’t know that there were genres that existed outside of binary until I got to college, and that was because of our queer center, ”a she declared.

When young people don’t have the words to express how they feel and how they identify with themselves, it can be very confusing and isolating, she added. As such, the center provides many educational resources for students and organizes events to build community.

As the students return to campus, SEIP wants to make it clear that these centers and spaces are intended for all students and that everyone can come and feel welcome.

Their collective goal is to make students feel like they belong, Hong said. “We are here to celebrate them and to highlight who they are. I think being celebrated makes the students feel like it’s going to be a little easier because people understand them and people want them here.

This was evident at the SEIP welcome event last week, a collaboration between all centers. It was the first time they had hosted a welcome event together.

Organizers were expecting 600 people, but over 1,500 people attended, a welcome surprise for SEIP staff. The students also hung out and mingled with each other rather than staying in their own groups.

“It tells us that students are thirsty for community,” Palacios said. “It was so powerful to see such large groups of students coming together and having fun together. They weren’t in silos; they all interacted with everyone.

More stories on: Diversity, race and ethnicity, students, veterans, Welcome Experience 2021