Student voice on LAUSD will better diversify decisions

From protests on college campuses in the 1960s to vigils in response to the wave of violence in the 21st century, the student voice regarding issues that matter has always made a statement. During emotionally charged moments in our country, students and their movements have commanded the attention of adults and have swayed political decisions. A recent decision by the school board of the Los Angeles Unified School District will bring the student voice back to the forefront of the conversation surrounding education policy in the city.

Grace Wang | Daily Trojan

On April 8, LAUSD voted to allow a student advisory member on the board, according to the Los Angeles Times. The position would be an elected one, and despite the student not being a voting member, he or she would be able to make suggestions on important issues and cast an advisory vote just before the official vote is taken. Though a bold move on the part of the LAUSD school board, it is a decision that has been long-coming. The California State Education Code, which was approved in 1976, stipulated that the board has at least one non-voting student member. Throughout the years, they have inconsistently abided by this rule, according to an April 7 report by the L.A. Times. But in recent years, logistical and funding issues swayed the school board to disregard this provision.

Regardless, it is critical to have this student voice at the table. Other large school districts have already implemented this structure. The Portland Public School system annually chooses a student representative to serve on the board and though his or her vote doesn’t count, he or she is treated as other active board members are and addressed with the title of student director. Here at USC, the senators of Undergraduate Student Government voted to have a student sit in on board discussions regarding tuition and other important topics that affect student life on campus. By respecting the student representative in this way, the board can go a long way in representing the rest of the 640,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school district.

Furthermore, with a student at school board meetings, the goals that LAUSD has outlined can be achieved more swiftly and efficiently. Among the district’s five outlined goals are more engagement with parents and the community, as well as 100 percent attendance and graduation. Many believe these goals are more likely to be reached now that a student is required to sit on the board and encouraged to share his or her input. Students are the ones directly affected by the policies and decisions that the board makes.

As this decision is implemented, Superintendent John Deasy will have 120 days to determine how exactly the student member will be figured into the school board and also the extent of his or her responsibilities, CBS Los Angeles reported. Though the student representative is not able to vote, his or her responsibilities should not be diminished. Instead, the student representative should concentrate on developing the skills to be an advisor.

Students are the perfect springboard for adults to share and receive feedback on the ideas and plans they seek to implement in the public school system. For example, take the iPad rollout, which was marred with technological difficulties and security breaches. These problems possibly could have been foreseen by students who recognize that teenagers like them are prone to using technology for non-academic reasons. If there was a student voice at these meetings, backup plans possibly could have been put in place to prevent the iPad rollout from ballooning into a national conversation on poor planning in the state’s public school system.

When I was in high school, my classmates and I didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation with our Board of Education. Yet if maintained and properly structured, these future students in Los Angeles will be the benefactors to a transformational dynamic between the power structures of the public school system.

We should all be mindful of the positive impact this could have on our public school systems as a whole.

By selecting a student to sit on the board, they are elevating the importance of student involvement in education and providing an equal seat at the table for all players involved in K-12 education in Los Angeles.

Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.

 

NPHC looks to expand, rebrand

Bree Humphery, a senior majoring in East Asian Languages and Culture, along with a group of a few other women challenged herself to live off of 20 dollars for the week. Throughout that week, she troubleshooted and thought of ways to extend and switch up bland yet inexpensive meals to achieve her goal — one that was made by choice.

Humphery’s challenge was part of her sorority’s initiative to educate people about the food stamp program. Humphery said this challenge is just one of the many service-oriented activities her sorority — Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. — does each year.

Yet because of the small number of members in Humphery’s black sorority — there are only four current active members on campus — and in the National Pan-Hellenic Council compared to the larger number of members in USC’s Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils, Humphery feels like she is often making efforts to educate students on campus about her sorority and its aims.

At USC, NPHC takes on a different character than at historically black colleges and universities. Here, NPHC chapters focus on making a presence on campus with programming and events, yet they still have all of the demands and expectations of providing social and service-oriented events to the student body and surrounding community. With the relatively small number of active NPHC members on campus, the students in NPHC fraternities and sororities are looking to rebrand themselves and black Greek life on campus as they move forward in the coming years.

REDEFINING THE YARD

Skylar Dunn, a junior majoring in business administration, is president and had been one of four members in the Alpha Delta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Since the probate, or coming-out ceremony for new members of a fraternity or sorority, on March 28, the chapter has gained seven new members. The chapter membership now totals 11, which is the largest number of members since 2008.

Dunn said because of the smaller size of black Greek life on campus, fraternities and sororities must work in conjunction with one another, which is not necessarily the case at HBCUs. The NPHC fraternities share their chapters with nearby colleges, such as Loyola Marymount and Cal State Los Angeles, while the charters for historically black sororities are solely confined to USC’s campus.

“One thing I’ve been really adamant about here at USC is NPHC unity because we don’t have the strength in numbers to be divided,” Dunn said.

Despite the differences in personalities and histories of the nine NPHC sororities and fraternities, many members said that “The Yard” had to be redefined. The Yard is both the geographical and intangible community of black Greeks on campus.

At USC, there are six of the nine NPHC Greek letter organizations. According to Rayven Vinson, president of National Panhellenic Council at USC, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. has not chartered a chapter on the University Park Campus. Furthermore, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority are currently inactive.

“It’s not easy to see the black Greek letter organizations here on campus,” said De’Ron Marques, a senior majoring in public relations, and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. “Yet because I knew I wanted to be Greek before I got into college, that’s why I decided to seek them out and ultimately become a member.”

SERVICE OVER STROLLING

The NPHC organizations are immersed in history and tradition. When they were originally founded in the early 1900s, they focused on creating unity and service among the black community on campus and in the surrounding area. Furthermore, at the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of black students were not allowed to join other fraternities or sororities within Panhellenic and IFC.

“To have these fraternity brothers behind you and be there to support you in times of need and happiness is powerful,” Marques said.

Off campus, service activities, which are largely rooted in reaching out to high school students and the elderly, help establish solidarity among the black Greek letter organizations.

“When you have 10 or less people in the chapter, it forces you to concentrate your skills and makes you more willing to work,” Marques said.

On top of the service component, a main tradition within the NPHC is stepping and strolling, particularly at parties and probates. Stepping is a series of movements that use hands and feet to create a rhythm. Strolling is a series of dance moves while in line, consisting of movements and dance moves that are done in unison among members of a particular fraternity or sorority. Students interviewed for this story said both methods are used as a channel for self-expression and an outlet to represent their organization’s values and character.

“There are countless amount of times where people want us to go to their events just to stroll and step,” Humphery said. “But we do so much with service and scholarship that we want to promote and let people know about.”

REBRANDING FOR VISIBILITY

Many NPHC members said that before arriving at USC, they were interested in joining a black Greek letter organization. Many, however, recognized there could be higher visibility of  NPHC on campus.

Students involved in NPHC believe many misconceptions can arise when the majority of students on campus are not involved in black Greek life or do not see the other activities that NPHC members participate in outside of social events.

“We don’t have the funds like that to be able to throw all of those parties,” Dunn said. “So we’re more like a business, I would say, at least here at USC’s campus, because we’re trying to rebuild our brand right now.”

Despite the differences in black Greek life and the challenges that are associated with it, members of NPHC have a pride and dedication to their organization and fellow brothers and sisters, as well as a passion to improve the campus and the surrounding community.

“We’ve shown excellence and leadership and really roll up our sleeves and do hard work,” Humphery said when referring to her sorority and other NPHC organizations on The Yard. “It’s evident within the community because people respect us. I appreciate the presence we’ve had on this campus.”

Students hold discussion with director John Singleton on ‘Higher Learning’, on-campus race relations

Students gathered to discuss the current climate of race, class and social structure in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Thursday night with USC alumnus and award-winning director John Singleton. Prior to the discussion, students screened John Singleton’s 1995 film Higher Learning, a movie focused on the personal and social progression of a group of diverse students during their first year of college.

Approximately 60 students were in the room for the event hosted by the Beta Omega Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

Levi Powell, vice president of the Beta Omega Chapter of Kappa Psi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., said that they held the screening because the movie reflected some racially charged events that took place in the past school year.

Throughout the conversation, many participants referred to the May 4 incident when more than 79 Los Angeles Police Department officers broke up a student party where attended by mostly black and Latino students. The incident led to the social movement among students that became the USChangeMovement.

John Singleton acknowledged the similarities between the recent events on campus and the 19-year-old movie. Singleton also said the movie looked at the core issues that lead to these familiar incidents.

“What I liked about this film is that it dealt with alienation,” John Singleton. “This wasn’t a dig on USC, but it could have been any university anywhere.”

During the discussion many students spoke about their experiences with incidents of racial profiling on and around campus, not only by the LAPD but also by the Dept. of Public Safety.

USC Professor of Law Jody Armour, who moderated a forum following the May 4 incident and another panelists in the discussion, responded to students, acknowledging the ongoing concerns.

“These issues are perennial,” Armour said. “It’s a very embarrassing and uncomfortable reality. You have honest people who are being discriminators.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry was in graduate school when Higher Learning first came out and said he felt like he could relate to it.

“These issues mattered,” Carry said. “Every single issue in that movie could have been in 2014. These issues have existed for a very long time. We have to start fixing and healing by these conversations.”

Students — some who were born the year the movie was released — said they were impacted by the movie’s timeliness and reliability.

“The movie was powerful in its ability to be relatable to everybody,” Kemdah Stroud, a freshman majoring in neuroscience, “but sadly it’s very representative of my experience at USC in regards to isolation and discrimination.”

Ryan Cole, a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism, agreed that the film reflected some of his experiences on campus but that much progress has been and is being made.

“A lot of racial prejudices and stereotypes still hinder the forward progress of the student community at this university,” Cole said. “However, I do feel that the student body is active in trying to do all they can to make things better.”

Singleton is currently working on a movie about the late rapper Tupac and activist Assata Shakur.

 

Food waste reduction should trump federal standard

When I was matriculating through elementary and high school, one of my least favorite aspects of any educational experience was lunchtime but not because I disliked the 45 free minutes to gossip, do homework and eat. I was wary of lunchtime because of the school’s limited options for lunch food.

Grace Wang | Daily Trojan

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the same wariness is being felt at lunchtime — but in this case among school administrators and employees within the district’s food services department. According to the Los Angeles Times, LAUSD students throw out approximately $100,000 worth of food each day. Due to the massive waste, the nation’s second-largest school district is discussing ways to reduce waste while maintaining federal nutrition standards.

It is important to teach students early on about the environment and how it affects their health. The school system should revise some of its policies that lead to students wasting unwanted food and focus on other ways of educating them on the critical issues of nutrition and environmentalism.

The discussion surrounding the growing amount of student waste was elevated when the federal school meal rules were finalized in 2012. The rules, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, stipulate that schools must increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free milk while also reducing the levels of sodium and trans fat in meals. Though these changes work to enhance the diet and health of school children, will they ever learn its true importance if it’s forced upon them?

More of the district’s resources should be focused on how to be more environmentally friendly, especially in a city such as Los Angeles that is overpopulated and consistently attempting to make itself more eco-friendly.

By stressing the importance of being environmentally friendly and not wasting food that you don’t like, students can take so much more away from the experience of lunchtime. If school administrators focus on educating students about why it is not okay to waste the food they don’t like, it can turn into a better lesson on the benefits of why eating fruits and vegetables is necessary.

This is also a wise and important financial decision on the district’s part. The cost to feed children in U.S. public schools has grown over the years. It costs $11.6 billion to fund the federal school lunch program, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some of those sizable funds can go to educating students on the environment. Currently, the national average for plate waste at K-12 schools is around 12 percent, according to the Food Assistance & Nutrition Research Program.

Furthermore, 80 percent of LAUSD students are eligible to receive not only a free or reduced price lunch but also a free or reduced price breakfast. With the multiple free meals a day, the waste accrued is more costly than students not receiving both their servings of fruit and vegetables.

Unfortunately for some LAUSD students, school is the only place where they receive fresh food and vegetables. There is also no denying that exposure to fruits and vegetables will make students more likely to lead healthier lifestyles and reduce their chances of becoming overweight, but there are other routes to getting children into healthier patterns.

But the pattern right now shows that even when forced to have a vegetable or fruit on their plate, students are resisting. Therefore, another solution should be pursued.

“What can we do about this?” David Binkle, director of LAUSD food services, said to the Los Angeles Times. “We can stop forcing children take food they don’t like and throw in the garbage.”

Healthy school lunches are necessary. As an institution designated for learning, schools are the place where teachers and administrators can instill into students the importance of eating healthy and maintaining active lifestyles. One way to achieve this aim is through keeping the fruits and vegetables available to students.

School systems must be realistic about how much change they can make when educating students on both healthy eating patterns and waste reduction. But if policies are revised and game plans are worked in conjunction with one another, the food challenges students face during lunchtime can begin to be nibbled away at.

Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.

 

20 Years Later, Rwandan Genocide Still Educates, Moves Students

People in Rwanda and across the world solemnly commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide on Monday with ceremonies and vigils. In Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, a flame of remembrance torch arrived at the national genocide memorial, according to CNN.

At USC, students and faculty members participated in a vigil held by the USC Shoah Foundation Student Association (SFISA) in the courtyard of the University Religious Center. The event was part of the on-going Genocide Awareness Month.

“In 1994, Rwanda was divided, in 1994 the world was divided. When Rwanda was in turmoil we chose to look away,” said Greg Irwin, vice president of SFISA.

On April 7, 1994, one day after the plane that Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana — part of the Hutu ethnicity — was riding in was shot down, conflict between the ethnic groups of Hutu and Tutsis broke out. During the outbreak of violence, Hutu extremists in Rwanda targeted minority ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. According to The New York Times, more than 800,000 people died during the 100 days of violence. Many of the victims, who ranged from infants to the elderly, were killed with machetes, guns and other destructive weapons.

As participants in the vigil held candles, the planners from SFISA read four different testimonials of Rwandan survivors; these are survivors of one of the worst genocides in modern history. The readings were followed by a piano and violin performance and dance performance in honor of the victims but also in celebration of the unity that has been since the genocide ended in mid-July 1994.
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Many of the speakers at the vigil encouraged participants to learn more about the Rwandan genocide because students in the U.S. are not as exposed to the details surrounding it as other genocides that have taken place around the world.
There has been criticism regarding the lack of a timely response the international community had to ending the genocide, particularly by the United States and France.
Kelsey Harrison, a senior majoring in political science, said that the event inspired her and encouraged her to educate more people on the events that happened in the central African country twenty years ago.
“I think it’s a very serious event that happened in our past and doesn’t have a lot of recognition in our country,” Harrison said. “We must raise awareness in this country about how Rwandans have come back and about their strength and resilience.”

Student-athletes must take caution before unionizing

As the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s March Madness draws to a close — and takes with it millions of adoring college basketball fans — the conversation surrounding student-athletes and how they are treated and perceived on college campuses is only just revving up.

Grace Wang | Daily Trojan

 

A different college sport, yet one just as lucrative as men’s basketball, has revitalized the conversation surrounding the rights that student-athletes are afforded. A decision by the National Labor Relations Board this past week allowed Northwestern University football players to unionize, according to CNN. This decision has the potential to change the way colleges, students and fans interpret the term “student-athlete.”

Students who play sports in college — especially at Division I universities — where practice and game schedules are demanding and performance expectations are extremely high, the athlete distinction of “student-athlete” sometimes surpasses the student title. But if Northwestern University football players do vote to form a union among themselves, the consequences and implications that come from having a union might detract more from lives than expected and will most certainly have consequences that roll over into the general student body.

The term student-athlete has always been tied to the economic and employment distinction of the athlete. It was first crafted by the NCAA in the 1950s after the widow of a Colorado football player who had died of a head injury tried to file for workmen’s-compensation death benefits, according to The New York Times. By designating participants in college sports as student-athletes, the NCAA helped dissuade athletes from considering themselves as workers and being able to access workers’ compensation benefits. Instead, the term implied that all enrolled students who play college sports are engaged in secondary activities that enhance their education. For example, their status is essentially the same as members of the debate team or the band. Their first job is not to be an athlete, it is to be a student. Everything else is gravy.

Yet the announcement coming out of Evanston, Ill. reopens the conversation of how student-athletes are viewed. According to the NLRB, if the players do form a union, they could start demanding compensation for injuries suffered during practice or games and get the opportunity to benefit from the Workers’ Compensation Act. This could challenge the way schools operate financially toward their athletes.

Despite the benefit workers’ compensation could bring to student-athletes, the method of gaining it through a union has many downsides. Unions are large organizations that, in an ideal world, serve the best interests of everyone in them. Because of their size and strict standards, however, they often come at odds with other large institutions that have their own interests and goals. In the case of the Northwestern football players, they would be up against an established university that has had decades of practicing its message. The uphill battle to break down the way the NCAA functions at Division I colleges might prove too much for the new union to tackle.

In addition, through the union, the individual voices of the football players would become one. If a student-athlete wants more freedom to express him or herself and explore during his or her college years, like in the case with Kain Colter at Northwestern, it seems counterproductive to join an organization that focuses on conforming ideas and interests.

No one would deny that the NCAA is a lucrative business. According to 2012 statistics, the NCAA made more than $10.6 billion in total revenue from games and tournaments from the more than 420,000 NCAA student athletes. Specifically for college football, the average amount of school revenue made reached up to $15.8 million per school. Yet if current student-athletes attempt to step into this bustling business world and transform it, it has the potential of taking away from their studies and other aims.

Furthermore, the right for football players to form unions affects more than just those student-athletes. Talk of a union should not just take place among the student-athletes. In many Division I schools, a portion of all students’ tuition goes to fund the athletic department. According to a 2010 USA Today study, approximately 23 percent of in-state tuition goes to fund sports. Therefore all students should have a voice in how a union of student-athletes will be organized on campus.

The decision by the NLRB is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conversation of how universities treat their student-athletes and the power student-athletes yield within these universities. But as Northwestern football players — and student-athletes in general — move forward in redefining their role and rights, it is paramount to keep in mind that their decisions have ramifications that extend beyond their locker room. By joining a union, the responsibilities of maintaining one unified and all-inclusive voice becomes more challenging. In addition, it is important not to leave out the voice of other students involved in clubs that do not have the luxury of unionizing. When entering these unchartered territories, extreme caution should be taken before any call is made.

Just like in any college sport, thousands of fans and naysayers are watching and waiting for the next play to be made.

 

Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.

 

Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’

For anyone looking for inspiration this morning: 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.