By Eric Ruble
When in-person events ended, USC Price’s student associations wasted no time, switching to virtual platforms and taking on new tasks to help those most impacted by COVID-19. From remarkable speaker series to ambitious volunteer projects, these organizations used the last year as an opportunity to provide a platform for students to connect and make their voices heard.
We checked in with five of our associations to discuss their accomplishments during the 2020-2021 academic year and what they’re most looking forward to next fall.
For the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus, hosting digital events was a key way to engage communities on timely issues. During the fall 2020 semester, APIC hosted a virtual discussion with actress and activist Olivia Munn. Topics included Asian representation in media and how the Asian community can be allies in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It was a really excellent conversation overall, just in terms of how Asian representation is increasing in Hollywood and what that means for the community,” said Rit Shukla, an APIC board member.
In the spring, APIC worked with Interim Dean Dana Goldman’s office to hold an event featuring former California State Treasurer John Chiang.
“With John, we got to talk about what it meant to be coming up as a politician, as an Asian and seeing how that affected his career and what he felt about those issues,” Shukla said.
Most recently, APIC spoke with Los Angeles City Councilmember Nithya Raman.
In the near future, the caucus plans to hold an event about anti-Asian violence — a topic that will remain top-of-mind during the upcoming academic year. “Next year, what we’d like to do is really continue the strong events that we’ve managed to develop and put on this year,” Shukla said. “And continue to bring awareness and light to the issues affecting our community.”
The Price Women and Allies marked its 10th anniversary this year. To celebrate, the group invited alumni to speak with current members about their careers. Among the speakers were the PWA’s three founders, all of whom are still in the public policy field.
“I think our members really had an opportunity to learn what it looks like to be a woman moving through her career early and see a potential 10-year trajectory,” said Sabrina Alonso, the current co-executive director of PWA.
Prior to the pandemic, PWA members would meet up for dinner to have a “Girl Gang Hang” where members would discuss a current event and how it impacts women. When in-person dinners were no longer feasible, those events moved online.
July’s discussion centered on anti-racism and the best ways to support Black women.
Looking for ways to make a tangible impact during the pandemic, PWA secured a grant from Ford Motor Company to donate more than 2,000 face masks to the Downtown Women’s Center.
“We were really looking for opportunities to tap into the community,” Alonso said. “That is something I’ve been particularly proud of this year.”
Topping the list of PWA’s goals for next year? Getting more Price undergraduates involved.
“Broadening the membership to be both graduate and undergraduate is one (goal) we’ve been working on but next year is going to be a really big push,” Alonso said.
The once-dormant Queer Policy Caucus has been reborn as the Rainbow Price Community with an inclusive focus on LGBTQ students. Co-chairs Aubri Qian and Leonard Slutsky said a key element of RPC’s mission is building a community that interacts with others at Price and beyond.
“One of the things I want to prioritize is not just connecting the community at Price and here at USC at large, but also connecting to our broader network and people who are out in the field doing really amazing work,” Qian said.
This year, RPC held a “Jeopardy!”-style virtual game night to welcome people back to the group.
It also hosted a conversation between Interim Dean Goldman and Dr. Joy Ladin, a well-known trans poet and professor of English at Yeshiva University in New York. The discussion was part of Price’s larger effort to bring diverse voices to the forefront as a part of the School’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.
Looking forward, the co-chairs said they plan to work more closely with other Price student associations.
“The opportunities for us to partner together and bring speakers to campus, to have social events together, that is going to be really exciting,” Slutsky said.
He emphasized programming is open to everyone on campus.
“You can be exposed to ideas that may be different than you may be used to or that you may have experienced before,” he said.
On March 27, SCAPF held its eighth-annual forum. Each year, the event focuses on a different issue impacting people of color. SCAPF invites a diverse array of thought leaders and policymakers to be part of a panel. Together, they discuss the topic and propose solutions.
This year’s theme was “Reframing Justice: Prisons, Policy and People.”
SCAPF invited a mix of academics, activists and people who have worked in the criminal justice space to discuss its current state and its future, including Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, and Dr. Kendrick Davis, the chief research officer for the USC Race and Equity Center.
“Some of the most brilliant minds in our country sitting in this room, talking about these really impactful issues — I think that in and of itself is really important work,” said Jesi Harris, a SCAPF member.
Mianta McKnight, who spent 18 years in prison before being released on parole in 2013, also spoke. She is an advocate for incarcerated women and highlighting inhumane conditions in the prison-industrial complex.
Nena Sosa, another SCAPF member, said it was critical to include people with first-hand experience in the five-person panel.
“This was an opportunity to give a platform to those people who we never really hear about — we never really care about their experiences firsthand — and to humanize them,” Sosa said.
As SCAPF moves forward, its members hope to better integrate the association with communities outside of the university. “I’m excited about the things that are happening right now in this moment that SCAPF is really doing a good job of highlighting and unpacking,” Harris said.
The group will also continue its push to make Price a place where everyone’s experiences are valued — both in and out of the classroom.
“All students should feel safe anywhere in the institution,” Sosa said.
Undergraduate Planning at Price (UP):
One of Price’s newest student associations, UP was founded in the fall of 2019.
“We really just wanted to have a space where people could come together and be able to share interests and passions and geek out about the same things,” said Lilly Nie, an UP co-founder.
Despite the pandemic starting shortly after UP’s inception, it managed to provide an impressive slate of virtual events.
Among the most popular were “Coffee Chats” with professors, when they discussed anything from coursework to careers with faculty including Annette Kim, Lisa Schweitzer, Todd Gish and LaVonna Lewis.
“The professors seem to really enjoy it and the students definitely appreciate them sacrificing an hour of their time to do this,” said Joan Lee, an UP co-founder.
In other events, UP hosted guest speakers from SoLa Impact and California High Speed Rail. And J.P. Bell, founder of the C1TYPLANN3R Company, led members on a walking tour in Pasadena.
Members also volunteered with Share a Meal, a local nonprofit providing food and other necessities to people experiencing homelessness.
With a planned return to in-person activities in the fall, UP is hoping to organize more trips to explore the Los Angeles area. “That’s probably what I’m most excited about,” Lee said.
As they demonstrated throughout the last year, student associations are an invaluable part of the Price community. During one of the university’s most challenging chapters, Price’s student associations not only pressed forward, but allowed students to find common ground, generate change and make connections when they needed them most.
To learn more about all of Price’s student associations and their missions, visit the School’s website.