Make USC Pay Basic Needs and Provide Academic Equity for Low-Income Students
Make USC Pay Basic Needs and Provide Academic Equity for Low-Income Students
Why this petition matters
On August 22nd, 2022 - I allan josiah (a.j.) salazar bexton will occupy Alumni Park in front of Doheny Memorial Library, beginning a hunger strike if USC refuses to provide basic needs and academic equity to the most marginalized and underprivileged students; the majority of which are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) come from immigrant families, are Queer, trans*, and/or are exceptionally poor.
I have been terrified to speak about my story publicly because I would have to speak about myself publicly. But I am now losing everything because of the University of Southern California, President Carol Folt, Financial Aid Dean Thomas McWhorter, Provost Charles F. Zukoski, and all other USC Deans.
USC is a nonprofit private institution receiving over $1.6 billion dollars from tuition annually and has increased its endowment over the last three years from over $5 billion to $8.13 billion. Revenue from 2018 til 2021 are $4.31 billion, $4.61 billion, $4.81 billion, and $4.77 billion respectively.
On affordability.usc.edu USC claimed:
“Our commitment to undergraduate students and their families is simple: to ensure that cost is not a barrier to achieving a world-class education.”
“Students from U.S. families with an annual income of $80,000 or less with typical assets will attend USC tuition free” beginning in 2020.
I made financial plans based on this promise and prepared myself as an independent student for the upcoming costs.
However, I am here to tell you USC manipulates financial aid for low-income students forfeiting all scholarships and grant money toward tuition and forces us into debt in order to survive. While my community college helped me out of homelessness, USC is putting me back into it.
After over a year of failed attempts to receive grant aid from the Higher Education Economic Relief Funds (HEERF) which “may be used for any component of the student’s cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to coronavirus, such as tuition, food, housing, health care (including mental health care) or child care” — I discovered USC abused over $103.4 million taxpayer dollars from the federal government.
USC siphoned over $45 million of this taxpayer money to compensate for lost revenue when the law “requires institutions prioritize students with exceptional need.” When audited, USC was caught applying student relief grants to past due balances against legal regulations. USC also lied in their “Report on the Use of Funds Distributed to USC from HEERF” about funding given to federal pell grant students for Fall 2021 for $1600 when we received $400 less.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), America Rescue Plan (ARP), and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) stipulated universities should give grants to students on a case-by-case basis. USC created no process for evaluating students and ignored numerous emails over the last year and a half begging for help for basic needs. USC took from me over $16,300 from Cal Grants and $9,660 from federal Pell grants.
Before I share more specifics, I need to share the consequences these actions have had on me and countless students like me. If any part of these stories resonates with you, fill out the Google Form (here) or please reach out to Dirty Blossoms on Instagram (@dirtyblossoms) so your story can be told, or, tell your story with the hashtag #makeUSCpay on how USC is causing undue suffering.
I am a 23 year old independent transfer student born and raised two hours north from USC in Bakersfield, California.
I am a Queer, mixed person of color and child of immigrant families.
I was admitted to USC in Summer 2020 and began in Spring 2021. I am a Senior honors student in Cinema and Media studies focusing on Queer & trans* media with a minor in screenwriting.
The other morning my car was repossessed and I am $11,900 behind on rent. My lease is now over and I am stuck here without housing options available to me.
I graduated high school at 17 and attended my first year of community college homeless.
I was escaping a lifetime of domestic abuse and complete isolation. At the time I had no doors, no technology, and no freedom.
I’ve never been supported financially by my family. Ever.
I have been working and paying for all my belongings since I was 10.
Before losing my job to the pandemic in 2020, I worked 40-60 hours a week in food service. At one point I would go to the gym at 4am, work at 5:30 in the morning and not get home from two different jobs until 11pm or later.
This summer I have been working an average of 30 hours a week - making $30-40 Hr. with landscaping, cleaning, moving, and more to get by.
Last Summer 2021 I was the sole caregiver to my hospitalized 72 year old father where I personally paid for his transfer to UCLA from an abusive Bakersfield hospital. This was from June 2021 until October 2021. He’d be dead otherwise. Because of the severity of his illness and abusive hospital systems. He lost major parts of his leg from the negligence.
During this time I suffered a major concussion and broken arm in July 2021, leaving me with indefinite visual impairment and post concussive syndrome. UCLA did not diagnose me at the ER with either. I was forced to move to Los Angeles alone, dealing with those unknown ailments. I went back to the ER at USC and was diagnosed over two weeks later. However, not long after, USC threw me out of their hospital with police force following medical gaslighting.
Spring of 2021 I had a trip to the ER for an unknown autoimmune attack likely instigated by stress.
I now am left with thousands of dollars of medical debt.
I have not had access to adequate dental care due to circumstances for the last two years.
My two cats are long overdue for the vet.
I bought my car in 2021 right before my father was unexpectedly hospitalized.
I had over 4000 saved at the time.
My credit when starting at USC was 731 and is now 488.
This summer I was hoping to visit some of the last surviving family I have in Canada, such as my 90 year old Auntie who just got COVID and now has visual impairment. My Uncle passed away in April 2021 and I was unable to attend his funeral nor visit his resting place since. He was the reason I am in film today and the last we spoke was right before my first semester at USC. My brother and Cousin are there as well who I haven’t seen in years.
I was also hoping to visit my Ecuadorian family for the first time in my life this summer, since the US court system unjustly separated me from them as a baby.
It can be summed up with my Mom’s words: “they treated me as a crazy, Brown foreigner so I was never treated with respect no matter how much I tried to protect you and care for you these years.”
Even before my car was taken, I did not have enough money to fix it and pay the gas to visit my 92 year old Abuelito or celebrate my Abuelitas birthday two hours away in Bakersfield.
I haven’t had time to learn enough Spanish to connect with them or the rest of my family on a deeper level, no matter how hard I try.
I was given recognition under the “Order of Troy” in Spring 2021 for significant cultural contributions to the campus.
This was after spending the last two years building Queer Students in Cinematic Arts with a community of other Queer and trans* students. We were provided no funding from the university. I began using my food stamps to pay for community events.
Now, my food stamps don’t last me more than two weeks out of every month because of inflation.
Even though I don’t make enough, a lot of the money I do make goes toward food since I don’t have the capacity, time, or desire to cook for myself every day multiple times a day. Also, I simply like to eat out with friends occasionally.
I am a film student, yet I have turned down countless productions because I didn’t have the time, the money, the mental health, or the energy because my free time went mainly into the student organization when not trying to survive.
I still need to finish three incomplete classes from Fall 2021 because of the major trauma I was experiencing.
I have been burdened by asking for thousands of dollars from friends or family who can’t afford it, but gifted me support still.
There is no opportunity for students like myself to have an equitable space for professional development while in school.
For perspective, USC provides student athletes:
Free food multiple times a day
Medical services paid in full
Mental health services 24/7 with limitless, no-wait therapy appointments
A monthly stipend (check) to use however pleased.
This doesn’t mean student athletes aren’t deserving of these accommodations, but if any student deserves this, low income students do too. This school holds billions of dollars for itself while claiming to be a nonprofit institution whose “central mission… is the development of human beings as a whole… an extraordinary closeness and willingness to help one another are evident among USC students, alumni, faculty, and staff; indeed, for those within its compass the Trojan Family is a genuinely supportive community… Thus our planning, commitments and fiscal policies are directed toward building quality and excellence in the long term.” quoted from the 2021 USC Financial Report
If 2020 and the pandemic taught us anything, inaction is a choice.
USC chooses to cause suffering to thousands of students, their families, and the Southern Californian community.
I was in San Fransisco in December of 2021 with not enough money to get gas to go home and a couple days before Christmas when I begged for help from financial aid. I spoke with Dean McWhorter and he essentially told me he would not help and that I should consider working more. I was already one month behind on rent.
This last June my Palestinian friend called me in an emergency telling me that he was outed by his family, disowned, and kicked out for being Queer. He was going to be in LA within a week and wanted to know if he’d be okay going to USC still. I had received an email from USC that day about how proud they were of their Queer & trans* students, but didn’t have the heart to tell my friend the truth -- he was not going to be okay.
This last week my friend and mentor Dr. Lan Duong at the School of Cinematic Arts put me in touch with another student who was disowned by their family. A student of immigrants, she was facing the next three years alone and chose to try and graduate early despite her dreams since she didn’t want to be burdened by the financial weight of USC.
If we are family here at USC, the Trojan Family, why aren’t independent and low-income students offered a spot at the table to eat? To speak even? To be heard or seen?
There is no excuse for USC not to provide these basic needs to all underprivileged students:
FULL TUITION WAIVERS
UNLIMITED PERSONAL DINING AND FOOD
SUBSIDIZED MEDICAL AND DENTAL CARE
I also demand USC’S transparency for how funds are used specifically from and for low income students.
To all my friends who believe in human life, rights, equity, antiracism, decolonizing efforts, and justice — fight with me. Activism is an action word and this is a revolution against evil and exploitative institutions. I don't call for physical violence, but we must act offline. We must act in person.
USC is one elite institution of many. Go review how your institution received and used COVID relief funds and investigate how they are supporting low income students through financial aid. It was law for them to provide and many chose themselves over human lives. This information may be hard to find, but is public.
A document with links to all the information I discussed here and more can be found here: Make USC Pay References, Documents & Financials
There is so much I have not said in this fight, but we will share everything we are working toward soon. If you would like to be more involved, please contact me via: email@example.com or fill out this form (here).
Please fight on with me.
Thank you for your time.
all my best ~ a.j.