The Changing Political Climate at USC
By Bernadette Anat
Unigo Campus Rep at USC
When it comes to politics, the students at the University of Southern California seem to take the laid-back rebel path: Trojans are advocates of change, but aren't radical in their approach. Consequently, the main objective of USC's political group leaders is rallying its troops to action.
With USC’s reputation as a pricey private school funded by affluent families, many expect the student body to reflect a conservative middle-class. However, today's Trojans are defying that assumption. “A lot of people have conservative parents here,” says freshman and Political Student Assembly member Antonia Blumberg, “but most of the students I talk to are liberal.” Martin Sullivan, co-president of the USC Law Democrats, says most students here are “socially progressive”. In addition, statistics through recent voter registration at USC show that much of the student body is identifying themselves as Democrats.
What has caused this generational change in political sentiment? USC students cite just being young. Yearning for change as they learn how our government works is one of the reasons, amongst disillusionment with the Republican party and dissent towards the current administration. But you won't find wild government protests or showy demonstrations at USC. Political noise on the campus itself is not nearly as loud as students' individual opinions.
In fact, “lukewarm” seems to be the key word which describes the heat of political action at USC, according to Director of USC's Political Student Assembly, senior Manpreet Sadhal. “USC has a reputation for being politically apathetic,” says Sandhal. “There's a small group of people that are extremely active, and many get spread too thin.” There are 15 member organizations under the PSA itself, each promoting separate issues such as UNICEF, Human Rights Action, and USC College Democrats and Republicans. Because political organization within USC is so widely dispersed USC students sometimes find it difficult to get particular initiatives, such as environmental petitions , taken care of.
Now, with the upcoming elections piquing the interests of many Trojans, political concern is rising at USC. “Most people are registered and have a basic awareness of what's going on, and they're willing to give their opinion, if you ask them,” comments Blumberg. “But they're not gonna do it without some prompting.”
During normal fall semesters, politics tend to be overshadowed by the Trojan epidemic that is football season. However, the upcoming election and the imminent threat of certain issues has mobilized more students to action. USC students are particularly concerned with the problems staring all Americans in the face: our economy, our foreign policies, and (somewhat surprisingly) alternative energy. It's issues, not candidates or parties, that USC students form their strongest political opinions upon. And with such a diverse student body set in the cultural salad-bowl of Los Angeles, political group leaders at USC aren't interested in changing minds.
Their main initiative? Promoting voter registration.
USC Law Democrats, for example, are planning a trip to Nevada – identified as a 2008 swing state – to encourage voter registration. Both the Students for Barack Obama and Students for John McCain organizations can be found tabling on Trousdale Parkway every day, inviting students to vote regardless of their party affiliation. And USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics has already arranged several informational events for both parties this semester, such as inviting coordinators from both Obama and McCain's campaign to talk about each candidates' platform and express why voter registration is critical this election year. Trojans also have the opportunity to meet in casual settings: The Unruh Institute, Students for Obama and Students for McCain work together to set up weekly, bi-partisan brown bag lunches about different issues, such as the economy and the environment – and according to Sadhal, these lunches are always packed with students. Cultivating an open and fair political environment is the main priority for all of USC's political organizations.
The turbulence of this year's critical issues, the contrast between the candidates, and the growing inspiration for civic involvement amongst young voters have definitely lit a fire in many otherwise-apathetic Trojans. USC is taking new strides in catering to its influx of inquiring voters, allowing for students of all political backgrounds to get informed and get engaged.