Encouraging words, food and dancing highlight USC’s Student Equity and Inclusion Programs welcome

“Don’t forget to dream while you’re here,” Vice President for Student Life Monique S. Allard reminds students.

August 29, 2023 Greg Hernandez

Founders Park on the University Park Campus came alive Sunday afternoon when attendees of USC’s Student Equity and Inclusion Programs’ Fall Welcome headed to the stage area to take part in the Cupid Shuffle and other line dances to tunes spun by popular DJ Wall-E.

The dancing followed on-stage presentations about identity-specific resource centers and student communities at the event designed to help students build community within USC’s diverse population.

USC’s Student Equity and Inclusion Programs: Celine De Villa and Farrah Diogene staff booth
Celine De Villa, left, and Farrah Diogene staff the First Generation Student Assembly booth. (Photo/Greg Hernandez)

“The goal is to let all of our students know that they’re welcome — that they belong,” said Greedley F. Harris, director of strategic partnerships for USC’s Student Equity and Inclusion Programs. “We’re hoping students come out and make a friend, find community, know what resources are here to support them, and have some good food at the same time.”

Among the more than 300 people attending the event, incoming students in particular had a chance to learn about the equity and inclusion programs’ centers and resources. After visiting some of the many booths spread across the park, students could help themselves to heaping servings of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens from Fixins Soul Kitchen, taco plates and agua frescas from MX 30-30 or specialties from Mee Dee Thai Kitchen.

First Generation Student Assembly debuts

Celine De Villa, a senior at the USC Gould School of Law, spent the day overseeing the First Generation Student Assembly booth, proudly declaring, “We’re making history.”

The assembly is the first of its kind and is having a trial run this fall. Its main goal is to provide social and professional events for first-generation students, to let them know they have community and resources on campus, and to advocate for them.

“If they ever feel that the university needs to have a bit more focus on some sort of first-gen struggle, we’re capable of being able to bring that issue up and advocate for those changes on a university level,” De Villa said. “We want them to know they have a community on campus that understands their experience as first-gen students and that there are people who are really dedicated to helping them grow.”

Students make connections at USC’s Student Equity and Inclusion Programs welcome

Naayah Bailey, a senior at the USC School of Dramatic Arts and assistant director of the USC Latine Student Assembly, said she was interested in making connections and looking into the progress of some of the cultural groups. As a first-generation student, Bailey was especially excited about the First Generation Student Assembly booth.

“USC is a great school and it has so many opportunities, but it’s also a PWI [predominantly white institution],” she said. “For a student of color like me, and also for first-generation students, it’s just really hard to find our communities and feel like we’re at home.”

That’s why Bailey was so happy to be taking in all the activity on Sunday.

Events like this uplift the voices of organizations that are fully diverse and inclusive.

Naayah Bailey, USC Latine Student Assembly

“Events like this uplift the voices of organizations that are fully diverse and inclusive,” she said. “It’s just really important and makes us feel like we have a better connection with the USC community as a whole.”

Tadas Rackauskas, a senior at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, ran the Middle Eastern North African Student Assembly (MENASA) booth during the event. Rackauskas shared how becoming involved in the group last year quickly enhanced his Trojan experience. Born in Lithuania with Turkish ancestry, he had felt disconnected on campus.

“I felt really nervous to go to the events at first because I speak Turkish, but I do not look like it at all,” he said. “But everyone was super accepting, and I’ve never had an issue. The MENASA community is very friendly, very warm.”

USC Dornsife junior Nour Myra Geha was giving away free cookies at the Middle Eastern and North African Student Lounge booth before leaving the table for a bit to join the line dancing.

“It’s wonderful to see all the diversity here, but of course, there’s always room for more growth,” said Geha, cultural ambassador for the lounge. “We’re just excited to meet all the new people. This side of USC exists, and we want to show them that.”

Taking time to dream

USC Vice President for Student Life Monique S. Allard provided welcome remarks at the event, emphasizing to students that “supporting you all as whole humans is our priority every day.” She reminded the crowd that the university is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.

We’re here to support you when you need it, every time you need it. Just let us know.

Monique S. Allard, USC Student Life

“We’re so happy that you’re here, and we hope that you know and feel every day that you belong here,” Allard said. “We’re here to support you when you need it, every time you need it. Just let us know.”

Allard, a two-time Trojan alumna and a first-generation college student herself, left the students with this bit of advice: “Work hard, but don’t forget to dream while you’re here.”

In addition to DJ Wall-E, the event featured musical performances by groups of student performers, including the Japanese drumming ensemble Kazan Taiko, the East Asian a cappella group USC Trogon, drag performer Rae Oblivion and the South Asian fusion a cappella Team USC Asli Baat.

The annual event, part of the official USC welcome experience, was sponsored by Asian Pacific American Student Services, USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, the First Generation Plus Success Center (which serves first-generation, undocumented, former foster youth and transfer students),  La CASA, the LGBTQ+ Student Center, Student Basic Needs and the Veterans Resource Center.