A Message to USC Students from Winston Crisp and Varun Soni

August 24, 2020

Dear USC Students,

As we begin a new academic year, we write today to reaffirm the University’s commitment to our shared Principles of Community and to make clear our position on issues regarding online harassment, identity-based discrimination, and the importance of free speech.

At USC, the principle of expansive free speech is a foundational pillar for everything we do – from research to teaching to creative expression to advocacy – and that is why we encourage students to debate and deliberate the most challenging and contentious issues of our time. But with the power of free speech also comes the responsibility of ensuring that our speech does not unfairly demean, denigrate, or delegitimize other members of our community. And now that we are learning, meeting, and socializing in new online spaces, we are more vulnerable to the kind of online bullying that is a symptom of a larger social media culture that encourages negativity and cruelty. This is especially true for minoritized students and communities, who are disproportionately subjected to toxic and hateful speech, both on campus and online.

Indeed, over the past few months, we’ve witnessed online bullying and harassment of students – especially within the context of Undergraduate Student Government (USG) – that has had a devastating impact upon students across our community. A number of hurtful and hateful comments were made by USG leaders and against USG leaders, by people within our community and outside our community, in both public and private spaces. And unfortunately, the online bullying and harassing of a number of students continues.

These expressions of online hate and harassment have targeted Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, Black, and other students. This has caused profound pain for students who have been blamed and scapegoated for situations beyond their control. This is totally unacceptable for us as a university community. No student should be subjected to online harassment or threatening behavior, and we will continue to follow up on these cases and hold people accountable as appropriate. If you or anyone you know has been targeted by online bullying, intimidation, or threats, please call the Office of Threat Assessment and Management at (213) 740-0243, or email threatassess@usc.edu.

Despite the turmoil of the past months, we have also seen many of our students embracing difficult, urgent conversations with each other in a way that builds trust and empathy when we need it most. Indeed, we have all learned from each other during this time. As a university, we have learned that we need to build a better framework for addressing the enduring challenges of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bias and discrimination. That is why President Folt has made it a priority to install a Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer and has created the President’s and Provost’s Task Force on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Through these and other new resources, we plan to convene conversations and working groups this year to help us think about how we move forward together.

As we embark on the difficult conversations required to build and strengthen a culture that is truly inclusive and respectful of racial and religious diversity, and of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs, we must treat each other with civility at every opportunity. We hope that as we engage with each other respectfully, we can move beyond stereotyped beliefs that lead to implicit and explicit biases, and instead foster a more supportive campus culture.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that we all take responsibility for our role in our community. For USC to be a leading voice in the 21st century, we must be known not just for what we do, but how we do it.

Sincerely,

Winston B. Crisp
Vice President for Student Affairs

Varun Soni
Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention
Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life