Heartfelt tributes and joyous reunions highlight USC Title IX celebration

Legendary USC athletics administrator Barbara Hedges was clearly the star attraction at the “Title IX: 50 Years of Progress” kickoff event Thursday evening.

She received two standing ovations, had the student-athlete lounge officially named after her and graciously navigated a steady stream of current and former athletes, coaches and staff who wanted to have their photo taken with her.

Title IX logo“Your passion, your competitive spirit, your vision, your determination, and your commitment to young women lives on in a big, big way,” USC Director of Athletics Mike Bohn said to Hedges before a crowd of nearly 200 people at Heritage Hall.

The evening, presented by USC Athletics, included a screening of a new Title IX documentary featuring Hedges and others and a livestreamed Title IX panel discussion that preceded a sit-down dinner.

It was 50 years ago this week that Title IX legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any school or other educational program receiving funding from the federal government was signed into law. Hedges was hired as coordinator of women’s athletics at USC in 1973 and steadily developed women’s athletics into a powerhouse during her 18 years at the university.

USC President Carol L. Folt introduced the evening’s panel, noting that since the passage of Title IX, USC women have earned 36 team national championships and 91 NCAA individual championships — and that 149 have been Olympians.

“I just want to say to all the women of Troy, you know how to slay it,” Folt said.

Folt pointed out that since the median age in America is 38, more than half of the people in the country have lived in a world where Title IX always existed.

“Yet most of them may not even understand what it was, how it got here, how precious that work was, and how important it is that we keep it going,” she said.

“We still have work to do. I have no doubt that we’re going to keep pushing, and we will continue to do the best that we can to be expanding the scope, the promise and the efficacy of Title IX.”

Panel of luminaries highlights USC Title IX anniversary event

Hedges and Bohn were joined by Olympian Janet Evans, USC women’s basketball head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and USC women’s tennis All-American Eryn Cayetano for the Title IX panel moderated by USC Senior Associate Athletic Director Joyce Bell Limbrick.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about Title IX today,” said Evans, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and USC alumna. “It made me think about my privilege and the opportunity that I always had to swim. Because of people like Barbara, never in my journey did someone say to me, ‘You can’t do this because you’re a woman.’ But there were a lot of women before my generation who had that experience. So, I am forever grateful.”

Gottlieb said that while she was born five years after Title IX passed, that legislation changed her life more than any other — mainly because she didn’t have to think about it.

“It’s important for me to be a link and also to educate the young people on how it wasn’t always the way it is now,” Gottlieb said. “What I need to be able to do is to keep pushing the progress forward and take the torch from people like Barbara.”

Gottlieb, who is expecting her second child, said mentoring her athletes is as important to her as being a parent.

“Every single day, I hopefully get to show them through what we do on the basketball court and off, that there’s no limitations for who they could be and what they can be,” she said. “To me, that’s the embodiment of Title IX: those opportunities and what they turn those opportunities into.”

Bohn and other panelists spoke about the role men should be taking when it comes to achieving gender equality in college athletics and hiring more women in leadership positions.

“It takes everyone,” he said. “There’s a consistent, dedicated commitment to what we’re trying to put together, whether it’s making a difference associated with new facilities to admissions to fundraising to social media to promotion. It takes all of us to do it, and it is an intentional commitment.”

Hedges derided what she sees as a widespread assumption that women don’t know enough about football to be athletic directors. She left USC in 1991 to become athletic director at the University of Washington and became the longest-serving female athletic director among NCAA Division I schools.

“You don’t have to know about the spread offense,” she said. “You need to love football, you need to know the sport just as you need to know all the other sports. And you need to understand the importance of football in the whole scheme of things.”

Gottlieb also weighed in on the topic, saying, “The next step in women’s sports is having it not just be a women’s issue. People in positions of power need to not only look to help women but literally move over and make seats at the table. We’re wasting 50% of talent if we’re only hiring men.”

Documentary at Title IX anniversary event brings back memories

Prior to the start of the outdoor panel and dinner, the Title IX: 50 Years of Progress documentary by USC alumni Jasmine Blevins and Gage Masterson was screened several times indoors. Hedges was seated in the front row for the final screening and was quickly surrounded afterward by former USC athletes for hugs, joyous reunions and selfies.

“It really gives me chills watching the video,” said Tamryn Wilkins, who as Tammy Story played on the USC women’s basketball team from 1988-92. “I hope that everyone who came after me knows just how special a place this is, how top-tier we are. I love being with my old teammates and seeing women who came before me and paved the way for me.”

LeeAnne Sera, who played on two national championship basketball teams in the early 1980s, was also emotional. She traveled from Northern California for the event and was reunited with several of her teammates.

The documentary and the footage of our championships, it absolutely takes you back.

LeeAnne Sera, member of two
USC national championship basketball teams

“When I look back at what we were able to experience 30 years ago and how far women’s sports have come, it brings tears to my eyes,” Sera said. “The documentary and the footage of our championships, it absolutely takes you back. You can feel the tradition and that heartfelt connection. What Barbara really instilled in us is that we are human beings who can do anything. It still stays with me.”

Barbara Hallquist DeGroot, the first female student at USC to receive an athletic scholarship, was featured in the film and enjoyed catching up with other athletes.

“It’s just a flood of good feelings and memories,” said DeGroot, who won the national collegiate tennis singles title in 1976 and 1977 and later turned pro. “Seeing Barbara Hedges here is just so special. She’s the reason I’m here, she’s the reason we’re all here. She was the trailblazer, and all I had to do was step on the trail. She made it all make sense for me and so many other female scholar-athletes, and we’re just indebted to her forever.”

At one point during the evening, Hedges asked the athletes she had worked with in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s to stand and take a bow.

“This program began with young women who were willing to work hard,” she said. “They didn’t have everything in the beginning, they didn’t have everything for quite awhile. But they were willing to work hard, and they were willing to make their commitment to USC. I call them the legends of USC.”

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USC panel offers complex perspectives on Juneteenth holiday

Francille Rusan Wilson had a heartfelt question for members of the USC community who gathered Monday for a virtual event celebrating Juneteenth and discussing its history.

“After 157 years, isn’t it time for all Americans to commit to freedom and justice for all?” asked Wilson, an associate professor of American studies and ethnicity, history, and gender and sexuality studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Wilson provided historical context on the newest federal holiday, which marks when the last of enslaved people in United States were liberated. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union forces reached Texas to announce and enforce the end of slavery there — 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Wilson was among the faculty, staff and students who participated in the USC Juneteenth event that included remarks from President Carol L. Folt and a live panel discussion titled “Triumph Over Adversity” moderated by USC Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning.

USC Juneteenth commemoration marks America’s true Independence Day

Manning said he prefers to think of Juneteenth as America’s true Independence Day. “It is the first day in American history in which we were all truly free,” he said. “It is important to celebrate and remember that as a central part of our heritage.”

Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black families for generations but gained wider attention after the murders of George Floyd and others by police. A little more than a year ago, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making the day a federal holiday.

Wilson said that, in the early days of liberation, Black Texans considered Juneteenth to be their Fourth of July and a holiday — something often opposed by their employers and local officials.

The lessons of Juneteenth are that our fundamental freedoms can never be taken for granted.

Francille Rusan Wilson,
USC Dornsife professor

“Juneteenth celebrations served to gather the community, to plan protests, as well as to mark the resilience and determination to thrive,” she said. “The lessons of Juneteenth are that our fundamental freedoms can never be taken for granted. They must be exercised, protected and practiced.”

Several of the participants in the USC event acknowledged mixed feelings about the occasion because of the centuries of pain and struggle behind it.

“Is it a holiday? Is it a commemoration?” Manning asked. “How does one be celebratory when thinking about a history of over 250 years of enslavement followed by nearly 100 years of Jim Crow [anti-Black laws] followed by continued structural oppression? Is that something to celebrate?”

‘A little conflicted’ at USC Juneteenth commemoration

Panelist Miki Turner, associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, described herself as “a little conflicted” about Juneteenth. She said she would be feeling more celebratory if the federal holiday had come before the series of well-publicized killings of unarmed Black Americans in the past decade by police and others.

“Is it a reasonable ask for us to celebrate the end of slavery in an era when we are experiencing this sort of heinous, regressive renaissance in our country?” Turner asked. “I think any of us who were born when Jim Crow was still in a shallow grave have issues reconciling the past with today.

“I hope we can use this day to reflect on where we’ve been and where we need to go,” Turner added. “I certainly hope it won’t be just another day to fire up the grill and drink Red Pop. It needs to be more than that.”

I think we are an extraordinary people.

Ricky Bluthenthal, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Panelist Ricky Bluthenthal, professor of population and public health sciences and associate dean for social justice at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said that despite the barriers, many African Americans have managed to find a way to thrive.

“I think we are an extraordinary people,” Bluthenthal said. “I feel like each day I learn something new about the amazing accomplishments of our group in the context of violence, systematic exclusion, material deprivation. We’ve triumphed. If we remove these barriers, even more good things will flow our way.”

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‘Title IX changed USC immensely,’ women’s sports trailblazer says


Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was passed on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the year. Up first: an athletics administrator who helped changed the playing field.

Groundbreaking USC athletics administrator Barbara Hedges compares the passage of Title IX 50 years ago this week to American women being granted the right to vote in 1920.

“The impact was very similar,” said Hedges, whose career at USC began in 1973. “It has been so successful and provided opportunities for millions. If you looked at the women just from USC and what they’re doing now, they are doctors, lawyers, teachers and scientists.”

Hedges, 31 years old at the time, was hired as coordinator of women’s athletics when there were just five women’s sports at USC and very little funding.

She had been an athlete since she was 11 starting out with softball and “played every sport you can imagine.” Hedges, the youngest of nine children from Glendale, Ariz., began her career as a high school physical education teacher and gymnastics coach. She was a professor of physical education at Arizona State University when USC came calling.

Maximizing opportunities of Title IX

Hedges immediately made it her mission to maximize opportunities made possible by the landmark Title IX legislation that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

“I am thrilled about the fact that I was there in the very beginning,” Hedges said. “I was in charge of the women’s athletics program, and I knew that USC needed to be a leader in providing opportunity for women in athletics. We couldn’t sit back, and we couldn’t wait. We had to move forward in providing scholarships, and that was the big issue at the time.”

She had a staunch ally in John McKay, the legendary USC football coach who was athletic director during that time. Hedges had a particularly memorable meeting with McKay in early 1974 during which she stated that USC needed to be a leader in women’s athletics just as it had long been in men’s athletics.

“Women wanted to have a program comparable to the men,” Hedges recalled. “I asked John to advocate to the university for scholarships for women. At that time, many athletic directors were fighting Title IX; John didn’t do that. He agreed to go to the university, and the university said yes. And the rest is history. USC moved ahead while many schools were just staying in place, and I really thank John McKay for that.”

Money was not only needed for full scholarships, but also for recruitment, travel and adding more sports. Hedges began raising money by quickly forming two support groups for women’s athletics: Women’s Trojan Club and Women of Troy.

“We developed a donor base, support for the program, and our student athletes were all part of what we were trying to do,” she recalled. “I believe those early student athletes and coaches and staff helped build one of the most successful programs in the country, without a doubt.”

During Hedges’ 18 years at USC, women’s sports won 13 national titles. In 1985, some men’s sports were also put under her supervision and four years later, she became senior associate athletic director.

A trailblazer in the Northwest, too

Hedges left USC in 1991 to become athletic director at the University of Washington. She held that position until retiring in 2004 as the longest-serving female athletic director among NCAA Division I programs.

She was inducted into the USC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012. She soon returned to USC to serve as co-chair of the athletic department’s Heritage Initiative fundraising effort and in 2016 chaired the USC Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony.

As I look back, I think, ‘You were there, Barbara, right there on the bottom floor in the very beginning …’

Barbara Hedges, Title IX trailblazer

“As I look back, I think, ‘You were there, Barbara, right there on the bottom floor in the very beginning, and building a program and fighting for women’s opportunities,” she said. “It truly is a thrill for me.”

Hedges, who has lived in Palm Desert for many years, is extremely protective of the federal legislation that she has personally seen help make so much possible for female students at USC.

“I believe Title IX needs to be protected at all costs and women have to be protected at all costs,” she said. “The present and future student athletes to have the same benefits and opportunities as those that have come before them.”

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USC Juneteenth celebration to focus on ‘triumph over adversity’

Members of the USC community will gather virtually on Monday to commemorate Juneteenth, a celebration marking when the last of enslaved people in United States were liberated.

President Carol L. Folt will join with faculty, staff and students for the event, which is taking place a day after the traditional date because June 19 falls on a Sunday this year. It can be accessed through a Zoom link on the university’s website.

USC Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning will moderate the live panel discussion titled “Triumph Over Adversity.”

While Juneteenth is a time to celebrate freedom, Manning said, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the terrible toll of slavery on our country and the continuing fight for racial equality.

“A holiday may indeed be celebrated, but it’s not same as people knowing its meaning,” he said. “We have to be intentional in how we celebrate these days, intentional in how we commemorate, so that we don’t lose the impact of their meaning.”

Despite President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in 1863 and the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union forces reached Texas to announce and enforce the end of slavery there.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making Juneteenth the first new federal holiday since the addition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Juneteenth: Interested increased in 2020

Although Juneteenth has long been a part of American history, interest in the observance increased dramatically following the nationwide protests that erupted in 2020 after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans by police.

“Whether or not Black Lives Matter [had] happened, Juneteenth happened,” Manning said. “Social unrest, concern about equity: Those are all indications of continued struggle. But those are not reasons to celebrate Juneteenth. The reason is because Juneteenth is illustrative of some of the fundamental problems that we’ve grappled with as a nation. If we want to understand our own history, we have to understand Juneteenth.”

USC Juneteenth celebration includes panel

Manning will be joined for a panel discussion by Ricky Bluthenthal, professor of population and public health sciences and associate dean for social justice at the Keck School of Medicine of USC; Miki Turner, associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism; and Barbara Solomon, Professor Emerita of social work at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

Francille Rusan Wilson, an associate professor of American studies and ethnicity, history and gender and sexuality studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will provide historical context on Juneteenth at the event.

The celebration will also include a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (often referred to as the Black national anthem) and a welcome address from Folt, as well as remarks from Black Staff and Faculty Caucus President Cynthia Brass and USC Senior Vice President for Human Resources Felicia Washington.

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USC Bovard College graduate makes lasting impact on LGBTQ+ curriculum

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Becca van Sambeck

USC Bovard College Graduate Makes Lasting Impact on LGBTQ+ Curriculum

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USC Bovard College Graduate Makes Lasting Impact on LGBTQ+ Curriculum
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The Order of Ar?te is the highest honor a graduate student can receive at USC. It’s an award given to students who have exemplified academic excellence, demonstrated outstanding leadership and contributed greatly to the USC community during their studies.

This year, the Order of Ar?te was bestowed upon six students from USC Bovard College, including recent online Master of Science in Human Resource Management (MSHRM) graduate Charli Gross.

HR was not the path Gross thought he would embark on, however, following his graduation from California State University, Northridge with a bachelor’s in communication.

“After graduating, I kind of hopped around to a variety of different roles. I started to notice that in all of my roles, I was involved in ‘extracurriculars,’ for lack of a better word, that were really focused on HR concepts. I would be on the diversity, equity and inclusion committee, or running employee resource groups, or planning events. It wasn’t until I had a mentor point out to me this is something you could do as a job that I really realized that’s what I wanted to pursue,” Gross told USC Online.

To truly excel in the HR field, Gross researched potential graduate programs, considering what skills he needed to acquire for this career pivot. Eventually, he determined that USC was the perfect match for both his background and future goals.

“And of course, as USC is such a prestigious school, I’ve wanted to be a Trojan for a while,” he laughed.

Gross joined USC during a trying time, as students, faculty and staff alike had to navigate the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. But professors at USC Bovard College, he described, didn’t miss a beat. As the school offers five online graduate programs, faculty are experts in creating engaging virtual classes, said Gross, which helped him and his cohort succeed in their coursework.

Although he cited the professors as one of his favorite aspects of the program, Gross also highlighted the personal and thorough attention and support that each student received.

“Every single time I had a class session, there would be a tech support person there to make sure everything got started. Any time I reached out to Bovard College, or really any department in USC, I always got a quick and detailed response. [T]he quality of service that I received as a student to help me be successful stood out to me,” he explained.

Gross enjoyed the MSHRM experience so much he eventually decided to become a program ambassador to help prospective students learn more about the program and what it can do for their careers.

“HR was not something that I had seen myself doing when I was younger … As an ambassador, I get to help people who were where I was a few years ago, realizing that this might be a path they want to take. [I also] get to help them understand what kind of process they need to go through to either make the career change or take the next step and understand whether this program is the right one for them,” he explained.

Gross hasn’t just given back to the USC community through his work as a program ambassador. When describing why he was selected for the Order of Ar?te, USC Bovard College noted he also “provided invaluable feedback for the program’s LGBTQ+ module, resulting in revisions to the course for future students.”

Gross has long been involved with LGBTQ+ organizations: He was a leader at Gamma Rho Lambda National Sorority (a queer, all-inclusive social sorority), he has worked with The Trevor Project (a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth) and he consistently takes on roles within workplace DEI committees.

Naturally, when Gross approached the LGBTQ+ portion of his diversity and inclusion program course, he was thrilled to dive in, but he ended up feeling disappointed by the material.

“In one of my homework posts, I mentioned that I was incredibly underwhelmed by the lack of updated, relevant content that was accurate and thorough … As a queer trans man, I felt really unseen in the chapter that’s supposed to make me feel included and educate future HR professionals on my community. I felt like we were doing a disservice to both the LGBTQ community and to these future HR professionals who are supposed to be dealing with these issues in the future,” he explained.

Gross was not, however, let down by his professor’s response. The “amazing” faculty member handled the feedback well, even calling Gross to apologize and thank him for his constructive comments.

The professor acknowledged Gross’ criticism to the class and started the process of updating the curriculum, and Gross was incredibly pleased by how his concerns were addressed.

“It’s so important to remember that as things change, everyone is going to make mistakes. It was a mistake not to update … but it isn’t about not making mistakes. It’s all about how we recover from them because mistakes are inevitable. In the recovery from that mistake, I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better on the part of my professor and on the part of Bovard College … One of the reasons that I love the College and the program so much is that it was handled so well,” Gross said.

Gross’ ability to speak out and make a meaningful impact is just one of the many reasons he is such a deserving candidate for the Order of Ar?te. It’s an honor he’s been thrilled to receive, a welcomed bookend to his rewarding time at USC Bovard College.

In fact, his two years in the program have been so successful that he was even able to land his dream role as a senior talent acquisition partner at Mattel, where Gross interned shortly after being accepted into the MSHRM cohort.

“I’ve come full circle from where I started the program in a way … It’s a good feeling, all of it,” Gross reflected.

Explore the online MS in Human Resource Management program today, and learn more about Order of Ar?te honorees Fadi Abdelhalim, Amber Brown, Jon Glidewell, Dan Laughlin and Drashti Patel.

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‘We will always find our people’: USC kicks off Pride Month with celebration

When Keck School of Medicine at USC graduate student Carla Ibarra came out as a transgender woman nine years ago, she endured the loss of family members and friends who didn’t want to associate with her anymore. With help from a support network, she learned to stop hating herself and the body she was born in.

“I found the courage, the support, the love, and the community that has fully embraced me for who and what I am,” Ibarra said. “My community’s kindness taught me the power of seeing and loving myself. That … saved my life, and I want to pay my community’s kindness forward.”

On Wednesday, Ibarra shared her story at USC’s kickoff event celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Plus (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, themed “The Power of Community.”

USC President Carol L. Folt joined Ibarra and students, faculty and staff members at the virtual event. Earlier that day, the Keck Hospital of USC held a pride flag ceremony for the first time.

Finding power

USC’s LBGTQ+ Student Center supervisor Ab Monz?n said the event’s theme honors Ibarra’s story and others like hers — ways in which LGBTQ+ communities find power by coming together.

Pride celebrations provide opportunities to heal and celebrate. But as numerous anti-LGBTQ+ laws are written and passed across the United States, Monz?n encouraged attendees to “find your community and lend your voice to a collective movement.”

Monz?n added, “Always press for the right to live, to thrive as our authentic selves. … We all deserve the opportunity to figure it out [and] to live the way we want to.”

Creating space

Lindsey Morrison, a process architect at Keck Medicine of USC, described how a teenage experience inspired her to build community in the workplace.

“[I realized that] if [queer] spaces don’t exist to be fully myself, then I can create that,” Morrison said.

So seven years ago, she led a small group of LGBTQ+ staff, faculty and students to create what is now Keck Pride. This resource group helps foster a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ patients, families and employees across USC’s Health Sciences Campus.

Morrison has found it reassuring to be able to create a community among her colleagues at Keck Medicine of USC.

“The beauty is, I’m never going to be alone,” she said. “We will always find our people.”

A timeless message

In her remarks, President Folt highlighted the ONE Archives at USC Libraries — home to the most extensive collection of LGBTQ+ research materials in the world — and recalled a 1974 invitation to a Hollywood Pride parade that read: “United We Stand.”

That timeless message echoes USC’s theme for this year’s Pride Month, she said, adding: “USC will always be a safe place for our LGBTQIA+ community.”

Shortly before Wednesday’s virtual event, the Progress Pride Flag was raised in front of Keck Hospital of USC. For the first time, it will fly there during the entire month of June.

The Progress Pride Flag adds a five-colored chevron to the classic Rainbow Flag, representing marginalized LGBTQ+ communities of color, along with the colors of the Transgender Pride Flag.

Rodney Hanners, president and CEO of the USC Health System and Keck Medicine CEO, hosted the event with Keck School of Medicine Dean Carolyn C. Melzer. “I couldn’t be happier to join an organization committed to LGBTQ+ health and well-being,” said Melzer, who joined USC in March.

LGBTQ+ Pride Month takes place each June in honor of the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan, a tipping point for the gay liberation movement in the United States.


A complete list of USC Pride Month events can be found on the university’s event calendar.

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USC Pride Month to celebrate ‘The Power of Community’

USC kicks off a monthlong celebration of LGBTQ+ pride on June 1 with a virtual event themed “The Power of Community.”

USC President Carol L. Folt will join with students, faculty and staff members for the noon celebration, in which participants will share what pride means to them and more.

Speakers will also reflect on ways queer and trans communities empower and inspire, who their role models are, and what it means to be celebrating Pride in person again after experiencing COVID-19 shutdowns during the past two years.

“For so many queer college students, this is their introduction to Pride culture,” said USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences junior Hannah Gardiner of QuASA (Queer and Ally Student Assembly), the umbrella organization for queer student groups at USC.

“Not everyone is so lucky to be welcomed by their families and hometown communities,” Gardiner said. “By creating space for LGBTQ+ staff, students and faculty, USC Pride invites everyone — especially those who have never experienced the joy of queer pride — to celebrate themselves in a newly empowering way.”

USC Pride Month celebration comes amid swell of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

Speakers will also reflect on some of the struggles queer and trans people still face and what change they would still like to see. This year’s pride celebrations come amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills being proposed and laws being passed around the country.

“We are in a time in our country right now where LGBTQ+ rights and protections are under attack,” said Megan van der Toorn, student equity and inclusion programs manager for USC’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Plus Student Center. “To be able to uplift and celebrate our communities is powerful and important. Folks who are earlier in their journey or are still finding themselves can see that they are not alone.”

Shortly before Wednesday’s virtual event, the Progress Pride Flag will be raised in front of Keck Hospital of USC in an 11:45 a.m. ceremony.

The Progress Pride Flag adds a five-colored chevron to the classic Rainbow Flag, representing marginalized LGBTQ+ communities of color, along with the colors of the Transgender Pride Flag.

“This will be the first time that a pride flag has flown in front of the hospital for the entire month of June,” explained Lindsey Morrison, co-chair of Keck Pride, the LGBTQ+ employee resource group that spans Keck Medicine of USC and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The flag ceremony will be hosted by Rodney Hanners, president and CEO of the USC Health System and Keck Medicine CEO, and Keck School of Medicine Dean Carolyn C. Melzer.

USC to be represented in L.A. Pride event

Keck Pride, which focuses on creating a welcoming, inclusive environment for faculty, staff members and patients, will also participate in 52nd annual L.A. Pride Parade in Hollywood on June 12.

“The importance of that visibility and coming together is so powerful especially since we’ve been in a pandemic for more than two years now and haven’t been able to have those venues of connectiveness,” Morrison said. “This year in particular feels like it has even more importance around finding our joy together.”

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated each June in honor of the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan, a tipping point for the gay liberation movement in the United States.

Wednesday’s event can be viewed online. A full list of USC Pride Month events can be found on the university’s event calendar.

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Former Trojan offensive lineman has been driven to succeed from childhood — on and off the field

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They say venture capital is a tough field; competitive and fast-paced. Frank Martin II is not afraid. He’s already proven he’s got the fight, the discipline, and the focus for the job.

Martin, who stepped down from his position as an offensive lineman for the Trojans in 2021, completed his undergraduate degree in real estate development from the Price School, knocked out a master’s in project management from Bovard, and is currently finishing up his Master of Science in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MSEI) from the Marshall School. Three degrees in six years, all while being a spokesman for Athletics’ Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He recently accepted a job as a Venture Fellow at 2045 Ventures.

Turns out the dream of playing Trojan Football was just the start of Martin’s trajectory. A means to an end. Martin himself says this was really the plan all along.

“I want to show other kids of color that they don’t have to be an athlete or entertainer to succeed–pick up that book instead and be a part of big business,” he said.

Which isn’t to say that he didn’t love football.

West Covina to Orange County to Trojan Country

Martin grew up in West Covina, with his mother, a woman of East Indian descent and his father, a Nigerian American. As he tells the story, there was family pressure for his mother to not go through with her unplanned pregnancy. But she insisted and started a family with his father.

“My mom is the driving force in my life,” he said. “She chose me.”

The household was modest but full of love and support. His father encouraged him in sports (cheering on the Trojans) while his mother helped him excel at academics. Martin played baseball growing up, but as he became bigger and stronger, he set his sights on football.

“My Dad had a real talk with me at that time,” he recalled. “He said if you don’t get a football scholarship, we don’t know how we’ll pay for college. He always knew my athleticism would be my bread and butter.”

And so it was that he attended a sporting camp one summer before high school. Although he was still learning the ropes of football, he had an athleticism, tenacity and discipline that made him stand out from the crowd. Mater Dei, a Catholic high school with 28 league championships and six undefeated seasons, immediately took notice of him. “I went in blindly, just wanting to do the best that I could,” he said.

He joined Mater Dei as a freshman offensive lineman, even though getting to Santa Ana, where the high school is located, from his home in West Covina meant catching a 5 a.m. bus. Martin was already highly disciplined, and made the journey without complaint, staying long hours after school at practice before taking the reverse trip home for dinner followed by homework.

The fear of failing drove him to work harder than other people. “Making friends and socializing wasn’t on my list. My mind was focused on being the best athlete I could, because that was the way I was going to get an education and move up.” He made the varsity team and began reaching out to college recruiters himself. Martin had a goal and even in high school he wasn’t one to sit back and wait for it to happen.

Making the Dream Team

There was never any question of who he’d play for if given the chance. Martin remembers watching Trojan football with his father, weeping as an 8-year-old when they lost in the Rose Bowl. When the offer came in, Martin donned the cardinal and gold and arrived on campus in 2016, just in time for the memorable Trojan Rose Bowl win against Penn State.

As a freshman redshirt, he dressed for play but didn’t get on the field or travel for games. The next few years were challenging as well, and Martin saw very little on-field action during his undergraduate experience. Then came 2020. He continued to train hard, keeping his weight up, but working out had become like purgatory for him, he said. Nor did he have time to pursue his studies the way he wanted to.

He made a cost-benefit analysis. Did he continue to hurt his physical and mental health for a dream that wasn’t looking too likely anymore? He would not. Football did not define him at that point, he said. “Football was a tool I used to educate myself because I had no other choice.” With coach Clay Helton’s support, he walked away. “For the first time I felt like a college student. The amount of effort I could put into my classes is night and day.”

He stayed close to USC Athletics, working as a student director for its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. “I’m the one giving speeches to alumni at networking events, he said.

“I feel a sense of responsibility to maximize my opportunities I have. There’s a tribe of people who have invested in me,” he said. “I want to challenge people to go above the status quo.”

He knows there’s a high bar to enter the venture capital field, and a higher one to succeed. But Martin’s ready to put the work in.

“I’m used to the hard work,” he says. “The gritty way. I can do anything I put my mind to.”

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How turbulent times have shaped the USC Class of 2022

Jephtha Prempeh didn’t expect to take a gap year in the middle of his academic career at USC.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Bronx native immediately had trouble transitioning to online classes. Then his academic focus was further disrupted by the racial reckoning that followed the murder in May 2020 of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

“The way the pandemic and revolutionary upheaval with Black Lives Matter and the murder of George Floyd coincided with each other gave me the space and time to really think about — on my own — what I want to do with my future,” said Prempeh, who graduates from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences this week with a degree in non-governmental organizations and social change. “It really reshaped my perspective.”

The upheaval of the past few years has redefined the USC experience not just for Prempeh, but for all his fellow members of the Class of 2022. Early in the pandemic, the Floyd killing ignited a racial reckoning that continues, while anti-Asian hate crimes spiked. In addition, already vulnerable LGBTQ+ students have felt under siege by the onslaught of bills and laws targeting their rights.

Looking to previous generations of young people

Christopher Manning, USC’s chief inclusion and diversity officer, hopes students will look to the example set by past generations of young people who lived through such traumatic times as World War II, the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, and the Vietnam War.

“History tells us that surviving earth-shaking and earth-shattering events in one’s formative years give you the potential to do really great things in the world,” Manning said. “As they enter the next phase of their life, students should be inspired by their own ability to survive — and our ability to survive as a country. And never forget that inherent ability of humankind to take steps to become better if and only if we choose to do it.”

In the wake of Floyd’s murder, Prempeh was among the students who organized, marched and gathered signatures on petitions in an effort to make USC a safer and more welcoming place for Black students.

“That really changed the trajectory of my academic career,” he said. “I had to campaign for my grief and find ways to get to people who could actually make some sort of change.”

Prempeh, a dance minor and music production minor, felt frustrated and burned out after a few months and decided to take a break from school. He returned to campus a year later as committed to social change as ever before, but his time away had made him realize he wanted to follow a different path to that goal.

“I had been thinking, ‘What can I do that is still pushing my agenda but is not going to exhaust me?'” he explained as he took a lunch break inside the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs a week before finals. “A lot of my friends were creating art and speaking out on things that were important, and I just wanted to bring it all together in a place that would be positive, nurturing, restorative.”

As a student of nongovernmental organizations and social change, Prempeh said he learned that media representation is one of the biggest drivers of social change. To that end, he created PEWM (Proud of Everything We Make), an independently published magazine aimed at recentering pop culture from a diverse point of view.

“I was so fortunate we came back to campus this year because I wanted to do these things physically, within community,” Prempeh said. “One of our big things is creating conversations between people so they can bridge gaps in understanding because it shouldn’t take a big, crazy moment to jostle everyone.”

Increased awareness: What college students think

Jessica Brown, who will graduate this week from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering with an emphasis in building science, didn’t allow world events to slow her academic progress. But she became increasingly mindful of her status as the only Black student in her major within her year.

“There have been conversations about how to make USC a more diverse and inclusive place, and I feel like the university is taking steps in recognizing its role in these systemic problems,” Brown said. “As a student in a program that’s not that diverse in terms of the demographics, I definitely feel like the university has made efforts to make my experience better.”

From the start, Brown was determined to not feel like an outsider. She became president of the USC chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority — the first intercollegiate historically Black sorority — and a regional vice chair of the National Society of Black Engineers.

“I’ve had a positive experience at USC, but I have many friends who have had unfortunate experiences,” Brown said. “I’ve been interested in conversations that have taken place about how to make the school a more diverse and inclusive place, and this introspection is something I’ve been observing and find valuable.”

Lasting impact of the racial reckoning?

Harrison Forch, who is graduating from USC Viterbi with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering and computer science, remains hopeful that the racial reckoning will have a lasting impact not only at USC, but across the United States.

He had returned to live with his parents in Seattle during the pandemic. While continuing his USC classes online, he noticed an immediate change in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder.

“I remember my dad telling me that, for the first time in his life, white people saw him,” Forch said. “There have been countless numbers of times, for him and me, that we have felt literally physically invisible in public. But around 2020, my dad noticed that people would hold a door open for him — the physical act of recognizing somebody in the space.”

Forch pointed out that there is still hard work to be done beyond marches and panels.

“When it comes to social change, there needs to be a place for people to feel their emotions and process them, but a protest is just a start,” he said. “The stuff that ingrains permanent, systematic change is creating action plans and doing the stuff that nobody will ever see and nobody will ever get any credit for.”

The racial reckoning affecting these Black students occurred as Asian Americans began experiencing more threats and harassment than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the USC Center for Economic and Social Research’s Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey taken between April 1, 2020 and March 16, 2021.

Anti-Asian slur: ‘It really hurt’

Agustin Kang said “it really hurt” when he found out someone had hurled an anti-Asian slur at a USC classmate in Koreatown during the pandemic’s early months.

“I feel like as a Korean, I’m really proud of my culture, and we don’t mean any harm,” Kang said. “We’re here, and we’re just fellow immigrants like other immigrants here. We’re here to live an American life, to live a successful life.”

While the harassments and threats to his community were deeply upsetting, Kang felt from the start that education and understanding are the key to more racial harmony.

“I would want to help people understand,” explained the graduating senior. “If there’s any way for me to help them understand my culture, the things that we do and why we do them, and where we came from, this could help get rid of some of the finger-pointing and the hatred.”

That’s why he has been heartened by an increase in Asian, Pacific Islander and other cultural events taking place on campus.

“Becoming aware that there is this hate and this culture of finger-pointing, this school has been able to help,” he said. “They are definitely taking steps to become more united and having people see these different cultures.”

Kang, a neuroscience major, moved back to his parents’ house in Santa Clarita in 2020 and has been commuting to USC since in-person classes resumed.

“The pandemic and not being able to be on campus physically and to be with my friends, emotionally, there were a lot of struggles,” he said. “But the way we handled the situation and the way we’ve come out of it has been very impactful for me. It’s made me aware of how to make this campus safer and healthier. It’s been eye-opening, and I’m proud of this campus — that we’ve been able to come out of it stronger.”

The experiences of the past two years in particular have helped Kang to broaden his own perspective.

“I realize how narrow-minded I was, how small my bubble was,” he said. “I only knew a certain point of view. But because of the pandemic and all that took place during that time, I’m more open and aware of what’s going on and I’m asking, ‘How can I help?’ As USC students, I feel like we can have an impact because we have a voice. We can really change our community.”

What college students think: Leaning on each other for support

Esmeralda Bravo-Bonilla and other LGBTQ+ students have had to lean on each other for support in recent months.

They have felt traumatized as a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills are being proposed and laws are being passed around the country. These include Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

“Even with everything going on in the country, this community at USC has been here to support me,” Bravo-Bonilla said. “It’s definitely very difficult, but I’ve been able to really talk about it and to really work through our feelings and emotions in a space where everybody here has similar emotions and is going through similar things.”

Bravo-Bonilla will receive her bachelor’s degree this week in gender and sexuality studies from USC Dornsife. She is grateful that she was able to spend her final semester working as an intern at USC’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Plus Student Center.

“Being in this space, there’s always community, there’s always people to talk with,” she said. “It’s been really difficult, but it’s been one of the more supportive semesters in a while.”

But she worries that “there’s always something going on somewhere with anti-LGBTQ legislation and hate crimes and discrimination against the LGBT community.”

This comes as Bravo-Bonilla continues to process the trauma from the pandemic when she had to abruptly move out of university housing and live with a sister. She says her mental health declined — but she managed to stay on track with her studies.

“The ramifications of the past two years are still with me today,” she said. “I feel good about graduation considering all I had to go through to get here. But I almost feel like I need more time here at USC. I need to have back all that time that I was online, those years when we weren’t here in person. But I know my time here is done and there’s still so much more life to live.”

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Graduating anthropology major discovers a deeper sense of self and purpose

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Hameedha Khan arrived at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in August 2018 nervous and uncertain.

As a first-generation college student from Memphis, Tennessee, Khan centered her attention on navigating college life and providing for herself, a single-minded focus overpowering any earnest reflection on what she hoped to extract from her undergraduate experience.

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself,” Khan admits.

During her second year, however, Khan took a seat in Associate Professor of Comparative Literature Neetu Khanna’s class, and everything changed.

Exposed to scholars like Frantz Fanon and Ania Loomba, Khan encountered new perspectives to attack longstanding questions. Even more, Khanna’s presence at the front of the room — Khan’s first female professor of color at USC — altered Khan’s academic trajectory.

“I began to see a space for myself in academia, and one where maybe I could one day contribute to these life-shaping conversations,” Khan says.

Shaking the unease that blanketed her opening year at USC, Khan marched through her remaining undergraduate years with a defined purpose and clear vision. She prioritized taking classes outside her anthropology major, particularly those taught by women of color, to capture a wider lens of the world. She tossed herself into extracurricular activities that nourished her exploding curiosity. And, she landed a prestigious Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship.

“Over the past four years, I gained a lot of clarity on who I am and who I hope to become,” Khan says.

Developing a sense of self

Khan came to USC Dornsife open to any career that might enable her to contribute something meaningful to the world. Though she confesses she didn’t know what anthropology was as a high school student, the idea of exploring different cultures and cultural practices intrigued.

“There’s a lot we can learn from each other as humans,” Khan says.

Anthropology also afforded Khan an opportunity to reflect on her own cultural background as a Tamil Muslim woman. As she progressed in her studies and tackled independent research, Khan developed deeper insights into her own ancestry — and did so on her own terms, savoring ethnographic methods that focused on the knowledge and experiences of everyday people rather than the state-sponsored or colonial sources that so often failed to share a full, accurate picture.

“Anthropology has given me the opportunity to learn and explore myself rather than having things dictated to me,” she says.

Khan’s self-discovery occurred outside of the classroom, as well.

She worked with South Asian anti-caste organizing circles to lead discussions about the pitfalls of social class stratification and completed a movement journalism fellowship with The Blueprint, an online publication sharing the stories of caste-oppressed and religious minority groups in South Asia and the diaspora.

“Engaging with other young South Asian writers enriched my sense of community and taught me the power of giving a platform to those from marginalized communities to share their stories,” Khan says.

Work-study jobs with USC Dornsife’s Levan Institute for the Humanities, where she helped edit the Social Justice Review, the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, and Jumpstart USC, an early childhood education program, further broadened Khan’s outlook while allowing her to pay for school.

“I was constantly learning, exploring and discovering,” she says.

Charging ahead

Khan’s enterprising spirit was recognized last year when the Dean’s List mainstay earned a coveted spot in the prestigious Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, a nationwide initiative designed to diversify higher education’s faculty ranks.

As a Mellon Mays fellow, Khan is researching the effects of Hindu Nationalism and fascism in India on Muslims, which includes a close examination of Tamil Muslim women’s identity and cultural belonging amid globalization and state violence.

She has conducted phone interviews and participated in a WhatsApp group chat with Tamil Muslim women in India to gain real-world insights that she can use when she travels to Tamil Nadu, India, this summer to record family stories and folk tales.

“It’s important we take control and power over our own narratives, and equally important I stay grounded in my research and understand the social moment,” says Khan, who also earned USC Discovery Scholar honors.

Lanita Jacobs, Khan’s Mellon Mays research advisor and, Khan says, a consistent source of inspiration and encouragement, praised Khan’s intellectual curiosity and collegiality.

“I am utterly heartened that Hameedha invests in her studies and community in such a deep and committed way. She is kind, smart, wise and knows her way to and through theory,” says Jacobs, associate professor of American studies and ethnicity and anthropology.

Khan says the Mellon Mays fellowship is providing her the mentorship and motivational support she needs to pursue a career in academia, a goal she first set while sitting in Khanna’s comparative literature course years ago. This fall, Khan will begin applying to PhD programs in ethnic studies hoping to launch an interdisciplinary career in academia that blends teaching, research and writing.

“It took some meandering, but I’ve found a strong voice and direction for myself,” Khan says. “I’m more confident, more assertive and know that what I have to say is important.”

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Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow Hameedha Khan graduates from USC Dornsife on May 13. (Photo: Courtesy of Hameedha Khan.)

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