When she was growing up in South Central, writer Erin Aubry Kaplan remembers, the University of Southern California was off her radar. "Nobody I knew attended school or worked there," she writes. "The fact that USC is not only in town but in South Central didn't really dawn on me until the late '70s, when I started taking piano lessons through its community music school." Kaplan went on to UCLA but she gives USC credit for being part of the community now. The students she met recently, not so much. From her post at KCET:
I thought about all this walking the USC campus yesterday when I went to speak to a journalism class at the Annenberg School about local reporting. USC has changed tremendously since I last was on campus with any regularity, and it is still changing. Development and construction feels nonstop; the campus is full of scaffolding and tents, and the more recent additions have a shiny, corporate feel. For years the busy development has extended beyond the university fences and into surrounding South Central with housing and retail and other amenities aimed at the burgeoning USC student population, with a few things aimed at residents as well. Unlike what I remember growing up, USC is now a highly visible citizen of South Central. Some would say it's colonizing the area, but however you characterize it, what's inarguable is that it's raised its profile significantly. When I started reporting for the L.A. Times in the aftermath of the civil unrest in 1992 -- we worked out of an office at Flower and Exposition, across the street from the university -- USC had the air of a bunker in territory that was not exactly enemy, but alien. I don't believe it is a bunker any longer.
So she was "mildly shocked" to find that many USC students regard the area that used to be called South Central as dangerous and forbidding.
Some of the class discussion was about how to report in the local community; in addition to sensible things like knowing where you're going, looking up local organizations, and making contact with movers and shakers -- things you'd do anywhere -- there were admonitions to hold on to valuables and to not look people dead in the eye. Some of the admonitions came from South Central natives interviewed by USC reporters about their own neighborhoods -- Watts, Manchester Square, etc. On one level it was all just an iteration of having common sense in a big city, but the message was clearly directed at whites who might be thinking of venturing into a black and brown area mythologized as an inherently dysfunctional netherworld hostile to outsiders, to say nothing of hostile toward its own.
It was strange, almost surreal, to hear all this.