My Fight Against Bureaucracy

When I first enrolled at USC, I was dismayed to find that the intellectual environment I sought was busy drowning in a flood of cheap champagne and boxed wine.  In response I wrought my Old Testament-style revenge in the form of an Op-Ed piece for the online student publication.  Here it is.

I came to USC in August 2013, a bright-eyed freshman eager to enjoy the merits of the premier “work hard, play hard” university in Southern California.  Through the first semester of my college experience, however, I have found a more accurate motto for many students: “work hard, play until you black out”.

In my first four months at the University of Southern California, there have been an average of four alcohol hospitalizations per weekend, one alcohol related death, and countless attempts by university staff to curtail the increase in binge drinking.  From restrictions on Greek Row to punishing individuals for underage drinking, USC officials have tried different ways to discourage unsafe drinking in the student population.

However, imposing sanctions on partying and punishing students is not enough.  Binge drinking will continue regardless of how many parties happen on one night, or how many students are placed on disciplinary probation.  What USC needs to do is change the culture on campus to one that doesn’t require drinking to have a good time.

This isn’t a new concept.  Many people have proposed similar ideas and the university has been working on ways to create this type of environment.

However, whatever changes they make are counter-productive when USC continues to promote itself as a party school.

The latest form of this is found in USC’s 2014 football slogan #TurnUpSC.  This mantra is featured on t-shirts, promotional videos, and the Galen Center marquee.  Urban Dictionary defines the phrase “Turn Up” as follows:

Verb:

1) Getting loose, being wild and potentially engaging in sexual activity with members of the opposite gender (or the same gender if thats what you’re in to)
2) Acting crazy due to consumption of large amounts of alcohol, marijuana, molly or other drugs

Wait, what?  So just to be clear, after a semester-long crackdown on alcohol consumption, USC is now adopting a slogan that encourages students to consume copious amounts of alcohol and drugs for the purpose of having fun?

Welcome to our school, the University of “Turn Up”.

How can university officials emphasize a change in college drinking culture while simultaneously promoting the activities they condemn?  Students won’t take attempts to curb drinking seriously as long as USC keeps perpetuating the idea that our institution supports irresponsible partying.

Honestly, I am embarrassed.  Students see #TurnUpSC on the t-shirts worn around campus; people driving down the 110 freeway see it on the Galen Center Marquee; alumni and prospective students see it in the 2014 football season videos promoted at football games and all over the internet.

The slogan creates problems beyond invalidating steps to make campus life safer; it broadcasts my university as a place that doesn’t take itself seriously.

Over the past few years, USC’s academic standing has been improving drastically and this is a major step back.  People shouldn’t be coming to USC to “turn up”, they should be pursuing a premier education.  We need to decide if we want to be a party school, or continue improving our reputation until we are a top university.

I’m not saying that people need to stop partying.  However, both students and university officials need to be more aware of how their actions reflect on the university.  Blacking out, hospitalizations, and “turning up”, shouldn’t be a part of USC’s identity.  People can continue to behave as they see fit, but not to the extent where alcohol consumption and drinking culture define the University of Southern California.  #TurnUpSC seems like the university’s way of condoning this behavior and deciding that we want others to know that we are a party school.

Perhaps I am being too critical.  Maybe it is just a coincidence that university officials chose “turn up” as the basis for the slogan.  Maybe they just know that “all of the kids are saying it” and are attempting to connect with current and prospective students.  However, every college student understands the colloquial meaning, and a mistake of this kind points to a larger problem of incompetence.

For my part, I am hopeful that USC will rectify this disconcerting error soon, force #TurnUpSC into an early retirement, and allow the university community to refocus on what’s important.  USC is making incredible strides in its march toward becoming a world-renowned, top-tier university.  Let’s not let the party school image of yesteryear hinder that admirable progress.

I sent my Op-Ed to the President of my university, hoping to create some change.  I had received positive feedback from large swaths of the student community, and vitriol from others.  Here is the email I sent. 

President Nikias,

My name is Kevin Litman-Navarro and I am a freshman at the University of Southern California.  I am writing to you because in your tenure as president, USC has improved drastically as an academic institution; like you, I care deeply about bettering our school and that is why I would like your help.

Recently, we have been promoting our 2014 football season with the slogan #TurnUpSC.  This mantra bills USC as a party school, a label that I believe we need to disown in order to keep climbing the ranks and be taken as a serious contender with schools of Ivy League caliber.

I firmly believe that we need to do away with this marketing campaign.  Below is a link to an article I have written about this very slogan, and I would appreciate if you would read it and take action accordingly.  While this may seem like an insignificant matter, I think that it tarnishes our image and it would be a positive step to force #TurnUpSC into early retirement.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and Fight On.

Kevin Litman-Navarro

Unfortunately, I was sentenced to the same punishment as every troublemaker: death by frustration.

After I had sent the email to the President 3 times, I finally received a response.  My inquiry had instead been directed to the Vice Provost for Student Affairs.  

Dear Kevin,

President Nikias appreciated receiving your email, and asked that we share it with Dr. Ainsley Carry, our vice provost for student affairs.

His office will respond on behalf of the president.

Best regards,

Dennis Cornell

USC Chief of Staff

A week passed, and then I was informed that I had been shuffled on to the athletic department, which I found peculiar.  An associate athletic director sent me the following response, dripping with condescension and wet dreams of NCAA sanctions set to expire.

Dear Mr. Navarro,

I have read your letter to President Nikias as well as your article entitled  “Turn Up or Transfer”  As with any slogan or campaign, we understand that we are subject to one’s scrutiny and personal opinion.

“TurnUpSC,” as we use it, refers to being excited about USC, the upcoming season, the new coaches and the highly-rated class of incoming recruits.  The slogan has been received positively in our marketing efforts, both in the traditional sense as well as socially.  Our fans, coaches and recruits have embraced the slogan.  In fact, the #1 football recruit in California tweeted #TurnupSc on signing day.

We in no way are using the term as it is used in the urban dictionary, which is most commonly spelled “Turnt Up.”  There may be other meanings to the term but none of that points to what we do on or off the field of play nor is there any intention to relate the slogan to anything but positive energy. The imagery used to associate ourselves with the slogan is about excitement and entertainment.

The shirts you refer to in your article are shirts created independent of the athletic department by the Enzone (a student basketball loyalty group).  They too have used it to help change the culture of USC basketball in a positive manner, which is similar to what we have done in-venue to create an exciting and fun environment.  There is excitement, energy and a positive outlook that surrounds both the football and basketball programs, with new coaches and recruits coming in.

I hope that after reading this letter you have a better understanding of our intentions and that nothing about the campaign is meant to put the University, Athletic Department or anyone associated with USC in a negative light.

Fight On!

Craig Kelley

Associate Athletic Director

University of Southern California

Well I appreciate being patronized as much as the next person, I don’t, as much as the next person.  So I composed my own response, with little composure.  The frustration sentence was taking full effect; I couldn’t take much more bureaucratic douche-baggery.  I sent the following email to the Associate AD, President, Chief of Staff, and Vice Provost.

Dear Mr. Kelley,

Thank you for responding to my letter; I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule.  However, I feel that there has been a miscommunication with regards to my letter and article, and I would like to properly articulate myself in this email.

Let me begin by saying that my criticism is in no way meant to detract from our storied athletic programs.  As a USC legacy, I was born into the Trojan Family and grew up watching Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush win Heismans and National Championships.  This season I attended every home football game (I even pulled an all-nighter to get in the front row at College Gameday), and I am always happy to cheer for our teams with an enthusiastic “Fight On!”  I spent the last two years of my high school career watching incoming recruit Juju Smith dominate opposing teams, and closely monitored his decision-making process that culminated in the exciting signing day announcement.

Suffice it to say, there are few who appreciate Trojan Athletics more than me.  However, I am first and foremost a student, and I have a vested interest in ensuring that my school continues to improve.  While I do not doubt that the intentions of #TurnUpSc are admirable, I maintain that they portray the university in a negative light.

As an associate athletic director, I understand that this may not be your number one priority.  But the athletic department does not exist in a vacuum.  In the same way that USC’s academic reputation affects many decisions from prospect recruits, the marketing ploys of the athletic department affect the reputation of the university as a whole.  I think it speaks volumes about the disproportionate value USC places upon the athletic program that a letter I addressed to President Nikias was passed to the Vice Provost of Student Affairs before ending up in the hands of an associate athletic director.

Maybe because the slogan in question was proposed by the athletic marketing department, it became an issue to which athletic officials like yourself had a duty to respond.  But I am not questioning the success of your slogan; I am not questioning the intentions of your slogan.  My aim is demonstrate that #TurnUpSc tarnishes the academic reputation of our school, and this has nothing to do with athletics.

The first time the phrase “Turn Up” was associated with an organization on USC’s campus occurred when the fraternity Sigma Alpa Epsilon created t-shirts with the words “Turn Up Or Transfer” on them.  I would argue that this use of the phrase has nothing to do with getting excited about the athlete program.

This is because in the vernacular of a college or high school student, “turn up” means one thing: let’s get drunk, let loose, and have a good time.  It is disingenuous to claim that the phrase has nothing to do with a drinking partying/culture.  You noted that “turnt up” is the most common spelling of the phrase I am referring to.  For the record, “turnt up” (usually referred to as simply “turnt”) is merely the adjective to describe one who “turns up”.  For example, “Bob went to turn up.  In an hour, he will be so turnt.”

To illustrate how “Turn Up” is such an integral part of current slang, we need only look at Billboard’s Top Charts for dance/electronic music.  Coming in at number three, we have a winner: “Turn Down For What” by upstanding role model Lil Jon.  Roughly, the phrase “turn down for what” translates into the following — why stop turning up?

As I’m sure you have surmised by now, “Turn Up” will continue to be closely tied to partying, no matter how many times USC Athletics tweets it.

That being said, I understand that you are not attempting to promote excessive drinking/partying.  But your attempt to appropriate the phrase to mean just “get excited” is not working.  People continue to associate #TurnUpSc with partying regardless of your intentions.  As I stated in my article, it is embarrassing.  I have had friends from schools all over the country (CSU’s, East and West Coast private schools, Ivy Leagues, you name it) constantly reminding me of how absurd it is that my school has adopted #TurnUpSC as a slogan.

I think part of the reason you chose #TurnUpSc as a slogan is because the phrase is relatable; people know it, it’s fun to say, and it gets people pumped.  True.  But it gets people pumped for the wrong reasons, and broadcasts USC as a place to come and party rather than a top-flight university.

Because, as you stated, this slogan only points to excitement about the new season, I would like to suggest a change.  Rather than taking a phrase that already has negative connotations tied to it, why not create a new slogan? How about “GetHypedSc”? “GetPumpedSc?” “GetGoingSc?”  For my part, I think “Fight On” is pretty good.  As a premiere marketing team, I’m sure that you could come up with something much better than my suggestions, but there are many different possibilities out there that would keep the reputation of our university intact.

For your perusal, I have included a few tweets pointing out the true nature of #TurnUpSc as a slogan, as well as Lil Jon’s music video.  I suggest you bump the bass, dim the lights, and #TurnUpSc.

Best,

Kevin Litman-Navarro

________________

Kevin Litman-Navarro

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS7IlF8BLnM&feature=kp (Turn Down For What by Lil Jon)

https://twitter.com/FrancesWang_/status/438012439393611776

https://twitter.com/MrWatson10/status/438052402910859264

https://twitter.com/Vanessa_Wilkins/status/431598431434313728

https://twitter.com/VeeSass/status/431598313356263424

https://twitter.com/SilverFox_95/status/428762814967083009

https://twitter.com/Frustrated_Fan_/status/425784121286078464

I never received a response.  However, the TurnUpSC slogan did not make a comeback for the following season.  I have no idea if I affected this change (I’m thinking not, based upon my correspondence with the university), or if they simply decided to go with something new to keep things fre$h.  The slogan no longer lords over the 110 freeway on the Galen Center Marquee, or provides internet fodder on our recruitment videos.  I sometimes still see it on USC shuttles — right next to ex-USC coach and alcoholic Steve Sarksian’s smiling face.  Hmm.  I feel bad for the guy.  Seems like he was getting mixed signals.
IMG_0652
Me Feat. USC Shuttle and Coach Sark

Yeah, pretty sure those still drive around.  Note to self: if you ever need a sponsor, stay away from the University of Southern California.

All humor aside, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this sort of mindset can contribute to excessive drinking and even alcoholism.  This is not just irresponsible, or negligent, but actually harmful.

But Kevin, this was two years ago?  Why write this now?

Because, while #TurnUpSC may no longer be relevant, the larger implications of my struggle with USC bureaucracy continue today.  Transparency has been a huge issue between students and administration in the last couple years, in issues ranging from the Campus Climate Movement to fair wages for USC employees.  Often times it feels as if USC officials are not here to help their students, but to maintain the chryselephantine reputation of the university.

Bottom line is, student voices often times feel silenced.  I felt it here, and many more have felt it regarding issues far more pressing and sensitive than #TurnUpSC.  There have been efforts to solve this problem, and I am grateful for that.  But the lines of communication are still not open enough.

The following is an excerpt from a statement released by the Campus Climate Coalition, addressing the same frustrations I dealt with, but regarding vastly more important matters.

“Moving forward, we seek direct responses and tangible institutional support for the recommendations that we have already independently developed. Across the country, student advocacy is often met with largely symbolic gestures masked as evidence of true innovation and progress. While certainly welcome and necessary, public conversations will not be sufficient in solving this university’s “wicked problems.” We look forward to continuing a conversation that centers the voices of marginalized members of the university community and, more importantly, eagerly await follow-up responses to the concerns noted at last night’s open forum.”

I implore everyone to take this message to heart, and I hope my story can help provide another example of how USC handles student concerns.

You can join the Facebook group Campus Climate USC to follow updates on this situation and see how to contribute to the movement.

TL;DR: Bureaucracy sucks.

 

 

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