The University of Southern California has had a slew of negative press coverage in recent years. In 2019, USC was at the center of a federal investigation into a conspiracy by very wealthy individuals to gain admissions for their children at several highly ranked universities by bribing senior members of the athletics departments. In 2021, USC was criticized for its delayed response to multiple allegations that members of the Sigma Nu fraternity house had drugged and sexually assaulted several female students.
Also in 2021, USC's School of Social Work was accused of partnering with a for-profit education platform to aggressively recruit low-income communities into an expensive but "inferior" online Master's program, leaving students with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and poor job prospects after graduating. A class-action lawsuit alleges that USC engaged in deceptive recruiting practices and "reverse redlining" by targeting vulnerable people who were "most likely to accept an admission offer," according to the Los Angeles Times. Internal documents show that the marketing team developed personas characterizing different types of applicants according to race, social status, and probability of enrollment. Graphic depictions of these hypothetical applicants included a Black woman labeled “Needy Nelly” and a white woman labeled “Money Molly,” who was "very intelligent" and highly sought-after.
In 2020, USC began requiring students to use facial recognition technology to access certain dorms. According to reporting by USC Annenberg Media, "the South Korean company that provided and maintains the technology boasts of doing business with the federal departments of justice and defense, as well as local law enforcement agencies."
Over the past decade, the University of Southern California has used a for-profit company to help enroll thousands of students in its online social-work master's program.
The nonprofit school used its status-symbol image to attract students across the country, including low-income minority students it targeted for recruitment, often with aggressive tactics. Most students piled on debt to afford the tuition, which last year reached $115,000 for the two-year degree. The majority never set foot on the posh Los Angeles campus but paid the same rate for online classes as in-person students.
The school formulated marketing campaigns to woo applicants, using demographic profiles of the kinds of students they would recruit, internal documents used by the marketing department and reviewed by the Journal show. The profiles include cartoon characters depicting potential recruits; in one depiction, a Black woman dubbed Needy Nelly "needs hand-holding" and "calls and emails everyone" because she has trouble with her application.
Eight days later, during the homecoming tailgate, the Black and brown fraternities and sororities of Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Phi Beta, Lambda Upsilon Lambda were fenced in and kept under heavy policing by both DPS and LAPD officers, with the occupancy capped at a number far below what was possible for so many organizations.
During the Fall 2019 semester, a total of five hate crimes occurred on campus according to USC Annenberg Media, and DPS has so far only commented on two. One instance, on Oct. 18, consisted of a racial slur that was written on a whiteboard on a student’s door. The other incident, on Nov. 19, a “Keep America Great” sticker was found on the apartment door of four Muslim women living in the Nemirovsky and Bohnett Residential College.