In Defense of USC

Posted by at 11:27PM

I grew up in a house divided. My mom and I went/go to Stanford, my father and older brother to USC. That family dynamic, along with my upbringing in Newport Beach, California (where at least a third of the baby-boom generation of USC alums decided to settle down and raise families) left me a rare outsider on the inside of the infamous, very tight-knit Trojan family. And, up until very recently, that family drove me crazy.

The Fight Song on repeat. The peace-sign/victory wave. The ocean of red and yellow (ahem… “Cardinal and Gold” as my father would chastise me through childhood). The football obsession. The Tommy Trojan references. The endless parade of license plates, stickers, and flags adorning the cars in my hometown. The ridiculously perky “Fight On” attitude. For the longest time, I found the culture so nauseating that the only way I could take refuge from their inexhaustible pride was to adopt the outsider attitude and disregard all of it. I would make jabs about whether being platinum blonde was still a requirement for admission. I would assume that all USC students were vapid, superificial, and unfocused on anything but getting wasted. I made the U$C jokes and took pleasure in the puns: “You can’t spell ‘suck’ without USC”, and the classic “University of Spoiled Children”. With a school like Stanford in my sights, I wanted to make it clear how much above their shallow antics I was. I wanted my attitude to demonstrate how much better Stanford was than USC: how much smarter, less conservative, more diverse, and more successful we are.

"Because Stanford doesn't like me"

But one weekend changed my perspective. With little to do and an itching for a bit of fun, I swallowed my pride, dropped my preconceived notions, and asked my brother if I could tag along for a couple days and get an insider peek at his life as a Trojan. The experience that followed was anything other than what I might have expected. The classes were incredibly engaging and dynamic; the campus was extremely welcoming and filled to the brim with excited students advertising their interests in every culture and activity, and a night on the infamous 28th street left me wanting more.

Admittedly – any college brochure will give you that. But what really caught me off my guard was how authentically friendly and kind everyone was. When I told people that I go to Stanford, every single person I spoke with was genuinely excited to hear about it, showered me with compliments about the Farm, offered references to friends of theirs’ who go here and rave about it, and were noticeably reverent of our fair university – usually tossing in some form of, “I applied there but didn’t get in. But I would have loved to go there”. Not one person had anything rude or snarky to say about Stanford, nor did anyone seem to be withholding any such comments.

Even this past weekend, when the university played host to what one USC student called “one of the most epic games and biggest letdowns I’ve seen in my college career” – Trojans were still surprisingly respectful of the Cardinal win. Especially under circumstances that most Trojan fans identified as “the closest thing to a bowl game we’ll come to this year” – my in-person interactions with students were generally tame. Understandably, most students were disappointed, felt they got gypped, and said they won in spirit, but I didn’t run into anyone who was out to seriously bash Stanford. The harshest comment I heard came in the form of Facebook status: “Whatever Stanford, your helmets are still ugly”.

Which begs the question – why do so many Stanford students seem to harbor such resentment – whether legitimate or in jest – toward our private Pac-12 peer? Why do we feel the need to put down USC at every possible opportunity?

One of the primary complaints I’ve heard against our SoCal neighbor is rooted in the rumored “spoiled children” attitude and their alleged sense of wealth and/or entitlement. My jury is still out on this one: on the one hand, more than 64% of students receive some sort of need-based assistance from USC; on the other hand, anyone who hangs out on campus long enough will soon notice the markedly higher percentage of luxury cars speeding down Figueroa Street, designer handbags dangling from tan arms, and – if you look carefully – maybe even the flashing of a Black AmEx or two. I will admit, from my observations, Trojans do tend to be a little more up-front about what they can afford. That said, I would be curious to see just how similar USC’s socioeconomic profile looks when compared to Stanford’s; despite our tendency to rock the esoteric start-up t-shirts and rumpled jeans look, it’s tough to argue that there isn’t a sizeable demographic of wealthier students buried under all of that casual, Northern California attitude.

Another misconception I’ve heard railed against USC is their apparent lack of diversity. This was something I’d always felt to be true about the school growing up. Seeing many friends and classmates from my hometown attend USC perpetuated in my mind the truism that a sizeable portion of the USC student body is from California – Southern California specifically. This fact lends itself to an image of a homogenized, stereotyped-“Californian” student body. And while, admittedly, many USC students do fit the tan, blonde-haired, blue-eyed mold, many more do not. USC claims the largest population of international students in the nation, and more than 55% of the student body identifies themselves as students of color. And, we –as Stanford students – should recognize, even people from geographically close places have very different stories to tell.

And then there’s the partying. I feel like a lot of Stanford students (for some reason unbeknownst to me) feel the need to look down on USC for their heavyweight social scene. If, for a moment, we can put aside the politics of Greek life, alcohol consumption, and sexual health and instead focus on aspects like the strong football/athletic culture, the downtown LA location, and a very community-oriented student body – it’s tough to argue that Trojans don’t hold a remarkable sense of pride in their school or know how to have a good time. And for people who are looking for a memorable party scene in college – what’s so wrong with that? Are Stanford students jealous? Maybe it’s the idea that hard partying is intrinsically linked to lower academic standards, but USC still beats the odds on that front too. When it comes down to it, USC is a strong academic institution. With almost 20 different schools of study, including the noteworthy Marshall School of Buisness, Leventhal School of Accounting, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Thornton School of Music, and Ostrow School of Denistry, USC has a lot to offer for students with specific fields of study in mind. What’s more – kids very clearly want to go there. USC’s acceptance rate dipped to 23% in the most recent admission cycle, and, with this year’s transition to the Common App, many speculate that those numbers will fall considerably lower. And, from what I can gather from ProFros, I would guess that for every Stanford student who applied to Harvard, Yale, or MIT, there is at least one who applied to USC.

Which brings us back to that question: why are we hating so hard on USC? I hope that my observations of USC insults are merely in a competitive spirit. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for friendly rivalry and really enjoy the exciting tension that builds during insane games like that of last Saturday. But for those of you who look down on USC just because – I hope this changes your mind. And if it doesn’t – I urge you to spend some time with Trojans. Most are very cool people once you get to know them. And for those of you who choose to completely discount everything I’ve said here – then please just be the bigger person. If you think USC students, alumni, and fans really are that bad, then don’t match that stereotype by hating or stereotyping. Prove that, as a Cardinal, you are better than that. For fear of sounding like the desperate assembly-girl from Mean Girls, I’ll end on this note: USC isn’t so bad. In fact, while I love the rivalry, I think if you put our laid-back, inventive Northern California ying with their high-energy, big-spirit Southern California yang, we’d have a pretty sweet alliance. So Fight On, Cardinal.


18 Responses to “In Defense of USC”

  1. Brad says:

    I think you discount a couple of things. There’s a sense of rivalry we have with U$C. And yes, I type the $ sign because I like to just as much as I know my Kal and U$C friends type Stanfurd. To me it’s a traditional rivalry– forged in the years prior to our team being better than theirs. In the Pete Carroll era– things I assume were much different. Having been to the game two years prior to this year, a good majority of their fans were the worst I’ve encountered. Children would flip you off. People would scream at me and shout “F*CK STANFORD!” (And some still do). But it was a culture built from their football dominance. I’ve been to various away sporting events, and I had never encountered anything like that one trip two years ago (Which we won 55-21, and I’ll keep rubbing that in because I can). But I can assure you– they are still normal people who outside of the game day atmosphere are not like that.

    Fast forward two years later– when NCAA sanctions have humbled the student body and hopefully the alumni base– their fans aren’t half as bad as they once were. The trip down was rather pleasant, and with the exception of a few people– many were rather nice to me.

    But those few exceptions are what drive me to think that U$C is/could be full of a-holes. While yes, I have friends at U$C, and love them to death– the judgement doesn’t lie upon them, but rather the experience of being around a lot of them (see: ~90,000)– which I assure you is likely what gathers the criticisms you’ve outlined above. I’ll tell you, I distinctly remember at least 5 people who flipped me off while I was down there this weekend. I actually saw security move one family who sat next to me because the dad wouldn’t stop harassing my group… and he was with his children (how pathetic is that?). Among others who still fulfill those judgements we give them.

    Take it one step further and consider the internet culture surrounding football and universities. Criticisms spring up about the Stanford band, but not nearly as much as you see U$C blogs rave about How amazing their band is, and how incomparable to other PAC bands they are (they are comparable to 10 other bands to be exact). Just like the $EC has a culture of being viewed as ignorant sports fanatics who don’t care about academics in relation to football, U$C has grown to have a pompous attitude when it comes to their football team. That’s why the football world exploded in joy during sanction season.

    But no– outside of the football world, those criticisms don’t hold light. But we can have fun poking at them with jokes, just like Kal does to us (“Zomg those kal kids take this rivalry way too seriously”), but I assure you we are similar in that Kal doesn’t actually think all the mean things they say about us.

  2. Brad says:

    Oh, and Fu$C.

  3. Kyle says:

    To Brad:

    Fans and Trojans are two COMPLETELY different things in LA. Basing your opinion of Trojans on your experience with fans at a game will definitely skew it. The post-Pete era hasnt humbled us, it just knocked off those fans that aren’t Trojans. Even as a Trojan, I have to deal with these fair weather fans that give us a bad name. I apologize for your experience, but I think Leigh nailed it on the head. Fight On and good luck with the rest of the season.

  4. Grant says:

    The reason Stanford hates USC is from 1970 to 2009, Stanford beat USC in football about three times. Their hatred for us is much stronger than our hatred for them because we don’t consider it as big as a rivalry as they do.

  5. anonymous says:

    my response to you (which is really someone else’s response):

    no one at Stanford actually dislikes individuals from USC. their hatred is at USC’s football, as a rival. and I say, hell yeah. hate on.

  6. ken says:

    one thing i can say, with any Trojan’s backing, is that we hate Stanford’s band. That band brings it upon themselves, and sadly it also brings it upon the entire institution. From halftime microphone rants about OJ and Reggie to other ridiculous things, we have found NO respect to how they act when they get here (running around the field like idiots or stabbing the middle of the field with a drum stick… like our Drum Major does with a sword in pre-game show). We do not apologize for our hate when looking at the band.

    As for the school, much respect. Top 10 of course (When it comes to top 10 for us, you have to find it in our graduate studies like my MPA program #5, or MSW #7, MBA etc). The FB team, again respect. You guys are Legit, and thats coming from a school w/11 National Titles.

  7. harrison says:

    well hello big dollops particularly brad,

    pay attention because this is gonna be a quickie (everyone enjoys it once in a while- especially brad):

    1. brad, stanford band sucks so loud! stanford, with all the brains you have and that billion dollar endowment you sit on, you oughta be ashamed of yourselves for putting such foul trash on the field to rep your school. brad, why haven’t your alumni and trustees self-sanctioned your band?! brad, this should be so upsetting to you… it is to the rest of the world.
    2. brad, there are just as many wealthy kids at stanfurd (because i can) as there are at usc. check yourself.
    3. brad, if you haven’t been to usc, then you really should refrain from talk about $C not being diverse.. seriously. come during the holidays and see diversity still on campus- playing cricket; or visit the second floor of leavey library any night of the week. brad, seriously, diversity ALL UP IN ACTION.
    4. brad, this stanfurd football winning stint won’t last long so enjoy it while you got it. i’m not hating. it’s pure fact.
    5. oh heeeeeere we go brad. NCAA sucks a$$ and everyone knows it. people like to hate on the best, so hate on haters. brad, sanctions humbled the student body?! brad, you are soooooooooooo out of the loop buddy. brad, sanctions only made us more arrogant. brad, we could give a flying peeping tom care about the retard of an incompetent ncaa (sucks) and their boring sanctions they so boringly gave us. they can liiiiick. everyone knows we (still) bring the $$ to this conference and everyone still LOVES to watch us in action. brad, keep up my dude, you’re embarrassing yourself and your school. brad………… just making sure you’re still with me.
    6. brad and stanford, you are NOT our rivals. you’re decent competition but def NOT our rivals. brad, pleeeeeease don’t elevate yourselves to that status.
    7. brad (im getting a serious kick outta this), you all rushed the field AGAIN (this time the football players and everyone on that side of the field), for the second year in a row!! against a sanctioned team!! over whom you were supposed to beat from the beginning!! as if you played us for the national title!! brad, what. is. wrong. with. you?!? brad, have you no self-respect?! come on brad, this is disturbing. we (u$c) students are more than willing to work with you on developing some of that self-respect. it’s so important for life. brad, please, come see anyone of us.
    8. brad, most stanfurd students are simply jealous.
    9. brad, wait till we’re out of sanctions, no mercy. we’re gonna kick you when you’re down while doing a keg stand on top of tommy trojan (that’s incredibly arrogant).
    10. leigh- you’re legit for writing this piece. seriously bro, props to you.
    11. brad, i’m applying to stanford law, any tips?
    12. finally, brad, FTFO!!!

    brad and stanfurd, thank you for coming,

    ps. oh, and just in case you didn’t get #12 brad, FIGHT ON!

  8. Andy says:

    I live in Los Angeles, and USC has always been my 2nd favorite NCAA Football team. Stanford has always been my #1. Like the author of this post, I have ties to both schools. Being in my mid-twenties and relocating to LA, I would say most of my friends are now SC alums, which I am not. For the most part, they’re friendly – but extraordinarily cliquey, especially anything regarding their beloved university. They all knew I was a Stanford fan. We had been talking shit all season about how our team of choice was going to beat the other. Typical. Yet, somehow, they all seemed to practically shit themselves when my brother and I showed up at the tailgate supporting the Card. Some of them seriously went crazy – how could I ever choose Stanford over SC when they’ve been so “hospitable” and “allowed” me at all of the other games this season? Many showed zero tolerance for any reason I would have for choosing Stanford over SC because I am not a Stanford alumni. I understand the rivalry and how ashamed many SC folks feel since that 2007 loss, but college football is supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to be able to tailgate and shoot the shit with your friends, but still be able to have a beer about it and accept that your friend is rooting for another team. I think some Trojans just took it a little too personally. Lighten up. It’s a game. If you didn’t bet any money and if you’re not playing out there on the field, chill the fuck out.

  9. Chris says:

    Pretty disappointing that a Stanford band member came to our USC tailgate, ate our food, drank our beer, chatted with us, and then later was heard talking sh…t about us. Unbelievable. True story.

  10. anonymous says:

    harrison you sound so defensive and.. ridiculous. Don’t take things so personally.

    Anyways, I don’t think *most* Stanford students really care. We hate on USC like we hate on Cal.. it’s fun to get into the spirit of football rivalries. After football season, USC is just another school. But.. it is possible that people are more enthused when it comes to USC. Back when Stanford football wasn’t that great and USC was a powerhouse in the Pac-10, Stanford majorly upset USC, and that was pretty much the start of an upswing for our team. The fact that we’ve also beat USC in 3 out of the last 4 games might also contribute to that behavior. USC, just take it as a complement. Your football team is good and we at Stanford are happy when we beat you guys.

    Also, Leigh, I do want to thank you for posting this. However, I don’t think it’s fair for you to generalize Stanford students and compare them to the small subset of USC that you met. I’m positive there is a very large population at Stanford to whom this is all just part of cheering on their school, and a large portion of USC that you haven’t met that hates Stanford with a passion (beyond football). There’s always an observation bias, and this behavior really goes both ways. I agree with you, though–hopefully what you’ve shared does sway some of the Stanford students who really dislike USC for no reason.

    Let’s all just be happy and enjoy football with our respective schools.

  11. harrison says:

    listen up anonymousekateer,

    stanford band sounds ridicuous. and you sounds defensive and also… ridiculous.

    i’m simply providing a clever and energetic rebuttal to the post belonging to your friend brad, who thinks he can get away with talking nonsense. hah, fat chance.

    you should lighten up… i’m still applying to stanford law- and i obviously wouldn’t apply to a school i completely hate!

    fight on anonymouse,


  12. DALTOR says:

    This is why USC is better than Stanford – family:

    FIGHT ON!!

  13. LF says:

    The comment above is right that we don’t really care about USC except when it comes to athletics. It’s the same thing with Cal: you won’t see any Cal-bashing except during Big Game week.

    The reason I, and many other students, have a distaste for USC is that our experience is very, very different from Leigh’s. Two years ago I was at the Stanford-USC game, and we were constantly harassed by loud, obnoxious, rude USC students. And yes, these were students, not fans. The most appalling moment was when two (drunk?) fratty guys started yelling some pretty nasty racial epithets at a few of my Asian friends. Actually, I take that back — the most appalling was their obsession with the word “fags.”

    But it was almost as bad outside this context. When I visited friends who go to USC, I got shit for attending Stanford several times. Most of it was just the friendly jabs, but some of it was outright sneering or disdain. It was mind-boggling — do USC students really feel that sense of superiority? Or was this some preemptive self-defense, assuming I’m some supercilious jerk down from my ivory tower for the weekend for some good-ol’ USC-bashing?

    When a friend of a friend, who goes to USC, was visiting Stanford, he spent a good 5 minutes explaining to us, in all seriousness, why USC was actually a better institution than Stanford. Nothing prompted this; nobody had even suggested that Stanford was better than USC, yet he seemed that it was imperative that he establish USC’s superiority using “unconventional” ways of looking at the two. (One of them: “USC isn’t as hard to get into as Stanford, so the students at USC are less arrogant.” He didn’t even seem to realize the irony of his statement.)

    I think a lot of hatred at USC is simply Stanford mirroring the hatred we get from USC students. This hatred from them is frequent, widespread, and largely unexplained. Not gonna lie, it smacks of an inferiority complex. They can’t seem to accept that Stanford is academically superior and athletically superior (yes, even when Stanford was losing to USC in football, we were still far better in overall athletic excellence). And USC constantly compares itself to Stanford. Just look at their newspaper, which makes frequent reference to Stanford. Even their president has pointed to Stanford as a model for USC and has been rather bold-faced in his desire to make USC on par with Stanford as part of USC’s “21st century plan.” You can tell that there’s a lot of one-sided envy.

    Oh, and regarding our band: yeah, they’re crass, they’re unorthodox, they’re crazy. But that’s the whole point: to not take themselves seriously, which is the general attitude of Stanford. I’d much rather have LSJUMB than some stuffy boring marching band that’s virtually indistinguishable from any other stale marching band out there. By the way, pass the message on to your band that you DON’T need to play a tune after every goddamned play. It’s just self-glorifying.

  14. Paul says:

    Nice balanced post. I got into USC and Stanford back in the early 80s when both schools were far easier to get into. I ended up at USC. I think the student bodies of each school are far more similar today than back then. The typical USC student is much more academically inclined today and like Stanford, a great plurality of kids went to prep schools. I just read USC’s admit rate was 18% for the class of 2016. I do recall that USC and Stanford had a pregame party at USC that I attended and that was composed mainly of students. It was a classy affair and the kids were very respectful toward each other. In short, and aside from class size, the schools share more in common today. Also, many forget that Stanford used to beat USC in football routinely in the first part of the twentieth century!

  15. rob says:

    I think the rivalry mainly stems from Northern Californians hating on the Southern California style back in the 80’s. SoCal was thought of as being rich, flashy and airheaded and NorCal middle class, modest and smart. The tide changed in the 90’s when Palo Alto and silicon valley turned into the wealthy, obnoxious place it is today, whereas LA seems almost hippy like in comparison.

    Last time I passed USC, the students looked pretty diverse. I do know quite a few spoiled brats that went there, however.

  16. Sarah says:

    It’s funny that this blog post is still one of the most popular ones on tusb, even though it was written a year ago. It will probably be relevant for a long time.

    Now, I’m a Trojan, so when I read this, I was really happy. It covers so much that we have been trying to say as USC – both as an academic institution and as the student body it attracts – changes drastically. Yes, there are still those stereotypical frat-boy idiots who got in on either an easy major or legacy status, but there are also some of the most talented people I’ve ever or will ever meet – something that until this blog post it’s felt like the world refuses to acknowledge. (And LF, I believe the phrase our president used was “Ivy League of the West Coast” in his inauguration speech, which I attended). #1 Film School, #3 Music School, Top 5 Architecture School, Top 10 Engineering School, etc. Our list of sell-made billionaires only rivals Stanford’s. But of course there’s still much to improve.

    One of the most brilliant, diverse and amazing friends I’ve ever made goes to Stanford and is an excellent representation of the university. But even though we both agreed that Stanford was a great institution and worthy of its pristine reputation, she had endless stories of the empty-headed communication-major sorority girls that plagued her as much as they did me at USC.

    When I was in high school, I thought I’d want to go to a strictly academic school, where the reputation of the program was the most important part of the four years I’d spend there. But once I went to USC (not because I didn’t get in anywhere else, but because I went a year early), I found that there was so much more to college than just academics. It’s a place where you grow as a person, grow up, and hopefully start to become the adult you want to be. Part of growing up is having fun, experimenting, exploring the world, and making mistakes that you learn from – while still getting an undergraduate education that has placed me as one of the top in my engineering field, with the awards and fellowships to prove it. That’s something I would never trade, and the sense of community and support I’ve felt as part of the Trojan family is something else I could never give up.

    As for the rivalry, do I heckle Stanford folks when we’re about to play each other in football? Of course. I do the same for all of my friends who’s schools we’ll be playing. But I’ve never seen or heard of a visiting fan physically assaulted at a USC game, like my friend was at a Notre Dame USC game. Was I happy that USC had the most Olympic medals of any university this past summer? Hell yes. And more than half of those medals were not won for the USA. But I was also happy that Stanford came 2nd in the medal counts as a university, and that the PAC as a whole dominated. Was I screaming at the TV during the entire USC Stanford game this year? Obviously. I still contend that a healthy Khaled Holmes and Abe Markowitz would have revolutionized that game. But I was doing the same watching the Stanford Notre Dame game that was stolen from the Cardinal.

    At the end of the day, my friend and I are both insanely proud of our schools and the way they’ve facilitated us in becoming the person and professional we want to be, and yes, we both think there are idiots and fools who give our schools a bad name. It happens. And yes there’s a rivalry, and no it’s not new. It stems from the fact that we are the two largest private universities in California and have been for over 100 years.

    But USC is changing, and so too should the tone of the rivalry. Alumni of both schools need to acknowledge this fact and move on from the days of old when we were just a party school and Stanford’s coach hated USC so much he made them walk a mile to get to the stadium rather than let their buses drive up to it. Both USC and Stanford fans/alumni on this comment stream are just embarrassing both great institutions and need to learn that it’s the tone of this blog post that we should all adopt – except on game day.

  17. Sara C. says:

    Hi Leigh,

    I really enjoyed this article of yours. I came across it after looking up Trojans in Silicon Valley, where I’ll most likely be interning this summer. USC originally was not my first choice school — I only applied since everyone else at my high school was applying. I did not even plan on attending since the tuition was so expensive. My ultimate college decision was between UCLA and USC (aside from USC, I only applied to UCs). I ended up attending USC since the institution generously awarded me with a full tuition scholarship and I couldn’t be more grateful. I love the school, the atmosphere, the spirit and just about everything else USC has to offer.

    Thanks for this article.

  18. USCgirl says:

    As a black female USC alum from Bayou Country, I am always put off by the “blonde hair/rich kid” stereotype that still persists. I chose USC as my first choice, above Stanford, NYU, even Spelman, because of its commitment to diversity. I’m sure all colleges have their rich kids; I’m sure the Ivy League is full of them. Even returning back tothe South, there are alot of people who hate USC for no real reason. They know only what they have been told, and it’s mostly football-related.

    I’m surprised anyone from Stanford or any school of real value would legitmiately hate a school based on sports and outdated stereoypes. That’s like me hating on Stanford because of its drop out rate. And if you are a kid of limited means, getting aid at a private school is easier than attending a state school. USC has plenty of kids that fit that bill, including me.

    Since I was out-of-state, it made more sense for me to attend USC over UCLA. But speaking of “spoiled kids,” another stereotype I thought was interesting was the whole “USC in the middle of the ghetto” thing. I always here this from UCLA or Stanford fans. Anyone who thinks USC is in the ghetto doesn’t really know what they are talking about. It is INSULTING to people of color, especially those that attended USC. You don’t know what “poor” is until you know a neighbor who lives on abandoned, condemned property without running water, heat, or electricity. Someone who can drown in his own house because there is no roof. I grew up near those people. That’s poor. USC’s neighborhood looks like my hometown’s very middle class midtown. But how can we be both spoiled children AND living in the ghetto? I never could figure that one out.


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