Opinion: Ground Zero should shake things up and change its name

When new students and visiting parents first hear the name of USC’s beloved student-run cafe, they almost always cringe.

“It’s actually called Ground Zero?” they cautiously ask.

The tragic events in Charlottesville provoked by a monument to a Confederate leader opened a national dialogue about thoughtful and appropriate statues and names. The controversy has reached Traveler, USC’s mascot who shares a name with Robert E. Lee’s horse. Ground Zero Performance Cafe’s name isn’t related to the Civil War, but it reminds us of one of our nation’s great tragedies.

To preserve the somber remembrance of 9/11, Ground Zero should take advantage of its yearlong closure to choose a different name.

The timing of Ground Zero’s closure overall appears a bit questionable. A Yelp photo shows that in May, Ground Zero expected to reopen this fall for full service. However, the three-month closure expanded into a full academic year when Ground Zero posted on Facebook on August 10. Daily Trojan reported that an exact construction plan “has not been finalized.” Renovations would entail a “redo of the coffee bar area, the addition of restrooms and a fresh coat of paint, among other things.”

I am mystified at how these renovations could take a whole year when the entire USC Village was constructed in three years. But, giving the university the benefit of the doubt, that would mean in Fall 2018, half of the undergraduate population would never have sipped a Five Dollar Shake while cheering on a local band or sunk into the voluptuous black couches to catch up with a friend. It’s the perfect opportunity for a new start.

Ground Zero was named before 2001, and the cafe has stood its ground on the name for 16 years since then. Ground Zero is an edgy institution considering its placement on campus. It’s an open space for controversial discussions and it certainly doesn’t play the clean versions of background music.

Come cast your vote and give us money #topical

A post shared by Ground Zero Performance Café (@groundzerousc) on

Ground Zero Performance Café’s edgy vibe extended to its choice in tip jars.

However, the name Ground Zero shouldn’t be normalized in the student body. It’s now the site of a memorial to the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11— innocent civilians brutally murdered. Respect for these people should come before any stand against political correctness or “we had it first” mentality, especially when part of a beam from the World Trade Center stands as a memorial just across campus in front of the Department of Public Safety office.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Ground Zero Performance Cafe. On my very first visit to campus, my student host brought me to get a milkshake and listen to a jazz show. I was so awestruck I posted a dorky Instagram about it. My freshman year, I sat in Ground Zero pouring out my life story to a friend, and I burst into tears in front of everyone. I’ve seen shows and performances that made me think critically about the world. I admire how Ground Zero held fundraisers for deserving student organizations and partnered with community-based nonprofits. My heart aches that I won’t get another Earl Grey Shake before I graduate. I took every student I hosted to Ground Zero for their own milkshake rite of passage.

Let’s make sure the administration keeps its promise to return Ground Zero to campus in 2018 so future students can experience the haven of this student-run, independent gem in the face of the slick chain restaurants opening around campus.

Ground Zero, come back. Please never change. Except for your name.

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Top image: Ground Zero Performance Café. (Sean Myers/Neon)

Rachel is the Interactives Editor at USC Annenberg Media. She is a senior journalism major with a law and public policy minor, and is interested in politics and policy reporting.