We asked 38 college students how they felt about the state of America. Here’s what their faces told us.

Click through the anguish, confusion and hope USC students are feeling about today's political climate.

What does America look like for college students in 2018? In light of current eventsthe sexual assault allegations and subsequent appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, today’s midterm electionswe gave young photojournalists at USC one assignment: Capture raw student emotions regarding the state of our country. This is America, through the eyes of USC students:

This is Jasmine Siu. She’s 17 and undeclared.

Photo Credit: Joelle Ferguson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I honestly don’t really have that much of an opinion. I haven’t really been following up on that much news, but I just know there’s a lot of stuff that has been going on. I just hear it like every single day like shootings or people getting killed, and isn’t there a storm happening on the East Coast? Or there was, I don’t know. I just feel, think there should be change to do something about that. 

This is Kurosh Matin. He’s 22 and studying business administration.

Honestly, I think it’s kind of like a game, and people love to play it. I don’t think there’s a right side or a wrong side. I think it’s all propaganda. I saw a commercial last night, and we thought it was a game show, but it was just CNN marketing the midterm elections.

Photo Credit: Joelle Ferguson

But it really looked like a game show, and I thought it was pretty comedic. I think it’s unfortunate a lot of stuff is happening, but I don’t think we are focusing enough on the bigger picture. 

This is Chris Alfaro. He’s 19 and studying human biology.

Photo Credit: Annanlee Chang

 

 

 

 

 

I feel like in the U.S. alone, a lot of the primary resources we need is education and equity between schools, because the division of people of color and social economic classes are derived. We don’t really implement education as a fundamental right and unfortunately, even though through the Fourteenth Amendment, we do have other enumerated rights. Education isn’t one of them…. Providing equal education opportunities would be important, because then people would be able to exercise their rights of voting and be able to be more politicized and concurrent and be aware of other problems.

Photo Credit: Annanlee Chang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Andrew Jiang. He’s a 21-year-old computer science student.

I was just listening to a podcast…they’re talking about anti-Semitism and how anti-Semitism seems to come out of nowhere in today’s political discourse, but it seems to have actually been growing for a long time…. One of the interesting things they’re talking about is that from the white nationalists’ point of view. They believe that Jews are causing people of different races to come into America, and they think they have a puppet master.

This is Rani Barlas. She’s 21, and her majors are jazz/contemporary music studies and composition.

Photo Credit: Annanlee Chang

 

 

 

 

 

I think that our government is basically exposed, because this type of stuff has been going on for several decades, centuries really. It has brought to surface all of the problems in our government and how racist our society is. Having Donald Trump as our president has exposed a lot of people, and the way that our country is still similar to how it was when the founding fathers colonized it.

Daniel Schwartz, a 22-year-old philosophy and politics student, wants to create change. 

Photo Credit: Christie Leung

It seems pretty awful, the current administration seems like [a] total mess. The elections are unfair at this point. It seems like there’s not really any avenue that most people have to fix things, especially when the ability to vote is being taken away by so many people. That’s the main tool that people have to create change, and now it seems like that’s being taken away. That’s pretty bleak, but hopefully the midterm elections create change.

This is Omar Yraimov, an 18-year-old computer science student.

 

 

Obviously, it’s not great what’s going on all around but me personally, I haven’t been super affected. Hoping over the next few years things mellow out and things get back to normal and balance out. It’s been crazy in general. Hopefully, with the midterm elections …, people can find the balance. I’m sure it will blow over over time, just this current era is very tumultuous. Things are going on, but I’m thinking eventually it will mellow out. 

Photo Credit: Joelle Ferguson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Claire Heddles. She’s 28 and studying journalism.

Photo Credit: Joelle Ferguson

Wow (sighs). I think we are at a pivotal point in society. I think there’s always been these divisions, they are very overt now. Which in some ways is good, because then we can address the injustices that are happening because they are a lot more overt than covert like before. It’s a scary time for a lot of groups of people, and I think I’m nervous for what the future of our [country] looks like. 

“Divided.” – Tyler Rambo, 19, business administration student

Photo Credit: Noah Kim

“Extremely polarized, extremely divided. Chaotic.” – Amanda Sutrick, 18, environmental studies student

Photo Credit: Noah Kim

“A lot of divide is being uncovered… it’s nothing new. Everything is being unveiled.” – Alex Cornwell, 19, business administration student 

Photo Credit: Noah Kim

Photo Credit: Alina Abidi

This is Grace Sallee. She’s 20 and studying acting.

I feel like it’s kind of discouraging at the moment, but I also think that it’s something that’s acting as a catalyst, which is causing us to take more action and more responsibility as citizens. I think it’s building a community. That’s my thoughts — more of a positive approach than a negative or cynical point of view.

This is Zharia O’Neal. She’s a 21-year-old public relations student.

Tired, but I felt this way for a while. I think it’s interesting that a lot of people are acting as if it just started happening, but at this point, I’m just kind of apathetic towards it, which is scaring me. That’s really scary. 

Photo Credit: Alina Abidi

Photo Credit: Alina Abidi

This is Maddy Goetz. She’s 19 and studying sociology.

I don’t keep up with a ton of stuff, but I think there’s a lot of hate and a lot of conflict between a lot of people in America and policymakers. I think a lot of people are getting into politics that weren’t into it before, and I think that’s a good thing.

“I feel like it’s kind of at a boiling point, where there has been a lot of issues and differences of opinion that have been felt for a long time. But it’s finally reached a boiling point. I think that the current administration is enabling a lot of the uglier sides of our culture to surface and are making certain things acceptable that were always present, but people weren’t necessarily open about certain prejudices and hatred they have. I also think there is a lot of apathy on the side of people who disagree with the administration or [are] indifferent to it. I guess there is a small portion of people who are resilient and who have, even before this current administration, have always been fighting for what they believe in and trying to move society forward.” – Phil Mark, 29, pop music student

Photo Credit: McCall Lanman

“I guess [I feel] disappointed. It just doesn’t feel real. It is hard to wrap my mind around everything that is going on and everything that is continuing to happen.” – Arielle Hickel, 21, communication student

Photo Credit: McCall Lanman

“I’m actually not from America. I’m from Dubai. My nationality is Swedish. And I’m ethnically Chinese. All my life, growing up from the outside, we saw the U.S. as the main character almost. I know Americans don’t want to think that way, but it really is. Everything is so Westernized and Americanized around the world. And right now, especially what happened after Pittsburg, it’s a testament to show all the problems here…. People here say they are suffering, but they are eating cereal with a silver spoon. I feel like a lot of people here don’t really know what true oppression or true suffering looks like. They just play the victim card. That being said though, there is a lot amount of problems in the U.S. Anti-Semitism is huge, misogyny is really big, transphobia, racism is enormous here, systemic racism. But on an international level, it’s nothing.” – Eric He, 20, film and television production student

Photo Credit: McCall Lanman

This is Colin Taylor. He’s 21 and studying communication.

Photo Credit: Adelis Riveiro

So, how I feel about what’s going on in the U.S. right now…. There is an election [this] week, and I’ve seen celebrities like Taylor Swift… well, for her, it was a public platform, but she’s really encouraging people to vote and considering her fanbase…. It’s mostly young people. And the thing I wish people would push for more is instead of just simply voting, they should push for kids to inform themselves more…. In the end, it will be way more beneficial, and you will have less blind rallies because of celebrities.

This is Ariel Matute. He’s an 18-year-old chemistry student.

I think a big issue is discrimination and racism, especially against people of color and the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality…. People don’t really understand what they are protesting, especially with the case of Colin Kaepernick, where they just think he is being disrespectful to the country, but it is his form of peaceful protest. But because he’s still a black man, they still see it as some form of minor aggression I guess.

Photo Credit: Adelis Riveiro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Alexa Pappas. She’s 20 and studying health and human science.

Photo Credit: Adelis Riveiro

I feel concerned about what’s going on in the U.S. because I think a lot of groups are being marginalized, and people’s rights are being threatened. So I think that there’s a lot of work that needs to be answered and a lot of unity that needs to come together.

“I think the U.S. is going on a transformation in terms of how we view our government, whether we think our governments are always doing the right thing or looking out for their best interest. I think there are disillusionments, people are scared of not having their needs [met] by the government, whether it is minimum wage not being raised… and the environment being destroyed…. I think people are starting to question whether the government is a good thing, and people who are in the government are working to recapture the minds and trusts of voters. I think the U.S. is going through a weird time, and we are not confident in our government, because why should we be?” – Chinelo Ikem, 22, law student

Photo Credit: Christie Leung

This is Belle Valero. She’s 21 and studying film production.

Photo Credit: Nathalie Moreno

 

 

It’s very disheartening, very disappointing. It’s very sad that a lot of these marginalized groups are being even further marginalized by this administration, which is supposed to support an entire republic. Being a queer woman of color and having friends who are immigrants, undocumented and [what] not, is very sad and very disheartening. You feel kind of hopeless in a way. There can always be things that can be done even though very minimal.

 

This is Jeff McDonald. He’s 21 and studying film production, too.

Photo Credit: Nathalie Moreno

I think everybody is kind of uneasy, politically. Elections are coming up…. Trump’s no bueno. I’ve been saying from the very beginning that I think the best thing he’s going to do is we’ll have record numbers at polls to get him out. Although there’s this uneasiness, I think that generally, we’re kind of coming together as an American society mostly. That whole kind of concept that you can do bad things, but then if you watch bad things and don’t interfere, you’re just as bad. So I think that collectively, we’re acknowledging there are things that need to be addressed and changed, so we kind of are coming together in the face of adversity…. I think everyone is stressed out, tired, anxious. It’s definitely a time of tribulation.

“…Trump’s looking at taking away citizenship from people who were born here whose parents are immigrants. Why don’t you care about that, and why aren’t you doing anything about that?” – Blair Devereaux, 20, interactive entertainment student

Photo Credit: Yuting Jin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Yuting Jin

“…in a state that [is] so Democratic, people start to feel safe, feeling that
everything will turn out okay in the end. But coming from a conservative state kind of opens up your eyes. And it scares me a little bit….” – Noelle Hanson, 20, film production student

“It’s kind of horrific and as the government gets more and more extreme,… it’s policing… people and their identities and apprising people seeking for help.” – Kate Allanach, 20, film and TV production student 

Photo Credit: Yuting Jin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Meiyue Zhang

“America is [a] country with lots of immigrants. A lot of news reported in China about America is negative. I think every society has its [problems]. For example, [America] has big problems with guns control, violence. But when I came here, my experience was really good so far, especially about the freedom of speech and lots of resources…. At least in the first two months here, I have never experienced discrimination or racism. Maybe because I live in the campus with educated people.” – Tianyi Li, 30, chemistry student

“I am not super informed in the daily news. I don’t know what can be done to something like the shooting accident. I am not super into the politics. I think I am the least involved person. But I know there are so many negative things today, a lot [of] big news stories recently. It is a tough time with lots of polarization in America now.” – Kyla Kelly, 23, biology student

Photo Credit: Meiyue Zhang

 

 

“I think that what’s happening in the U.S. politically is a symptom of a broader kind of globalization that are leaving people behind who are lashing onto the right wing that are populist groups…. So I think that it’s really something that Western democracies need to solve now, like reincorporating people who are being left behind by globalization.” – Robert Smith, 21, international relations student

Photo Credit: Grace Nowzari

“To be honest, I feel safer in central Asia than in America.” – Juilee Yoon, 18, international relations (global business) student 

Photo Credit: Grace Nowzari

“Personally, the U.S. is going through their own period of transition. We are learning a lot about ourselves with this new president. It’s kind of cool to have people coming together for one enemy, Trump. I mean even though I don’t like calling him an enemy, I like to be as objective as possible. You guys are all my countrymen, and I feel like there should be more conversation of how we can come together.” – Ezekiel Adoh, 26, economics student

Photo Credit: Grace Nowzari

“That is a hard question to answer, because it can depend on how you look at it, what you’re choosing to focus on. I think that a lot of the time, my friends and family and me, we tend to focus on the bad, on the negative. And to me, that’s a troubling perspective to always have, because we lose focus on the good. Again, it’s not perfect. I’m not saying it is…. But if we choose to concentrate on how far we’ve come, America will [continue] to push itself and be a better country than it is right now.” – Camilo Urdaneta 21, film student

Photo Credit: Sophia McGregor

“Surprisingly enough, I am cautiously hopeful with the midterms happening [today]. I am from South Carolina, and I’m seeing a lot of friends from back home who used to be so apathetic about voting getting excited, getting their friends registered to vote, getting ready to go out and vote, voting absentee if they went out of state for college. I have friends that were definitely Republican in school [who] are making posts about how trans lives matter and how they support Colin Kaepernick. And so I’m cautiously hopeful that things are hopefully going to change in a little bit in the next couple weeks.” – Mattie Harris-Lowe, 21, theatre student

Photo Credit: Sophia McGregor

“I think it’s a confusing time in the country and a lot of differing of opinions but not really a useful dialogue, just people sticking to their same opinions with no attempt of listening to the other side at all. And it’s kind of ineffective.” – Kirubel Seyoum, 19, business student

Photo Credit: Sophia McGregor

“I honestly find it ridiculous. I feel ideas, such as racism, discrimination, white supremacy and even anti-Semitism, are being promoted and sometimes even overlooked by our own president. I honestly think the backbone of our society is crashing. There’s a lot of fear, and our nation is being divided.” – Kimberly Serrano, 21, applied math student

Photo Credit: Sophia McGregor

This is Jessica Young. She’s 35 and studying American studies and ethnicities.

Photo Credit: Jose Cardenas

I think, politically, the culture is a little dangerous. There’s just a lot of hate and racism and classism and xenophobia in the micro, everyday treatment of folks, as well as structurally and policies. It’s a dark time but also a hopeful time.

It feels like a shitshow. I feel like more people need to be involved, especially with midterm elections coming up. Otherwise, we’re going to let people who decide not to vote decide the fate of the country for us.

Photo Credit: Jose Cardenas

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Wilmer Rivas. He’s a 25-year-old psychology student.

This is Nicole Park. She’s 18 and studying human biology.

Photo Credit: Jose Cardenas

 

 

 

 

 

 

It can be slightly debilitating at first to see so much tolerance going on for all of this. But with a lot of people rallying to vote, especially people my age and out of state sending absentee ballots, it’s empowering. I don’t know how it will turn out but I’m excited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photography by JOUR 330 students: Joelle Ferguson, Annanlee Chang, Christie Leung, Noah Kim, Alina Abidi, McCall Lanman, Adelis Riveiro, Nathalie Moreno, Yuting Jin, Meiyue Zhang, Grace Nowzari, Sophia McGregor and Jose Cardenas 

 

Correction: A previous version of this photo essay had Daniel Schwartz’s quote with Guancheng Qiu’s photo. The change was made at 9:25 a.m. on November 7, 2018. 

Correction: A slide had been deleted for design issues, reducing the student count from 43 to 38. The change was made at 11:47 p.m. on November 22, 2018.

Heran Mamo
Heran Mamo is the co-editor of Neon and a senior studying journalism with a minor in culture, media and entertainment. She likes writing about pop culture and its convergence with social issues. She has worked as an editorial intern for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. In her free time, Heran likes curating Spotify playlists and shopping for sneakers.
Becca is the co-editor of NEON. She is a senior double majoring in English and Political Science. She writes a variety of pieces wth a special interest in social justice and investigative reporting.