The billboard-size images are big enough to be spotted from a block away. They feature pictures of real USC students, hearts, the letter X and a slogan: “Spread care, not COVID.” It’s the brainchild of USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy students, who set out to create a relatable COVID-19 prevention program last fall.
The idea was pitched by university administration late in the summer of 2020, with the intention of implementing a pro-social health campaign that’s student-driven rather than top-down.
“It’s been a very long process, so my jaw dropped when I saw the banners going up,” said Eliza Glover, a USC Iovine and Young junior who helped design and drive the project through the academy’s impact lab. The lab is an extracurricular course that challenges students to take deep dives into real-world problem-solving with companies and institutions.
Glover, who was infected with the coronavirus early in the pandemic, describes the effort as both informational and heartfelt: “It’s about positivity, spreading care among students and the greater South L.A. community. Caring for one another is critical to controlling the spread of COVID.”
When it comes to slowing their own spread of COVID, students know best
The highly visible building signage hangs on the facades of Iovine and Young Hall, the Ronald Tutor Campus Center and the Bovard Administration Building. Banners on the south side of Fertitta Hall are visible to traffic passing on Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street. The multipronged campaign also features memes with animated characters and familiar sitcom references.
“Adding memes and making each other laugh makes this pandemic feel a little bit lighter,” said junior Sydney Loew. “We wanted to make this fun and relatable to students by bringing humor into the conversation.”
One of Loew’s collaborators, Ashara Wilson, recognized the uniqueness and value of student-to-student messaging.
“We are the target demographic, so we know exactly how we think and what’s going to make us engage in pro-social behaviors,” Wilson said. “Ultimately, we’re the ones who can get each other motivated the best.”
Zoom backgrounds and merchandise, including hoodies, masks and hand sanitizer, are available through the USC Bookstore. Proceeds go to the USC Student Relief Fund. The #spreadcarenotcovid hashtag pulls up Instagram posts, including one by President Carol L. Folt with a note of gratitude: “Thanks for all your hard work guys!”