Trojans Skyler Pak and Taylor Contarino take #WeAreListening to heart
TITLE IX: The two USC Annenberg students are integral to the continuing success of the school’s #WeAreListening LIVE series.
Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.
Hours after classes ended for the day, Skyler Pak, Taylor Contarino and a group of more than 80 students, faculty, alumni and staff from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism are still gathered in Sheindlin Forum. They have been enjoying live music from student performers, food, games and one another’s company at #WeAreListening LIVE, an intimate mixer fostering connection and communication between students from all different backgrounds and diversity-based organizations on campus.
Co-hosted by USC Annenberg’s diversity, equity, inclusion and access task force, USC Annenberg Student Services and the USC Annenberg Cross-Cultural Student Association, it is the second gathering Pak and Contarino have helped organize. They became involved with the #WeAreListening LIVE series after it evolved from a social media campaign designed to amplify diverse voices in the USC Annenberg community — especially those historically unheard in society.
“When I was approached with the opportunity to do the #WeAreListening series, I immediately jumped on it because there have been times when I felt a little bit out of place and didn’t really know how to incorporate myself into a community,” said Pak, who is majoring in communication at USC Annenberg as well as philosophy, politics and economics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
There have been times when I felt a little bit out of place and didn’t really know how to incorporate myself into a community.
“We had our last mixer in October, and we talked about things such as when we first felt represented in the media, challenges we’ve encountered due to our gender or ethnic identities, historical media figures that inspire us, what excites us most about our future careers and more. There was hugging, laughing, crying and even a little freestyle rap session; the event was just really, really beautiful.”
Both the fall and spring #WeAreListening LIVE events exceeded the number of RSVPs thanks to Pak and Contarino’s marketing and promotion involvement. When the second iteration expanded its programming, Contarino joined the lineup of musical performers.
“USC has really given me the platform to showcase who I am, and I just feel so supported by that,” said Contarino, a USC Annenberg journalism major.
“Live events can be very chaotic, but I love selecting the talent and planning them and a lot of times people don’t know it’s a woman behind the scenes making things happen. I have definitely run into situations where I’ll get texts like, ‘Yo bro, I wanna send you my music,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not a bro.’ But I want to be a CEO and work in predominantly male industries, so I’m thankful to be at Annenberg and gain leadership experience.”
Title IX trailblazers: Reflections on the student leaders that came before them
When asked about their heroes, Pak and Contarino didn’t hesitate to list the track and field athletes who inspired them to choose USC for their higher education. As former high school student-athletes, they are inspired by Trojans Allyson Felix, for her work off the field championing maternity rights, and Anna Cockrell, who has openly shared her struggles with mental health.
“I really admire student-athletes in particular, having been one myself,” Pak said. “These two excelled both in the classroom and on the track. Plus, on top of that, they advocate for social justice issues that are close to their hearts.”
Contarino added, “I’ve always looked up to the USC women’s track and field roster, so being able to run on the same track as them now is like the most amazing thing.”
Title IX trailblazers: other leadership roles
In addition to being co-president of the Cross-Cultural Student Association, Pak is a deputy chief copy editor at the Daily Trojan, a USC Annenberg ambassador with the admissions office and a trip lead with Peaks & Professors, a student organization that unites USC faculty and students by organizing hikes. She hosts and produces USC Annenberg Ambassadors’ new podcast, Annenberg Speaks, and also directed and produced The Affected: We’ve Got This, a documentary that illustrates the impact that COVID-19 had on students.
“I truly love Annenberg,” Pak said. “I didn’t even start within the school and I added it as a second major but after spending my first year remotely, I truly started to enjoy my college experience once I got involved with the many opportunities Annenberg offers. Being an ambassador for incoming and prospective students has been great because you get to talk about your experiences — within Annenberg and outside the school — and it is great to step into their shoes and see how far I’ve come.”
On the pre-law track with a music industry minor, Contarino is passionate about ethics, equity, diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. The transfer student started her own nonprofit, Women in the Music Industry, which supports, encourages and builds a community for anyone who identifies as female and wants to promote ethical, inclusive spaces in music. She also runs her own music blog, publishing and recording label, and is an A&R intern.
It’s kind of unfortunate that there need to be guidelines to ensure that women are being treated properly and that we are given equal treatment.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that there need to be guidelines to ensure that women are being treated properly and that we are given equal treatment,” Contarino said. “I think that Title IX is great and that it allows for equal access to quality education, but I really hope that we’re able to progress into a society where women are treated as equals across all industries, too.”
As a member of the USC Annenberg Media Equity Board, Contarino is one of our four members who read all the USC Annenberg Media stories to make sure that the outlet continues to progress toward a more equitable newsroom.
“I feel extremely supported by the campus and the community because it feels like we all really care about each other and we actually want to see each other succeed,” explained Contarino.
Title IX trailblazers: the future
Title IX turned 50 in June 2022, and Pak and Contarino agree that the future for gender equity is headed in the right direction but that there is still more to do.
“Gender equity does not stop at higher education,” Pak said. “The wage gap between men and women still persists. However, I’m proud of the strides that USC has made and I’m honored to study and work with incredible women.”
With USC Annenberg’s student body being approximately three-fourths female, Pak and Contarino have many opportunities to collaborate with other women-led organizations and research centers. They feel supported by all faculty to pursue their passions and dream big.
“There are so many things that I wanna do,” Contarino said. “I just don’t want to put myself in a box and I’m grateful that here at USC, I don’t have to. I hope that I can continue staying outside of the box for the rest of my life and my career.”
More stories about: Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Students, Title IX