Students walking down Trousdale on a hot Thursday afternoon may have stumbled across an unexpected little oasis of wellness near Tommy Trojan.
A new student organization, the Self-Worth Project, encouraged students to uplift each other by writing positive messages.
Founders Maryanne Aziz and Patricia Gerges became friends their first semester at USC and started the Self-Worth Project because they agreed on a need for a community that openly supports and builds each other up and a safe space for students to embrace imperfection and be truthful to each other. While adapting to USC, they connected over shared experiences and observations of student life.
Aziz, a freshman majoring in health sciences, noticed the impossibly high standards students hold themselves to, and the inevitability of failure in such an environment.
“[USC students] strive to be perfect, but, again, it takes a lot to be perfect,” Aziz said. “It’s hard for people to realize that it’s okay not to get it from the first try.”
Gerges, a junior majoring in health sciences, said her motivation to start the organization came from a realization of how social media furthers an obsession with perfection, and creates a negative culture of comparison.
“When I go on Instagram, I see all these people who go to USC … They seem like they’re having the perfect life, perfect bodies. They’re having fun; they’re getting good grades; everything’s just perfect for them. It seems like they’re living in this perfect world, where I feel like I’m not,” Gerges said.
Gerges recognized the illusions many of her peers try to uphold and the struggles they feel forced to conceal.
“I love psychology, and I love to talk to people about mental health and vulnerability,” Gerges said. “When I talk to people, I realize that we’re all struggling in this way, but no one is ready to have this conversation.”
Thursday’s event was the first for the Self-Worth Project. The organization set up a table between the Student Union and Tommy Trojan, which included colorful pens, notecards, candies and frozen yogurt and invited students to stop for a few minutes to perform a random act of kindness. Passersby received uplifting quotes on slips of paper and wrote positive messages that the Self-Worth Project passed on later to other students. The group also offered pieces of candy and cups of frozen yogurt at the event.
Hulbert Dang, a sophomore majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, participated and said he was touched by the event’s reminder of self-care.
“A lot of college students get stressed out from studies and forget their mental health,” Dang said. “This is a great way to relieve stress.”
Patricia Garcia, a graduate student studying product development and engineering, also appreciated the event’s positive message and the opportunity to impact another student.
“You don’t really get stopped by everyday and someone hands you a positive note or positive affirmation,” Garcia said. “I hope whoever reads my note that I wrote, it impacts their day in a positive way.”
In the span of an hour, dozens of students stopped at the table to learn more about the Self-Worth Project and write an uplifting message.
Anthony Khoory, a junior majoring in sociology, oversees logistics for the Self-Worth Project. From his conversations with peers, I have realized that students are sometimes “turned off to caring for each other,” contributing to feelings of isolation at USC. He said the Self-Worth Project looks to reinforce a culture where people come together over shared respect and love for each other.
Khoory said, by offering students the opportunity to write positive messages to each other, the event captures the heart of the Self-Worth Project: the belief that each person has dignity and deserves care.
“Some people have different ways of explaining their self-worth,” Khoory said. “Somebody walking along who comes into contact with us could really have the whole trajectory of their day changed because of their interaction with us.”
As the organization continues to grow, Aziz and Gerges said they envision the Self-Worth Project growing in two main directions. First, they plan to hold weekly discussions and invite guest speakers, including professionals and experts to explore topics such as meditation strategies and building healthy relationships with one’s body.
The Self-Worth Project also hopes to expand to the South Central area in the future, allowing USC students to come up with their own projects and becoming mentors in the community by leading presentations or workshops with middle and high school students about self-worth and social media comparison.
“Just because you don’t fall under the societal standards of obviously looking perfect or having perfect grades or having a social life or whatever, that doesn’t mean that you’re not worthy of love,” Gerges said. “Every person is worthy.”