More than 500 students have signed a petition calling for the Office of Student Affairs to implement new rules regarding sexual violence and the way the university handles reports of such incidents.
The petition, created by Kaya Masler, a senior majoring in political science, was posted on Change.org and is titled, “The Office of Student Affairs at the University of Southern California: Please take these 9 easy steps to create a safer campus.”
The petition asks USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett and the school administration to create a resource guide for the USC community, clarify the alleged perpetrator accountability process and establish an anonymous reporting option for students who might not want to adjudicate their cases with the university, among other requests. Of the proposed reforms, four of the nine request more transparency so that students are able to see how the university responds to and reports complaints of sexual assault and harassment.
USC’s handling of sexual harassment and violence was brought to light again this past April after the Office for Civil Rights, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education, opened an investigation into USC and many other universities. After students at USC alleged an inadequate response to cases of sexual violence, the Office for Civil Rights looked into USC’s compliance with Title IX, a federal law that requires universities to protect students from sexual harassment and assault.
“This issue is not unique to USC, nor is it unique to higher education. This is the same discussion going on in the U.S. military, in corporate America, in many different venues about effective means for adjudicating and communicating, working with employers, cadets, students, to make sure issues dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault are fairly addressed,” said Dr. Ainsley Carry, vice provost of student affairs.
Masler noted that more could be done to reveal information to the public about the process of responding to complaints of sexual assault.
“SJACS [Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards] keeps their process private and I understand part of that is for legal reasons but they could add just a simple flow-chart that this happens, then this happens, and you can expect to hear back in this amount of time, as is your right,” she said. “This is a simple administrative resource they can provide that they’re not providing.”
The online petition’s initial goal of 500 signatures, was reached on Monday. The new goal is 1,000 signatures. Masler said that reactions to the petition have been mostly favorable.
“I’ve received positive feedback about every line of the petition from USC administrators over the past year or so,” she said. “Everyone says that’s a great idea, but I don’t always get enough follow-through.”
Alex Kanegawa, a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism, was one student who signed the petition.
“It’s unfathomable to think that you wouldn’t have something like this in place,” Kanegawa said. “Signing the petition is a small step forward. There’s a lot more to be done, but it’s part of being the solution. I feel like this is something everyone should be really conscious about.”
In July, Provost Garrett sent a letter to the USC community that said USC would “collaborate fully” with the Office for Civil Rights and “look forward to suggestions they might have.” Many students, however, have fought for further action.
“Compliance should be automatic. Some of the reforms that are proposed on the petition go above and beyond compliance. USC claims to be a national leader in this, so one would expect that they would go above and beyond compliance,” said Francesa Bessey, a junior majoring in international relations.
Despite this, Bessey added that the USC administration has initiated some positive actions.
“Although I’m still not satisfied with their definition, small steps have been taken, which is wonderful,” Bessey said. “I hope that the university continues to take steps like this, but there’s a really, really long way to go.”
Other students believe that USC has already taken steps to improve procedures that handle sexual violence.
“I signed the petition and I really hope it’s implemented,” said Jasmine Zahedi, a freshman majoring in psychology. “But I think USC is taking the appropriate actions by cooperating with federal laws.”
Carry noted that his office has been working with student leadership.
“We went back and forth in a really good exchange of what I think were good ideas in [Masler’s] nine points. Some of those issues have already been in the works for multiple years,” he said. “I appreciate this conversation because it’s only going to help us get better. That has to be our focus: making sure we can get better.”
Through the recent petition, students advise that the university consider their proposals.
“Listening to student input is essential if you really want to tackle the issue appropriately,” Bessey said.
Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojan