Social work faculty pens letter condemning USC’s actions after sexual harassment complaint

Daily Trojan file photo

Faculty members of the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work sent a letter to students of the school on Saturday expressing their disapproval of the disciplinary measures USC has taken against Professor Erick Guerrero following a complaint of sexual harassment. At the time of publication, 68 faculty members had signed the letter.

“We simply cannot reconcile the limited sanctions imposed by the University,” the letter read. “This was an egregious exploitation of Professor Guerrero’s power as a trusted faculty member and mentor.”

The letter stated that faculty members were never notified that Guerrero had been sanctioned for the harassment allegations, adding that remaining silent “contributes to the serial perpetration of sexual misconduct.” The letter asked for the University to revisit its decision to not terminate Erick Guerrero.

“Regardless of the reputational consequences to the offender or institution, transparency is critical,” the letter read. “Privacy is often untenable when there are safety concerns.”

Julie Cederbaum, associate professor at the School of Social Work, helped the tenure-line faculty draft the letter. She said that as social workers, it was important for them to stand for justice.

“We have a strong ethical obligation to maintain a safe learning environment,” Cederbaum said. “We need to be leaders in standing up when any of those values are tested.”

On Thursday, Marilyn Flynn, the dean of the School of Social Work, sent a letter to the school’s community urging faculty to open spaces during class to let students ask questions and address concerns regarding the recent news about Guerrero.

“We must always be vigilant,” Flynn wrote. “I will pledge absolutely that anyone who makes a complaint will be protected, and no one will be subject to retaliation.  This is the only way to protect the positive culture we have enjoyed.”

The letter from Dworak-Peck faculty comes three days after Karissa Fenwick, a doctoral student at the School of Social Work, filed a lawsuit against Guerrero and the University.

Photo of Erick Guerrero from USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work website.

The suit stated that Guerrero had sexually harassed her in his New Orleans hotel room in January. It also alleged that the University did not sufficiently discipline Guerrero for his actions.

Before filing the lawsuit, Fenwick reported the incident to the USC Office of Equality and Diversity. The OED launched an investigation, which concluded with a letter from the provost’s office suspending Guerrero for a semester without pay starting Fall 2018.

USC’s statement to the Daily Trojan stated that Guerrero was barred from teaching and supervising students starting this academic year.

Guerrero has denied all of the lawsuit’s allegations and filed a demurrer and answer to the complaint following the lawsuit.

“I am here and I am not going anywhere,” Guerrero wrote to the Daily Trojan in a statement on Wednesday. “I would never put myself in a compromising situation that take away all the things I have worked so hard to accomplish.”

The University did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some comments have been removed because they violate the Daily Trojan’s comment policy:

  • Let he who is without sin cast the first stone – John 8:7

    My son and I will pray for all of you.

    God Bless!

  • Michael

    The Inquisition does not necessarily reflect the consensus opinion of Trojans. Anyone who is interested in understanding the idiocy of these Title IX tribunals should read “Unwanted Advances” by Laura Kipnis. It’s hard to tell whether race was really a factor here, but the woman’s story and motivations are highly questionable. Why is she suing *USC* anyway? If she has a legitimate grievance, she should sue the professor instead. Why is she entitled to our taxpayer money?

    • USC SW Alumni

      She is suing the university because of their lack of transparency and lack of adequate punishment to someone who their own investigation found GUILTY. The letter here is not some arbitrary Title IX tribunal but a letter of discuss and call for action by USC from his colleague, those who know him and have worked with him since 2009. Considering the racial, ethnic, and philosophical diversity of the faculty, student groups, and alumni that are siding with Karissa and Student X I highly doubt that race is a factor. The issue at play as a rampant abuse of power emanating from someone a great deal of power (Guerrero) over someone who has none (students).