Community members raised concerns about reporting methods and questioned USC administrators about the issue of sexual misconduct at a Town Hall held Tuesday afternoon to accompany the release of national and campus-wide survey results. Nearly 200 students, faculty and staff attended the town hall, to discuss the new data, which showed a rise in women experiencing sexual assaults on campus.
The 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, published by the Association of American Universities, showed a slight increase in the prevalence of sexual assault on campus compared to USC data from AAU’s first survey, collected in 2015.
Following a presentation of the data, community members asked questions to a panel comprising members of the USC AAU Task Force, which is charged with making recommendations to the administration.
USC has a history of “administrative failure” in responding to instances of sexual misconduct at USC, said Concerned Faculty of USC Chair Ariela Gross, citing an inconclusive 2016 investigation into former campus gynecologist George Tyndall made public earlier this year.
She specifically referred to one task force member on the panel, Title IX coordinator Gretchen Means, who was quoted by the Los Angeles Times in reference to the investigation saying, ‘There was no there there,’ and that the University concluded Tyndall had not violated USC’s policies on sexual misconduct.
“[That] is, I think, to me, the number one example of our administrative failure,” Gross said, referring to Means.
Vice President of Student Affairs Winston Crisp responded to Gross, saying the University has “a lot to make up for.”
“We have to … see this as a problem whose dimensions span the entire University,” Crisp said. “That doesn’t happen overnight.”
The large number of attendees showed how concerned the campus community is about the issue, said Gross, a law and history professor. The University is currently battling hundreds of lawsuits related to allegations of sexual misconduct in the Engemann Student Health Center.
Tyndall, who has been accused of sexual abuse by more than 800 women, pleaded not guilty in July after he was arrested on 29 felony counts. His case surfaced after the L.A. Times published an investigative piece in May 2018.
In the 2019 survey, USC reported that 31% of its undergraduate women had experienced an instance of sexual assault, more than 5% higher than the national average of 25.9%. USC was one of 33 universities to participate in the survey.
“No, we’re not happy,” Crisp said. “We will never be happy until these numbers get to where they are eradicated.”
Markie Anderle, the director of external affairs for Graduate Student Government and a master’s student in planning, asked about the University’s efforts to make campus support resources more accessible. The 2019 survey reported that 84% of undergraduate students who experienced sexual harassment did not report the incident, which Anderle called “completely unacceptable.”
“The Title IX office page is also not what comes up when you Google ‘Title IX at USC,’” Anderle said. “And the [Office for Equity and Diversity]’s website looks like it was made in the ‘90s.”
“I totally agree with you,” Means responded, laughing. “We are actually in the process of redoing the OED website.”
Some attendees also expressed discontent with the lack of medical resources, such as 24-hour counseling services and access to post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, which can be taken to prevent possible HIV infection.
Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman clarified that the student health center does carry PEP and that the University is in the process of hiring five full- and part-time “victim advocates.” Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Services Director Brenda Ingram added that her office has also expanded to include more counselors.
Katie Thanos, a senior majoring in law, history and culture who helped lead a protest last February in response to allegations of sexual abuse against former men’s health doctor Dennis Kelly, spoke about her own difficulties finding support after surviving a sexual assault incident last year.
“We can’t be left floundering,” Thanos said, holding back tears. “Our process is so deeply flawed that even when you seek help it’s not given to you.”