The student who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a professor and USC responded to comments made by professor Erick Guerrero at a news conference Thursday.
Karissa Fenwick, a doctoral student at the School of Social Work, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the University and Guerrero, alleging USC did not impose disciplinary actions that she found sufficient after investigating a sexual harassment complaint she filed in January.
During the press conference, Fenwick directly countered Guerrero’s claim that she was taking advantage of “a serious issue to continue her life of white privilege.”
“[Guerrero] is twisting the concept [of white privilege] around to use it to defend his position when in fact, he not only had gender privilege but more importantly, he was my direct supervisor and controlled my future,” Fenwick said. “He had a tremendous amount more power than I did in this situation.”
On Wednesday, Guerrero filed a demurrer, which denied all the allegations in the suit.
“Many of the causes are very small false narratives, and then [the plaintiff] tries to create a significant base out of them,” said Mark Hathaway, Guerrero’s attorney. “I don’t think any reasonable person would read the complaint and think it was gender violence, retaliation or a hostile work environment.”
Emma Aguila, Guerrero’s wife and an assistant professor at USC, stated support for her husband in an email to the Daily Trojan.
“Erick values his reputation in our Trojan community and he has always been very careful in dealing with co-workers and students to avoid any misunderstandings,” Aguila wrote. “With all my heart, I stand by him. I believe in USC as a great institution and I know the truth will prevail.”
In a letter sent to Guerrero on Sept. 7, Martin Levine, vice provost and senior adviser to the provost, notified Guerrero that he would be suspended from teaching doctoral students among other consequences starting Fall 2018.
However, USC’s statement to the Daily Trojan on Wednesday stated that he was barred from teaching and supervising students starting this academic year.
The provost’s office declined to comment on the change from the statement to the letter, since they are unable to discuss specific personnel issues.
The letter to Guerrero also stated that there were multiple offenses.
Following other issues with administrators and faculty members that have come to light over the past several months, the University created a task force that will oversee and implement workplace standards to prevent similar issues in the future, a spokesperson from the provost’s office said.
A new vice provost of leadership development and evaluation will also be established and will oversee hiring processes and the work environment, according to USC.
While the University has made these changes to address the issues related to harassment and misconduct at the administrator and faculty level, some students at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work said they believe this is not enough.
Robin Petering and Rebecca Lengnick-Hall, two doctoral students at the School of Social Work, created a group called Social Workers to End Rape Culture in response to the recent sexual harassment allegations against Guerrero.
In a statement Thursday, they announced their support for Fenwick and victims of sexual misconduct at USC.
“It is unacceptable that a school of social work, grounded in the values of social justice and equity, would condone the actions of one of its tenured professors in perpetuating such a negative and unsafe culture,” the statement read. “This coalition feels that the administration’s response has demonstrated that they are not committed to maintaining a culture of safety, transparency and accountability in regards to sexual harassment and misconduct.”
According to Petering, the coalition has 60 former and current students and nine faculty members, but she expects these numbers to grow.
“[We want to] acknowledge and support Karissa in how brave she is,” Petering said. “This is not easy to do. She took a big risk in an effort for a lot of people. We’re here to support her and future students who could be victims of sexual harassment and assault.”
The Dean’s office in the School of Social Work did not provide a comment at the time of publication.
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