Student addresses sexual harassment allegations against professor


Karissa Fenwick, a doctoral student at the School of Social Work, and attorney John Winer spoke publicly about the allegations in Fenwick’s lawsuit against USC and professor Erick Guerrero. Photo by Terry Nguyen | Daily Trojan

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.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some comments have been removed because they violate the Daily Trojan’s comment policy: https://dailytrojan.com/info/

  • I hope this young lady finds peace and may I suggest prayer is often the fastest way to find peace in almost every situation.

    All ladies should realize that when you enter a man’s hotel room to do anything other than change the sheets, you are entering potentially dangerous territory.

  • Sarah H.

    They will not read it because they are all bullies and want to see one side to the story. It’s unfortunate if this is the graduate students the school is producing. THERE GO the school ranking!

  • Savannah C

    Dr. Guerrero is disciplined and always respectful of our academic community. I have been around him during conferences and he is reserved.

    • Peter Schwartz

      Being respectful in public does not exclude you from being a sexual perpetuator in private. -Neither does being a father or being married- as EG is claiming.

      • Julie

        He danced on a table in our doctoral theory class (which was irrelevant to the topic of discussion). That was neither reserved…nor appropriate. I support Karissa and any other student who is the victim of sexual harrassment or assault.

        • Sarah H.

          OMG are you for real? HE HUGGED ME ONCE is that considerate sexual assault too? this is getting pathetic honestly and blown out of context. Just because he is a man he isn’t allowed to be happy, dance and go near a female student?

    • Sarah H.

      AGREED!

  • Seth M.

    I am very proud of Karissa for coming forward! That takes incredible courage and strength. I am confident USC will make the correct decision in not allowing sexual predators to remain working for this University in ANY capacity. I stand in support of the countless faculty and students who have come together in support of Karissa and have demanded the termination of Dr. Guerrero.

  • Sarah H.

    I truly hope you if you have heard these things you will report it to the school. That isn’t right of her to making fun of others that way.

  • StudentUSC

    I understand students taking a stance and trying to do the “right” thing. However, you fail to understand that this has not been proven in court yet. She has made allegations that he has backed up and had evidence against. However, the school still decided to do what they felt was necessary so that he would get some sort of punishment and she would not be dismissed.

    Everyone on here is taking this to an extreme and making statements that are very hurtful to people that know and respect Dr. Guerrero. It is unfair to ruin someone’s career over “allegations.” If students on here commenting are truly social workers then they should respect our code of ethics. Nothing’s been proven, and at this point it could go ether way, and the court will decide this fairly. If this guy was truly a predator then we would hear of more cases coming out against him. HOWEVER, all we are hearing about within the school is how numerous faculty and students are supporting him as well. His own wife is supporting him too. If he was such an awful person it would not be so. We have heard things around campus about Karissa and other faculty members as well being “involved.” But I would never point fingers on her, instead we will see what the court decides in due time.

    Do the right thing, and CLOSE your mouth at this point. I am also a student in the program. This is bigger than all of us.

    • Seth M.

      Sarah, I think you haven’t really researched what has transpired thus far. Karissa’s allegations were backed up and decided to be true by a 5 month plus internal USC investigation. Dr. Guerrero tried to appeal the decision once found responsible by this investigation and submitted unsubstantiated claims and witnesses that didn’t actually benefit him. His appeal was denied and the investigation concluded still in supported Karissa. Once that was determined the University levied some punishments against him to keep his involvement with students limited. This most believe was not enough and woefully inadequate, including the victim Karissa who felt the only way to make serious change was to sue him and the school.

      Everyone (His peer faculty and students) are extremely upset with Dr. Guerrero’s behavior and the schools lack of a more severe punishment. Unfortunately Dr. Guerrero was solely responsible for ruining his own career not all of the students and faculty and certainly not Karissa. The people commenting ARE social workers at USC as I recognize their names not hidden behind “John Doe’s” or “Sarah H.’s”. This is not the time to stay silent and “CLOSE” our mouths. This is the time to stand up for whats right and speak out. Too much of sexual crime is kept secret and swept under the carpet. Its time that we stand up for strong people like Karissa.

      • Sarah H.

        First of all SETH. I am an actual student at the school as well. So just because you do not agree with my statements does not give you the right to harass my comment and make it seem as though I am a fake person.

        For your information, I do know what is going on. Did you know that half of the information that was used against Dr. Guerrero was also NOT made available to him until she filed the lawsuit against him? So whoever “Student X” is was never even brought to his attention. So pretty much any person who EVER had an issue with him could have been interviewed by the school and made false accusations about him to bring him down.

        Were there video cameras that followed them that day at the conference? How can these accusations even be proven that she is making. Do you know him personally to attack his character like this? I AM GUESSING YOU DONT. Well guess what I do. I have taken classes with him, and he has mentored close FEMALE friends of mine, so next time carefully think about what you are saying and for making it seem as though I am a fake person. HOW DARE YOU!? If you are truly a social worker then you need to go read the code of ethics again. Just because you don’t agree with what I am saying doesn’t give you the right to tear me down or others who support him. As I said before CLOSE YOUR MOUTH!

        • Seth Maxwell

          So wait…because YOU haven’t been harassed and your FRIENDS haven’t been harassed (thank goodness) this means that he didn’t do it to anyone? Your logic is flawed. Let me make this simple. THE OED SUBSTANTIATED THE CLAIMS!!! The OED ruled against him, all the faculty and doctoral students want him gone…but you Sarah know better than everyone.

          Let me give you some advice as you sound really young and just starting in your career as a student; Be careful who you side with. Be careful how you present yourself on public forums. You never know who is reading this and how they may take your statements. Below is a link to a letter just published by the faculty of the school of social work. I implore you to read it and really think about what is being said in the document. Then if you are feeling bold look at the signatures on the bottom of the letter and decide if all those names mean something to you, to your future. Are they all wrong too?

          • Michael

            You mean the Office of Equity and Diversity? They have as much legal credibility as an organized crime syndicate.

          • Seth Maxwell

            So Michael since you feel they have no credibility wouldn’t you think they would side with their faculty as to avoid suit and protected their interests including lots of funding brought to the school by Dr. Guerrero? What are you trying to say? Or are you just interested in trying to make nonsensical inflammatory statements. I believe those people are better known as trolls. Michael are you a troll?

          • Peter Schwartz

            It is clear…Professor Eric Guerrero is “Michael”, “Sarah H.”, “John Doe”. Sad and pathetic.

          • Sarah H.

            It is CLEAR that graduate students of USC also like to harass others, I guess too. Just because you don’t agree with what others have to say doesn’t mean it’s Profrssor Guerrero “hiding behind a screen.” Get a grib you BULLY!

          • Seth Maxwell

            Sarah…you should proofread your comments. Don’t know what a Profrssor is or how to get a “Grib”. If you want some help, I’m sure the graduate students could proofread your stuff for you. Maybe I should paste your comment below for fear you might delete it again…or try and edit it to fix your typos.

          • Peter Schwartz

            Well said.

          • Michael

            Your response to Sarah sounds extremely creepy and threatening. No wonder she deleted her message. Are you threatening a woman because she disagrees with you and the money-sucking vampire, Larissa?

          • Sarah H.

            That is exactly why I deleted it Michael!! And I actually blocked him too because he was telling me how to act for my future which was totally uncalled for and constantly accusing me of being Professor Guerrero, which is plain wrong.

            They are accusing him of sexual assault yet their threatening nature is bullying and assault at its finest.

          • Seth Maxwell

            Hey everyone look the troll is back! Another great addition to this conversation. Thanks Michael for your always intelligent discourse.

          • Michael

            What are you implying, Seth? ” Be careful who you side with. Be careful how you present yourself on
            public forums. You never know who is reading this and how they may take
            your statements.” What are you going to do, thug? Why are you threatening a woman with implicit violence because she disagrees with your money-sucking scheme?

          • Seth Maxwell

            Michael I want to thank you for all the exposure you are giving this important article. The more your type your troll comments the more exposure this article gets. Please continue to share and support this important information. I know how important it is for you to make sure strong people like Karissa get their voices heard. Thanks.

      • Peter Schwartz

        AGREED.

  • Robin Petering

    #iamstudentX

  • Zoe Nicholson

    It seems that many institutions have hidden their unacceptable standards and are now being forced into daylight by such a discovery. That being said, I am truly dismayed that USC would not have set the example years ago of zero tolerance on the issues of sexual assault. This student is performing a service for everyone by shining a light on the unthinkable circumstance that a discovered faculty member only has to face a fine and reprimand. Sexual assault must not be tolerated for anyone in this community; faculty, students, administration and workers.
    I earned a MA in Ethics at USC and feel certain this would have been our only topic until it was rectified with a zero tolerance policy. Time to do better, USC.

    • Sarah H.

      That makes no sense, if the school sets that type of policy ANY student then can make claims against their professor and have that professor fired over simple “allegations.” theres no hard evidence against him, no proof of sexual relations, nothing. You are making him out to be a predator when you are a stranger and no nothing about what’s happened on the inside and what we are dealing with as students at the school. Please go away and use your words correctly!

      If a student gets a grade they aren’t happy with, they can then make claims against the professor that he or she sexually harassed them and then get that professor fired because of the “zero tolerance” policy. LISTEN to your words. There are people who will always try to take advantage of the system. The school is doing the best they can to deal with this to not harm either parties until it is decided fairly.

  • Beth Gaona

    Shame on USC for minimizing Dr. Guerrero’s disturbing and dangerous act of sexual violence. I stand beside Karissa and Student X as well as other students on our campus who have been and are currently victims of sexual violence. This behavior is unacceptable!

  • Chris Ortiz

    You clearly know nothing about her and are a cowardly pathetic troll, who can’t even come up with a better screenname to hide behind.

    • John Doe

      You are a naive and fanatical troll who knows nothing about the inner workings of USC’s Title IX process and the ideological madness behind these witch hunts. Have you ever seen a female professor or administrator punished for ANYTHING? And in case you missed the memo, Karissa is suing the school and the professor for MONEY.

      • Andrea Lane Eastman

        The one transparent thing about this whole process is who is posting as John Doe. An army stands behind Karissa because we are so fortunate to know and love her.

        • John Doe

          Yes, I am aware an “army” is standing behind her. That’s the point. I believe the technically correct term is “mob,” though. You know what Ibsen said about moralizing zealots like you. “A minority may be right, but the majority is always wrong.” You are wrong.

          • Laura

            #iamstudentX

          • Sarah H.

            I STAND WITH DR. Erick Guerrero!!!

      • Robin Petering

        This is Karissa’s money

        • Sarah H.

          Everyone needs to calm down. Nothing’s been proven yet. There are also many faculty and students at the school who support and admire Dr. Guerrero and believe in him. Go read the court documents. It’s clear she had some sort of crush on him and was devastated when she found out his wife was pregnant. You need to stop treating him like he is a “sexual predator” when nothing’s been decided. CALM DOWN AND RESPECT THE ETHICAL CODE.

      • Seth M.

        Dr. Guerrero…I mean John Doe….Come out of the shadows and show your true self.

    • Sarah H.

      If he mentioned his real name your “army” would go after him. BULLIES!!!!!

  • USC SW Alumni

    I stand with Karissa, ‘Student X,’ and anyone else who has experienced this at the hands of predators like Dr. Guerrero. I feel sorry for his wife and child who are also victims in this. Dean Flynn and President Nikas need to sober up and realize that they have aided in the continuation and creation of a toxic misogynistic culture at USC. They can fix this and the first step is the dismissal of predators like Dr. Guerrero, no matter how much NIH grant monies they bring to USC.

    • Sarah H.

      You feel sorry for his wife and child?? If you did you would not ask for his dismissal. His wife is supporting him through this process. It’s clear you are a stranger and KNOW nothing about what is going on in the inside. Take your negative comments elsewhere instead of trying to ruin someone’s life over false allegations made against him. I am one of his female students and have NEVER seen anything wrong on his part or unfair treatment of females. Do not try to act moral when your comments state otherwise.

  • Chris Ortiz

    Karissa is such a strong and brave person for speaking out! She is standing up for not only herself but for other students who otherwise would be vulnerable to his predatory and reprehensible behavior! #StandWithKarissa

    • Beth Gaona

      #StandWithKarissa!

      • Robin Petering

        #IamStudentX

  • Wichada La Motte-Kerr

    The school needs to step up and meet its obligation to make its students feel safe. No one is deserving of sexual harassment and everyone should be safe, secure, and supported in the environment where they learn or work. The punishment does not fit the crime the university itself found him guilty of. I stand in solidarity with Karissa, other surivivors, and the coalitation, Social Workers to End Rape Culture.

    • joe nikolas

      so i suppose the million she is asking for will make her feel a little safer

  • John Doe

    Virtue signalling and mob lynching. *Yawn*

  • Matthew Zavala

    This is not right. I am currently a second year graduate student at this school. This goes against our values as Social Workers. I stand with Karrisa, “Victim X” , and anyone else that Guerrero has wronged. We need answers yesterday.

  • Cary Klemmer

    I stand unequivocally with all survivors. Karissa, I thank you so deeply for starting the steps toward BIG change that will see so many people protected.

  • Molly Sullivan

    Solidarity with Karissa! I am a current MSW 2nd year student and am shocked by Dean Flynn and the school’s lack of transparency and accountability on this issue. We all deserve a safe learning environment. Allowing someone accused of such serious allegations to continue teaching students is unacceptable!

    • Michael

      Yeah, “such serious allegations.” Apparently he danced on a table. DANCED ON A TABLE, YOU SAY? BURN THE WITCH!

  • StudentUSC

    Happy to see he has the support of his wife, it shows what an honest man he is!