USC, UCLA student governments call for transparency

Photo from Daily Bruin / Daily Trojan file photo

USC and UCLA’s graduate and undergraduate student governments released a joint statement June 17 denouncing both schools’ treatment of campus sexual assault issues. The statement comes on the heels of the arrest of a UCLA gynecologist and after a judge approved a settlement with USC for victims of George Tyndall.  

“[We,] who collectively represent over 93,000 students in Los Angeles County, stand in solidarity with the hundreds of individuals who allege sexual harassment and battery against these three former student health doctors [Tyndall, Dennis Kelly, James Heaps,] among other incidents on campus,” the statement read.

Earlier this month, a federal judge granted preliminary approval to the $215 million class-action settlement between USC and survivors of Tyndall. USC stated it is aware of sexual harassment allegations against Kelly, a former medical provider at the Engemann Student Health Center who was accused of targeting students based on their sexualities.

The student leaders at USC and UCLA connected through the Shared Governance Symposium, a meeting for student government representatives from several Los Angeles colleges, said Robert Watson, UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council President. Held at USC for the first time in February this year, it allowed USC and UCLA representatives to set agendas for school governance and eventually draft the statement. 

“I think that there was definitely a shared desire to release some sort of statement that indicated both of our student governments’ interests in continuing to push administration to be more transparent about these matters because not [doing so] ultimately becomes a threat to the safety and well-being of students,” Watson said.

According to USG President Trenton Stone, the statement is the first step toward demanding cultural change on campus and increased accountability from both institutions. 

“This [statement] is for our communities, for our student body — to show that we’re aware and we stand in solidarity and, of course, that as an organization and as individuals,  we want to condemn the behavior that’s happened at both of the health centers,” Stone said.

While USG cannot make resolutions in the summer, Stone said the organization is currently building the framework for a sexual assault task force. USG also plans on making issues of harassment and student safety primary concerns moving forward, according to Stone.

USC said in a statement to the Daily Trojan that it has implemented changes at the Engemann Student Health Center following the lawsuits against Kelly and Tyndall such as hiring female, board-certified physicians, instating a more effective complaint-resolution system and introducing patient education materials on sensitive health examinations.

“The health and safety of our students is our top priority,” USC said. “Over the past two years, the University has significantly strengthened operations and oversight at the [Engemann] Student Health Center. We welcome input from student government leaders and all students on additional enhancements.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, allegations against Heaps first became known to UCLA officials in 2017, and the former campus doctor retired June 2018 following an internal investigation. School officials did not make students aware of the reason for Heaps’ departure until Chancellor Gene Block announced his arrest to the community in early June, the Daily Bruin reported.

“We do have corruption at this school,” said Zak Fisher, president of UCLA’s Graduate Student Association. “We do have the impulse — when negative news coverage comes out — to cover it up.”

Fisher said he feels outraged over the lack of transparency at UCLA and believes the university needs to reevaluate its priorities, such as by launching an investigation into the matter.

“The administration protected themselves, and I think that, unfortunately, the reality is [that] people feel less protected,” Fisher said. “That includes my constituents.”

According to the Daily Bruin, Heaps worked part-time at the UCLA Arthur Ashe Center for Student Health & Wellness for 28 years, treating UCLA students. At least 22 women have stepped forward and alleged sexual misconduct against the doctor during his tenure at the university, the Times reported.

The joint statement calls for both institutions to make student safety regarding sexual harassment a top priority.

“While we recognize past efforts to improve our student health systems, as well as litigation to indemnify victims, we request that — outside of any court proceedings — relevant administrative units continue to review health system policies and make changes that will better ensure patient safety,” the statement read.

Fisher and Watson aim to continue meeting with UCLA administration to call for transparency, accountability and a possible investigation into Heaps’ alleged misconduct.