USC Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards is responsible for upholding USC’s standards of behavior and integrity through disciplinary action. Standards include academic violations, such as plagiarism, and non-academic violations, such as hazing. In a survey sent out by the Daily Trojan, 31 students shared their personal experience with SJACS regarding academic violations. These responses come from all years and a variety of classes, showing a prominent pattern of concerning behavior by the institution. This alarming sample of responses warrants a closer look at SJACS’ practices.
Unlike the United States justice system, SJACS requires no threshold of evidence for a trial. Professors have the power to make accusations with little to no evidence. For example, in Fall 2020, students were accused of cheating simply because they picked a multiple choice answer that could have been found on Google.
Some professors, who do not take SJACS reports seriously, make accusations without much ground. In Spring 2021, one student talked to his professor after being accused of cheating and cleared all issues directly with the professor. However, two days later, the professor said he no longer believed the student and would file a report with SJACS. Professors are able to make these life-changing accusations on a whim with complete disregard as to how it might affect their students. Due to the nonexistent threshold of evidence, there have been cases where more than one-third of a class is sent to SJACS.
Following these accusations of academic dishonesty, involved students became understandably worried. SJACS only adds to this stress further by not communicating with students. Although it is University policy for the professor to tell the students about the situation before sending it to SJACS, many do not. Therefore, many students do not even know what they are accused of for months. In Fall 2020, one student sent dozens of emails to SJACS and the professor asking to see the accusation report to no avail. To this day, months later, the student only knows the details of his accusation from other students involved. Students are forced to go through the SJACS process blind with no support from the school.
Many are stuck in this clueless limbo for a very long time as SJACS cases can take up to a year. Besides mental health consequences, these long waits also have practical consequences. For instance, if the class in question is a prerequisite, students cannot plan their next semester without a verdict. Some classes are also required for internal transfers to other USC schools. If the class in question is needed for transfer, students may not know their admission decision for many months. Students do not know what their major is, what classes they should take or what career path they can pursue without a verdict. Leaving students with months of no communication is completely unfair.
Due to the severity of the consequences and the long wait, many students are put under chronic stress — the prolonged and constant feeling of stress that often leads to mental and physical pain. Living every day in constant fear for nine months is detrimental to one’s mental health. The severe isolation, lack of support and lack of communication involved in the SJACS process lead to anxiety attacks and suicidal thoughts. Many wake up each morning with anxiety and go to sleep crying. Due to the sheer length of the wait, many students cannot enjoy their summer vacation. No one — guilty or innocent — deserves to go through this process.
SJACS is no better during the actual trials either. Not only is there no evidence required for an accusation, but there is also no evidence needed to find students guilty. Instead of requiring professors to prove a student’s guilt, students are required to prove their innocence. SJACS automatically sees students as villains, and it is the students’ responsibility to overturn that. Evidence to prove innocence is extremely hard to attain, leading to many innocent students being found guilty. The consequences of these baseless verdicts go beyond failing a class. Failing a class may affect financial aid, leaving low-income students with no way to attend USC. Students considering medical, law or graduate school are also hit hard. Many students’ academic careers are ruined from these groundless verdicts.
SJACS claims to uphold the Trojan values and integrity through disciplinary action. With students going through months-long extreme mental health crises from baseless accusations, SJACS has failed tremendously in its responsibility as a member of the Trojan family.
SJACS, your actions have been evaluated and a verdict has been reached: you do not fit the Trojan standards of integrity and we demand a revolution of your practices.