Faculty join student protests against sexual assault

Protestors stand outside Bovard. They hold various signs mainly stating Save Our Students (SOS).
Students and protesters on the steps of Bovard, chanting and holding signs. (Emmett Fuchs | Daily Trojan)

Underneath banners celebrating USC’s homecoming weekend, professors and students held signs reading “Rapists and rapist frats off campus now!” for the “Save our Students” rally following last week’s sexual assault and drugging reports at fraternity houses on the Row.

Along Trousdale, the group of more than 25 professors and students marched under a “USC Homecoming” banner to the steps of Bovard where they chanted “Ethical leadership now,” “Proactive, not pro-optics” and “Let’s see the reports,” the latter which references the lack of transparency surrounding the former gynecologist George Tyndall’s sexual abuse. 

Amelia Jones, vice dean of academics and research of the Roski School of Design, said she attended the protest to support students and address the divide between the USC Board of Trustees, administration and “everybody actually on campus.” The divide, Jones said, comes down to a lack of communication from administration and the Board’s focus on fundraising.

“This is really just one of many issues that speak to the real divide between the administration and everybody actually on campus,” Jones said. “I just want there to be communication so that they understand what it is we do. And I don’t see that happening.”

As students and professors chanted, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Zukoski came outside and spoke with protesters about the Department of Public Safety’s crime notices and USC’s handling of sexual assault reports throughout the past several years.

Protesters suggested to Zukoski that if eliminating fraternities is a way to stop sexual violence, the University should take that step.

“There’s sexual violence all over the place. It’s disgusting what we face,” Zukoski said, adding that the University is not looking into abolishing Greek life. “I’m certainly not defending the fraternity and the Greek society, all I’m saying is this is a deeply problematic issue for all of our culture and society. It isn’t just the Greek system on campus, it’s spread throughout our society and it’s abhorrent.”

A student also asked Zukoski about increasing campus sexual assault resources, including increasing funding to the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center and creating a rape crisis center.

“For years, students have been asking for rape crisis center in the main Engemann Student Health Center,” they said. 

“I’m agreeing, and it is being looked at. What I’m trying to point out is it’s more complicated,” Zukoski said and added that there is a long certification process for rape centers. 

Further pressed by protesters about making changes to Greek life, Zukoski said removing fraternities’ certification could lead to underground organizations that are less regulated.

“What we could do is decertify. But that doesn’t mean that the organizations go away. At other institutions that I’ve been at — when you decertify a fraternity or a sorority, they can continue just fine throwing parties and recruiting members,” Zukoski said. “So that’s one of the reasons why — not just USC — but other institutions continue to want to work with these groups, because at least if they’re certified by us, we can impose some rules.”

Protestors and media speak with the provost outside Bovard.
Provost Charles Zukoski speaking with professors and students outside of Bovard. (Ignacio Ventura-Maqueda Jr. | Daily Trojan)

Donald Bohlinger, a cinema professor at USC for 35 years, said he attended the protest to support students and because of his longstanding concerns about seuxal assault at the University. 

“[The protest] is about many things, and it’s been a long time coming,” Bohlinger said. “It’s time to have a real conversation about all of these issues, and about how we address what’s been happening on this campus for too long.”

At around noon, students and professors gathered in the lawn of Cactus Garden One National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries for a Gender Studies faculty forum on sexual violence to work toward addressing sexual assault issues at the University.

Faculty members listened as students shared their stories of negative experiences with Greek life, sexual assault and demands for reform. 

Karen Tongson, the chair of the gender and sexual studies department, said she wanted to provide a forum for students to “express their concerns and rage,” and the “lack of accountability that they feel” from the University. 

“There are so many students who aren’t having their needs addressed,” Tongson said. This was sorely needed. As much as I’m glad that there were many people who felt safe coming here, I am very upset and disappointed to know that so many of our students feel unmoored and unsupported.”

Protestors stand and hold signs outside Bovard. A banner stating "Welcome to Reunion Weekend" is held up by wires above thee protestors.
The protest began on Trousdale, underneath banners that welcomed alumni for USC homecoming weekend. (Emmett Fuchs | Daily Trojan.)

Kathleen Loftus, a senior majoring in philosophy and comparative literature who attended the event outside Bovard, said, in her time at USC, she’s witnessed numerous scandals, many that have involved sexual assault. Loftus said she appreciates the “solidarity with students and professors” during today’s protest.

“One of my professors was talking about this in class, and it was the first time I’d heard someone in the faculty speaking about it,” Loftus said. “I felt very heard, and I’m very grateful that the faculty also have their issues and we can all support each other.”

Ignacio Ventura-Maqueda Jr. contributed to this report.