USC administration hosts Zoom town hall
Content warning: This article contains references to sexual assault, drugging and violence.
USC administration held a town hall webinar Tuesday evening to discuss drugging and sexual assault reports at the Sigma Nu Fraternity and other fraternities on the Row. Speakers included President Carol Folt, Provost Charles Zukoski, USC Senior Vice President and General Counsel Beong-Soo Kim, Department of Public Safety Chief John Thomas and seven other members of the administration.
USC, in partnership with the Undergraduate Student Government and the Student Coalition Against Sexual Violence, initially scheduled to the host the townhall Tuesday night in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom. The University canceled the event and hosted their own webinar unaffiliated with USG and the student coalition.
Senior Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Monique Allard, during the webinar, said USC canceled the joint forum because administrators heard from students that discussing sexual assault would be uncomfortable in a public format.
Folt began the event by promising students change in the University’s process of reporting sexual assaults.
“I’m confident that we’ve already put in place the safety net that would have caught that delayed warning. So it won’t happen again,” Folt said. “We owned it publicly and we will continue to do that. We won’t hide; we’re not going to run away from these hard problems. We really want to run towards them and fix them.”
USC delayed reporting information about “five to seven” druggings and sexual assaults initially reported to USC’s Relationship & Sexual Prevention Services, according to a Universitywide email Oct. 29. The cases, reported to the Department of Public Safety between Sept. 25 and 30, took nearly a month before the reports were disclosed to the public in an Oct. 20 email.
According to the University’s Frequently Asked Questions included in the Oct. 29 email, RSVP reached out to other USC departments — including DPS, USC Student Health, Student Affairs and the Office of Campus Wellbeing and Crisis Intervention about the reports on Sept. 30 — but a meeting to discuss the information was not scheduled until Oct. 18.
“In retrospect, [the meeting] should have been scheduled much sooner so that the information from RSVP could have been analyzed for the community,” Kim said.
Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman provided resources to attendees during the webinar, including Sexual Assault Response Team centers, which are county designated to assist victims and have trained providers to conduct forensic exams.
“The goal of a forensic exam is not only to provide any needed care to that individual, but also to collect and preserve physical evidence that can be used in a criminal investigation,” Van Orman said.
Following a webinar question that asked Folt whether she would stop ongoing protests, Folt said stopping protests is not under USC jurisdiction because they occurred on private streets, but marches on campus are allowed and supported.
Folt encouraged people to be active in events such as the webinar where discussion “could be better off” staying within the USC community instead of the surrounding area to keep the events “associated with the people that really want to hear it and be a part of it.”
“I would really hope that we could try to direct people away from being in neighborhoods where not only are there many students, many survivors, people trying to go about their business but also neighborhoods where there are children and families,” Folt said.
During the webinar’s question and answer section, Zukoski was asked if USC would consider the abolition of Greek life on campus. He rejected the idea and said sexual assault is a broader, problematic issue in society.
“Sexual violence is problematic across all of our society and across all of the USC community,” Zukoski said. “It is individuals who commit crimes, it isn’t the entire organization … Large numbers of students see the fraternities and sororities as places to build community.”
Following the question and answer section of the webinar, Allard concluded the webinar by thanking the attendees and speakers and promised the administration’s support in continuing the conversation.
“We will continue this dialogue because it’s important to us to be here to support you, to listen and to move through this journey together,” Allard said.