Q&A: An interview with President Folt

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault. 

Following seven reports of sexual assault and drugging at the Sigma Nu Fraternity house and other locations on and off the Row in mid-October and a delay in the Department of Public Safety’s reports of the incidents, multiple student and faculty-led protests targeted USC administration and called for greater transparency and additional action. The Daily Trojan spoke with President Carol Folt Nov. 19 to discuss the administration’s plans to address sexual assault on campus going forward. 

This article is part one of a two-part interview with Folt and has been edited for length and clarity.

Daily Trojan: There’s currently a ban on Interfraternity Council activity, but we’ve received several reports of fraternities violating the ban. What is USC doing to enforce the ban and how will they punish fraternities who violate the ban? 

Carol Folt: There’s a complication here. Those are people that live in privately owned houses on streets that are not part of the University and that are actually private property. So what we can do in that respect versus what we can do on our own property is very different. If they started having parties in those houses, I think there’s very strong reason to say they’re either closed down or they don’t get to come back, but a lot of them are allowed to be in their homes. 

I know that a lot of students are going to other places to have parties; that’s more concerning to me … We’re very worried about safety. I get worried if everything goes underground because our influence gets much less, but, to some extent, there’s some things we can do and some things we can’t. 

A lot of the IFC presidents are actually really trying. I do honestly believe that it’s hard for any individual … to control everyone within their group, so I think my hope is the more we can try to make things about working together to get better than punitive, the more likely we are to fix things.  

DT: Have you made specific efforts to stop the violations? 

CF: We have a whole task force that meets everyday, and that includes people from all those walks. They talk about it everyday, and they think about the things they can do. I personally met with all the IFC presidents, all the [Panhellenic] presidents and met with all the other student group presidents … I’m spending a lot of effort trying to talk to people, but then, I need to turn to the leaders in those areas to help them put in place that progress. 

DT: You talked about the difference between being punitive and bringing people together. How have you tried to bring people along? 

CF: There are things where you absolutely have to be punitive, but you also have to be sure that you really train people. You have to do your best to have trained people thoroughly, and then, you can have a zero tolerance policy. So a lot of this too is getting these trainings to be much better and making sure that people are complying with the rules that we have. 

DT: According to the email that came out from Provost Charles Zukoski about the Working Group, the goal is to expand to the broader University’s issues of sexual assault outside of IFC. What level of accountability does IFC need to achieve before the Working Group can reprioritize and think about other campus groups? 

CF: One thing that we’re working on right now is, “Do we allow a return to social activities?” I think that’s pretty obvious … It’s reasonable that our first and most important goals are training, safety and putting in new practices. 

There are many things that you can do to work and regulate how those parties and those activities go, and if we can get to the point that we thought that was safe, then we have to decide if we’ll allow rush to go, and, if we do, how will that go? We owe this to people because everyone’s determined that we have to find things that can work, so that’s a high priority. 

DT: USC admitted to the troubling delay in the report of these sexual assaults. What specific action has the University taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again? 

CF: The real problem there was that [the reports] came from [Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Services] confidentially, which rarely ever reports … People choose confidentiality for a reason, so we don’t want to violate it, but they decided that they felt that they needed [to] alligate, so we really did have a team that wasn’t trying to hide anything but didn’t know what to do when it was out. So that’s what we fixed first — completely retrained, rewrote our policy that said that, even if this is elevated and got your attention by RSVP, it immediately has to go to the Clery [Act] and the TrojansAlert. 

DT: What is the University’s general tolerance for these persistent issues within fraternities? 

CF: It’s hard for me to go back and talk about what happened before I got here … I tend to want to start with the no tolerance for violence and hazing, severe actions when people do it, excessive, if needed … working on training and prevention, and when violation takes place, be as quick as you can with due process, and then take action, and I think that’s what we have to do and be consistent. 

DT: I’m curious about whether you think decertification [of Greek letter organizations] would lead to these issues getting stronger, just because there’s been a lot of statistics about how schools with Greek life have higher incidences of sexual assault, so I’m just not sure if the evidence supports that decertifying would hurt anything. 

CF: It is very untrue to think that there are many schools in America that don’t have something that acts very much like an IFC, so I think we have to start at that to say, “What are we trying to do? How much do we want to say?” … The real point is to eliminate … sexual assault, harassment and bullying, and for me, that’s the goal I have. I have less of a goal to terminate the social organization until I can figure out how to offer people alternatives. 

There’s all sorts of ideas out there about how one could really change [the] culture, but I think that’s what our longer conversation is … If you oversimplify it, [I think you’re making] a big mistake. But do I wish I could [wipe a clean] slate and do everything over? Yeah, I’d love to. I don’t know how one does that, but I do think that 10 years from now, we might be looking at that. I’m not sure that we’re going to know systems like these right now. 

Emmett Fuchs contributed to this report.