Seven students in a gender studies course spent this fall semester investigating problems and proposing solutions around USC's sexual assault scandal. On Thursday, they presented their findings in Taper Hall for students, faculty and administrative members, including Board of Trustees Chair Rick Caruso.
The team's investigation focused on the university's handling of sexual assault in response to George Tyndall, the former campus gynecologist who has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of patients during exams. In October, USC announced that it had agreed to pay $215 million to survivors.
The students' exhaustive review of the university's administrative actions and multiple student surveys isolated five key issues with USC's sexual assault policies and resources. One of the most pressing problems they identified was lack of communication between students and administrators.
"Trustees to students — that communication is lacking right now," said business major Maryalice Rosa. "When we have a lack of communication from the top, it influences rape culture and it allows a culture of silence to continue on this campus."
Rosa also noted that USC does little reporting of sexual crimes beyond what is required by federal law. The investigation revealed that USC maintains "minimum" transparency concerning the university's legal responsibilities to students regarding on-campus assault, she said.
Another problem the students highlighted repeatedly was the absence of a rape treatment center close to campus. The nearest center is the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, which can take up to an hour to get to in heavy traffic.
"If you were just raped on campus or near campus, how would you feel having to go that far to get a rape kit?" said presenter Valerie Lopez, a history major. "Nobody wants to go 45 minutes after they've been assaulted to get what they deserve — proper medical care."
In a survey of 700 students conducted by the investigative team, 98 percent of respondents supported the creation of an on-campus rape treatment center. Eighty-six percent said they were in favor of the university increasing the number of sexual crime reports it releases.
Additional solutions proposed during the presentation include holding open town hall meetings with trustees and making assault training more robust across campus. The student investigators suggested requiring student organizations to undergo in-person training and creating a USC-specific app to upgrade online resources.
The investigation was overseen by Gender Studies Department Chair Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro. This is the second of two SWMS courses that have prompted students to develop potential solutions to systemic university issues. Alfaro led the first course in 2013, when students and alumni alleged that their sexual harassment and assault cases had been mishandled by the university's Title IX office.
She praised her students presenting their findings with confidence.
"I was really proud … that they weren't intimidated or too nervous to really speak the truth in front of the chair of the Board of Trustees," Alfaro said. "I was really gratified that he was willing to say there's a lot of low hanging fruit that we can get moving on."
After the presentation, Caruso apologized for the board's lack of accountability and agreed that change in USC sexual assault policies is crucial. He asked the students to prioritize solutions that could be implemented immediately and to send them to his personal email, which he wrote on the chalkboard.
"There should be zero tolerance (for sexual assault). As students you do … need to hold me accountable for making change," he said. "If I don't make change, I should be removed. Simple as that. Every member of the board should be held accountable to that."