USC

Students stand in solidarity but remain divided

USC’s Sigma Nu drugging and assault case brought a spectrum of opinions about addressing sexual assault.

USC students march on Greek Row against sexual assault allegations.

Content Warning: This story mentions a report of sexual assault and strong language about sexual assault.

Nour Myra Geha helped lead the Monday protest against reported sexual assault and drugging at Sigma Nu. As the voices in the crowd followed her chants, she paused and spoke into the megaphone, “Rape is a hard word but we need to say it, to acknowledge it, to help survivors come out and be able to not be shameful about it.”

Geha, a student at USC’s Dornsife school, wore a black, low-cut sports bra to Monday’s protest and across her chest in red, she painted the words: “This is not consent.”

USC saw its biggest protest in the five days of consecutive protesting on Monday, with more than 200 students showing up to march. USC Flow—an intersectional feminist student organization—teamed up with various campus organizations to form the Student Coalition Against Sexual Violence and organized this march.

While everyone marched together to support the survivors, most students remained divided on the best solutions to the pre-existing rape culture they want to abolish. Some said that to abolish rape culture, the university needs to abolish Greek life—the exclusive community of students divided into fraternities for men and sororities for women.

“I don’t think Greek life should exist at all. It’s inherently toxic,” said Oscar Clavijo, Presidential Scholar at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

The evening began with poster making at the USC Village, amidst trickling rain and muddy grass, and was followed by a march from the Village to Greek Row. After four days of sit-ins in front of the building, the Sigma Nu property was fenced off Sunday night with ‘No Trespassers’ signs on every side. Unfazed, protestors stood chanting just outside the 6-foot chain link fence, half-encroached on the house next door, and then broke off into groups, moving to the front lawns of different fraternity houses to open up dialogue among the student body.

Protestors chanting with megaphones during a march against sexual assualt.

“We should not be sexualized at all,” Geha said prior to her speech. “We’re here to learn. Part of learning is educating yourself on basic human rights, and any person that does not respect those human rights will have consequences.”

Samantha Sorsby-Jones, a sophomore law, history, and culture major, attributes such behaviors to the Greek life culture.

“There’s a reason why they only allow women into parties. There’s a reason why they really don’t allow men who aren’t in their fraternity into their parties,” Sorsby-Jones said. “It is so they can have as many women there as possible. Sexual assault is inherently built into the system.”

Sorsby-Jones said many women she’s interacted with at the protests were also survivors and the protest brought back memories of personal trauma.

“Nearly all of my friends have been raped. I was raped — not at USC — but it’s colored my whole life,” Sorsby-Jones said.

Clavijo agrees about the party dynamics, “You know, there’s a saying, like ‘Pike Spikes,’ like a certain fraternity is known for spiking drinks. I personally know people who have gotten sexually assaulted at parties and they never reported it because it’s a very difficult process. And it’s just ridiculous to think that we know these things have happened before. They, unfortunately, happened again. This is an issue that can’t be really fixed. I think it’s just something that should go away altogether.”

A protestor with an 'Abolish Greek Life' sign

There was disagreement among the discussion groups at the protest, with some breaking off from the conversation as their views remained unpopular. Among them was Sophie Pollack, founder of A Path 2 Courage, an organization aiding women who have been victims of sexual assault.

Pollack explained that as a survivor herself, she knows first-hand the importance of fighting for justice against violence but that change needs to come from within.

“I’m advocating to make sure that this is an anti-rape movement and not just an anti-Greek life movement,” Pollack said. “I am not in Greek life but I’m making change within the system.”

Not many shared the sentiment when Pollack suggested the Row needed to be included in the conversation.

“Saying ‘Abolish Greek Life’ only makes presidents of fraternities and sororities who are also survivors themselves feel excluded from the conversation and feel like they don’t have a voice. These girls and sororities are victims, and they’re being silenced because they’re part of Greek life,” Pollack said. “I do think the system is skewed. One thousand percent. I am just being realistic and am saying that in order to dismantle Greek life, you have to start having conversations with the individuals who are perpetuating the stereotypes.”

The ‘Abolish Greek Life’ movement picked up steam at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where students created an Instagram account sharing experiences from racism to sexual assault—all tied to Greek life culture. According to this NYT article, the University of Richmond, Duke University, Emory University, American University, Northwestern University and the University of North Carolina have all had to deal with calls to abolish Greek life, with some consequently imposing sanctions and banning recruitments.

The USC campus is now seeing this movement gain momentum but abolishing Greek life may not be the singular answer to unsafe campuses.

The protest organizers from USC Flow don’t seek to abolish Greek life and in their letter to USC, they demand the following: the removal of Sigma Nu’s Chapter from the campus, the expulsion of any student that is convicted of sexual assault, sexual harassment and assault training for all members of Greek life every semester and for all faculty and staff annually, bystander training for all members of Greek life every semester, provision for victims of a minimum of 10 hours of free legal counsel and free rape kits on campus, and full transparency on all sexual assault reports.

Delarai Sadeghitari is one of the student organizers and on the executive board of WYSE (Women & Youth Supporting Each Other)—another campus organization supporting young women. Sadeghitari said the issue is complicated and, “first, we need to do a lot of internal reflection and have a shift in our culture and all examine how we play into the system. And then come up with more radical systemic changes that can be put in place.”

Geha also believes the way forward is a university-wide re-education on consent. USC mandates a Sexual Assault Prevention course for students and staff, but Geha says there should be something more, “not just a class that everyone just skips through.”

Alexia Gronblom-Hammerich, a freshman theatre major, protesting alongside Geha, said she is advocating for USC to take action immediately, and that “people who do these things—who rape people—are penalized immediately. They’re not just suspended. We know who they are. We shouldn’t have to be worrying about who that person is, if we’ve interacted with them, if we’re going to interact with them.”

As the sun went down, and the crowd started to disperse, many had reservations about the direction of the dialogue.

Rylee Mora, a sophomore law, history, and culture major, said she sees Greek life as a power structure being used to silence women, and “the idea that it can be changed from within is completely futile because we’re talking about a culture that’s rooted in sexual violence.”

“I think some things need to be scorched to the ground.”