Content Warning: This story mentions a report of sexual assault.
The Undergraduate Student Government released a statement Wednesday demanding more action from the university amid the investigation into sexual assault and drugging at the Sigma Nu fraternity house.
The organization demanded, among other things, that the suspect be expelled and the campus chapter of Sigma Nu be dissolved. The statement also called for more sexual assault prevention initiatives and emphasized the need for more support and resouces for survivors of sexual assault.
The statement criticized university transparency surrounding investigations. USG officials said the university could have informed the campus community of sexual assaults reported at Sigma Nu sooner to prevent “risk while these fraternities operated uninterrupted,” the statement read.
“We deserve answers,” said Alexis Areias, president of USG. “I think the fact that this has gone on for so long and we didn’t know about it and students have continued to go into these spaces that we did not know were necessarily a risk was really, really problematic.”
USG called upon the university to stop the Interfraternity Council (IFC) from introducing new chapters at USC until systemic changes have been made and they make available a list of students who were members of disbanded fraternities and sororities. That list, they said, should be distributed to IFC and Panhellenic Council chapters.
Areias said the USG worked with the Student Coalition Against Sexual Violence, who have planned recent actions on campus, to create the statement.
“This statement in particular was very unique in the sense that the process that we went through to create it has not really been done in recent history within our organization,” said Areias. “We also took an organized vote, which passed overwhelmingly. I think we only had one objection and with an organization that is over 500 people. And I think we had some upwards of 100 people voting on that sent a really strong message.”
USG senator Tommy Nguyen said the demands could evolve, based on new information from the ongoing investigations.
“The statement that USG has released is not the final say or final understanding of what USG actually feels right now,” said Nguyen, a senior majoring in history. “The priority is looking at Sigma Nu and looking at the investigation ongoing right now.”
The email sent out by USG was signed by a coalition of several student organizations, including the Panhellenic Council, Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment (SAGE), USC Flow, Girl Up SC, Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (WYSE) and Trojan Democrats.
The statement came after students protested over the past week after reports of sexual assault and drugging at Sigma Nu were made public by the Department of Public Safety. Ryan Schiffilea, the president of Sigma Nu, was identified by the Los Angeles Police Department as a suspect and was questioned by detectives in the week following the report.
USC President Carol Folt and Acting Vice President for Student Affairs Monique Allard announced the interim suspension of a suspect in the investigation in an email to all students of USC.
According to Nguyen, it took hundreds of protesting students for the university to take action.
“The administration won’t act on their own conscience,” Nguyen said. “It’s going to take the pressure and advocacy of not only us, but every student on this university that wants a better campus and a better culture.”
The number of protesters steadily grew in number from the first day and expanded their requests to include accountability from fraternities other than Sigma Nu.
“People are tired of being in a university where we have a culture, where we have a response in a system that allows survivors to not be protected, not cared for and given the rights they deserve,” Nguyen said.
USG also took issue with the initial DPS email informing students of the reported sexual assault and drugging at the fraternity. In that email, DPS encouraged students to take safety measures like traveling in groups and monitoring drinks, which USG officials called insensitive.
Aerias said she believes the language used by DPS alluded to victim blaming.
“I really think the Department of Public Safety really has to reconsider the way that they engage with students on this topic,” Areias said, “The idea of putting the responsibility on women to keep themselves safe rather than promoting policies or resources ideologies that holds an assaulter accountable is really problematic.”
USG also demanded organizations to create a public and centralized form where students can report incidents, along with academic assistance to students who have been impacted. They also asked for more resources on “trauma-informed teaching” for faculty members.
USG has also asked for increased funding for programs involving prevention of sexual violence on campus like the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention services and incorporation of RSVP training into the Office of Orientation Programs’ curriculum. USG officials additionally demanded more university counselors and a requirement for fentanyl and other drug test strips at university social events.
“I don’t think the university has the best track record when it comes to supporting students who have experienced sexual assault on this campus,” Areias said. “And so that’s one of the reasons that we’re calling for more transparency in this process, more answers as to how we got to this point. And in addition, more resources toward services like RSVP that helps students through these very difficult situations, for sure.”
Areias said RSVP, a USC service that helps students who have experienced sexual assault, should be given more resources by the university to assist them through the process of reporting when there has been a harmful situation.
Nguyen is hopeful about the future.
“I still believe that we can make substantial change and hopefully the inevitable outcome of removing the strong presence on Greek life through this discussion and compromise,” Nguyen said. “It will take time but I do think it’s possible.”
Any student who has been a victim of sexual assault is encouraged to seek out the Sexual Assault and Survivor Support resources offered by USC.