Content Warning: This story mentions reports of sexual assault.
Dozens of USC faculty members gathered in front of Bovard Auditorium Friday afternoon to show support for students who came forward as victims of sexual assault and those impacted by the recent reports of misconduct within the USC community.
The protest, called “SOS: Save Our Students” was circulated via email to the Concerned Faculty of USC group, and on social media. It is the first faculty-led demonstration in a series of student protests sparked by recent sexual assault allegations at USC.
Michael Bodie, an associate professor in the School of Cinematic Arts, led the group of around 40 professors and 10 students in chants, demanding action. They created their own versions of popular protest chants such as, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey, hey, what do you say? SOS is here to stay!”
Bodie said he has been hearing allegations similar to the ones brought against the Sigma Nu fraternity last week for over a decade while working at the university.
“There’s been [sexual assault] reports and you generally hear about them each year,” Bodie said. “This has been going on for so long that it’s hard to believe that you can just do a kind of basic reforming without doing some pretty drastic measures to change things.”
The protestors held posters calling for accountability and women’s rights. Members sported T-shirts, pins, facemasks, hats and signs that had the letters SOS in support of those students that were victims of sexual assault.
“If you take a look at the administration’s more recent reaction to the events of Sigma Nu, the official policy of USC seems to be, ‘If you see something, say nothing,’” said School of Cinematic Arts professor Howard Rodman. “Every statement, every response seems to be either, ‘Let’s pay money to have this go away quietly,’ or ‘Let’s run it through the vice provost for fear of exposure to litigation and just see what’s the least we can get away with.’”
Provost Charles Zukoski showed up after the demonstration to address the concerns of students and staff. During the impromptu conference held by Zukoski, those present called for the dissolution of fraternities in response to the actions of Sigma Nu and other fraternities that have been accused.
“The issues you guys are marching about…are deeply problematic,” Zukoski said. “I get angry about it. And my feeling is if people are guilty, they ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
However, Zukoski said the school is not responsible for criminal investigations.
“Our legal system requires investigations and the gathering of evidence and that sort of thing,” Zukoski told the crowd. “We have to refer it to LAPD and they investigate the crime.”
Many present at the protest believe current university protocols and trainings are lacking in terms of preventing sexual assaults. They believe the university is not managing these issues properly, causing frustration among faculty members.
“Every year when we have to do the sexual harassment training it’s an emotional process for me, because I feel like it’s something we just do to satisfy lawyers,” said Senior Administrator for the Department of Political Science and International Relations Cathy Ballard. “But, it’s not actually put into practice considering how most of us are treated.”
The Undergraduate Student Government echoed the sentiment in a schoolwide statement released Wednesday, which called for more sexual assault prevention initiatives and increased support and resouces for survivors.
Students present at the protest also called out the Department of Public Safety (DPS) for sending emails that only describe racial features when people of color allegedly commit crimes. They expressed outrage over the recent school-wide DPS reports, because none of the alleged fraternity crimes were sent out in a timely manner or with racial features described.
In response, Zukoski said, “I will look at that.”
Friday’s protest was the latest in a slew of demonstrations which have rippled across campus after reports of sexual assault and druggings at Sigma Nu fraternity were released by DPS last Wednesday.