About 30 USC students marched from Bovard Auditorium to Greek Row holding signs that stated “Never an Invitation” and “1 out of 3 is too many” to protest the the USC administration’s response to sexual assault allegations.
The walkout, organized by several USC and national groups dedicated to promoting justice for sexual assault victims, took place on Denim Day, a campaign that first began 23 years ago. The event is held each year on the last Wednesday of April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Denim Day’s purpose is to support survivors of sexual assault, combat victim blaming and spread awareness of and promote education about sexual violence.
The walkout consisted of five student organizations that decided to collaborate during the SAAM Campus-Wide Walkout, including the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment, Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment, USC Flow and Callisto, a nonprofit that seeks to “combat sexual assault, support survivors, and advance justice through technology.”
Natalia Parraz, president of USC Flow and a senior majoring in international relations and NGOs and social change, said one of the hopes of the walkout was to prove to the administration that “the students are now more focused and aren’t going to forget about this issue.”
“Just being at the protest, hearing survivors feel confident enough to share their stories with others and then, other people taking that, wanting to do something about that,” Parraz said. “I’m not really optimistic about a positive response from administration, but I’m hoping this was kind of [a chance for] more students to get involved and like take this issue on, as well.
The protest began at Bovard Auditorium with speeches about how the university deals with sexual assault cases. They then marched to the Village, where they stopped again, and eventually ended at Delta Tau Delta fraternity on 28th Street. There, the group shared personal stories about their own experiences with assault.
“Their culture of sexual violence is so normalized and entrenched. And there were actually a few members of the fraternity who came and sat and listened, which was interesting,” said Piya Garg, USC Flow’s podcast director and a sophomore majoring in international relations and global business.
Parraz said the protest was meant to hold administrators accountable, but also emphasize the need for change among the student body.
“As a student culture, we all kind of decide what’s OK and what’s not OK,” she said.
According to Garg, the walkout was also an opportunity for survivors to show their support for each other and for the community fighting against sexual assault to come together as a unit.
“[B]ecause we were all kind of coming together and protesting in solidarity, in support of survivors and making sure that our focus was on supporting survivors, I think it made the conversations and discussion … a lot more is a lot more meaningful as well,” Garg said.
Elle de los Reyes, a survivor who attended the protest, said they also hope protests like this will help push the university toward actions that will better protect students.
“I would love just more accountability from administration and more action,” de los Reyes, a senior psychology major, said. “Frankly, I feel like things have been very hands off, and I think that [USC administrators] need to be more cut throat with their policies and also just more adamant about their administration being careful and competent in what they do.”
Leading up to the walkout, the organizations released a list of demands aimed at USC, specifically targeting the “lack of concrete support for survivors of sexual violence and lack of accountability for the perpetrators of this violence.”
According to their statement, “[s]uch acts of harm highlight a systemic issue of gender-based discrimination and violence present in our USC campus community.”
The five groups collectively released a list of demands for the university, all meant to advocate for sexual assault victims. Some of the demands made by the five organizations involved asked the university to suspend or expel fraternity members with open sexual assault cases, provide more funding for the USC Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Service Department and create a rape crisis center at the LA+USC Medical Center.
Parraz said the demands emphasize the need for preventative change among administrators, student organizations and Greek life to keep students safe from sexual violence, rather than acting only when an assault has happened.
“Instead of going from ‘there is sexual violence happening, how do we get Greek life back and operating,’” Parraz said administrators should be asking “‘how do we address student safety?’”