Students Demand USC Listen To Their Ideas After The Tyndall Scandal

USC students Carissa Velasquez, left, and Cristina Jones brainstorm ideas to help curb sexual violence at USC. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

In the wake of the massive sex abuse scandal involving former USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall, the school formed committees and task forces to figure out how to prevent something similar from happening in the future. But that initial effort didn't include students. This semester, a group of students set out to change that.

"The only way to reform a culture is to actually talk to and engage the people who are participating in that culture. So certainly that includes students," said Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, professor of a class at USC called Why #MeToo? Sexual Violence in American Culture.

Hundreds of women have alleged Tyndall performed improper pelvic exams, made sexually suggestive comments and took photos of them naked. The LAPD is investigating Tyndall; police estimate he treated 10,000 patients between 1989 and 2017, when he was fired.

Alfaro's class examined the decades of claims made by women who say the school did nothing about their verbal and written complaints about Tyndall. And the students came up with some ideas about why sexual abuse persisted on campus for so long:

  • Inadequate communication between students and the board of trustees
  • Inadequate campus sexual assault services
  • Inadequate support for survivors of sexual abuse
  • The administration needs to be more transparent

The students came up with some proposed solutions:

  • Create a department or specific group on the board of trustees that focuses primarily on sexual misconduct on campus and combating it
  • Audits of sexual assault reporting
  • Open a 24-hour on-campus rape treatment center
  • Launch a sex education column in the campus newspaper
Diana Vargas, one of the students in the Why #MeToo? Sexual Violence in American Culture class. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

"IT'S EMPOWERING"

These proposals won't gather dust on a shelf. They'll be collected in a document that will be presented to the board of trustees and top administrators.

"It's empowering to know that we can possibly do something to end this 30-year era of trauma," said classmember Anushka Sirimane, a senior majoring in political science.

Not everyone in the class is as optimistic.

"I have a feeling it's going to be like the task force that I was in," said senior Valerie Lopez, referring to a campus sexual assault group she joined a few years ago. "All this hard work is put in, thought put in, and nothing comes of it, they're not going to do anything with it."

Still, Lopez took the class seriously. Hancock Alfaro, who chairs USC's Department of Gender and Sexuality, said that's the goal: replace apathy with engagement.

"They care deeply about this place," she said.

USC students Imani Davis, right, and Aliya Mazyck discuss reform proposals. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

"WE VALUE THE OPINIONS OF ... OUR STUDENTS"

Given a summary of the recommendations, USC's top administrator said she's looking forward to seeing what the class came up with.

"We value the opinions of every member of the USC community, including our students," interim USC President Wanda Austin said in a written statement.

"The Board of Trustees and the administration continue to listen carefully to concerns and suggestions and make improvements based on that input," she said. "There are now several task forces and committees that include student representation that are addressing topics like student health and wellness, culture and other matters critical to the university. Changes have been implemented across our campuses and there are more in progress to help our USC community move collectively forward."

One of those task forces is the Provost-Faculty Senate Task Force on Sexual Assault. The group's co-chair, Social Work Professor Devon Brooks, has also seen the ideas generated in Hancock Alfaro's class.

"I think they're fantastic," said Brooks. "I think there's a lot of convergence with what the students are coming up with and other committees and task force and informal groups or individuals are coming up with."

The students who took the sexual violence class say they'll be watching closely to see if USC adopts any of their ideas.


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