Commitment To Candor

This set of FAQs has been created to correct misinformation, answer additional detailed questions, and lay out facts about recent events on and around the University Park Campus.

1.  Why was there a delay in sharing information about allegations of drugging and sexual assault at a fraternity?

USC’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Services (RSVP) is a confidential counseling program that supports, guides, and advocates for survivors of sexual assault. Students value the program in large part because it is confidential, and students often utilize RSVP’s services anonymously.

On September 30, RSVP made the exceptional decision to share with certain university offices (Student Affairs; the Department of Public Safety; Student Health, Counseling and Mental Health; Campus Support and Intervention; and later with Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX) that it had been receiving reports from students who may have been drugged and/or sexually assaulted at a fraternity party. Because information that comes to RSVP is confidential and has rarely been shared in the past, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the other recipients were uncertain how to treat or assess the information, which did not identify any involved individuals. It was agreed that a meeting should be scheduled to discuss the matter. That meeting should have occurred right away, but it did not.

After reviewing all that occurred, we realize we should have better prepared people in these offices with the understanding that the RSVP information should have been forwarded immediately to the Clery Office, which is responsible for determining whether a campus notification is warranted. Beginning on October 18, after a student reported to DPS that a member of the same fraternity sexually assaulted her on October 16, USC’s Clery Office and members of the senior leadership team began to learn that earlier confidential disclosures had been made to RSVP. They acted quickly to gather facts and determine the proper actions.

On October 20, the university informed the campus community about all these events in a Timely Warning and placed the fraternity on interim suspension. On October 22, the university reached out to the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees the Clery Act, to inform and consult on the matter. The administration has been providing regular updates to the community, including detailed information about the delay as it became more fully understood, and will continue to do so as it learns more.

2.  Is the university sharing everything it can about the events?

Yes. On October 20, the administration brought the earlier confidential disclosures of potential druggings and sexual assault to the community’s attention. The administration provided facts about when those disclosures were first shared by RSVP, including that there was a “troubling” delay in making the information public. A detailed set of FAQs, including a timeline of events, was first provided to the community in President Folt’s October 22 community letter, and also made available online to members of the public, including media.

As soon as the situation was understood, the administration began taking steps to prevent similar delays in the future. These include: (1) revising the Clery policy to expressly state that, when information is brought forward from a confidential resource to a campus security authority, it must be reported and evaluated for community notification under the Clery Act; (2) continuing to implement a new Information Technology system that will ensure necessary stakeholders receive information in real-time; and (3) increasing our trainings so that all employees understand the processes for handling confidential and non-confidential reporting of sexual assaults and other crimes.

Federal and state law privacy protections, including FERPA, HIPAA, and due process rights, limit what the university can share publicly. Everyone in our community, including reporting parties, witnesses, and respondents, is entitled to these protected rights, and the university must uphold them.

The university must also keep confidential information that it provides to law enforcement and prosecutors in connection with ongoing criminal investigations. When information is referred to law enforcement, the university often must curtail its own investigations, to avoid interfering with the criminal investigation. These investigations can take a long time (sometimes years), and often uncover information not available or known to the university because these authorities have more extensive investigative powers. The university often will not be privy to this information until it is revealed to the public. We know these obligations can create confusion, and we will continue to explain them in reference to specific cases.

We also consider other factors that may impact the way we engage the community on sexual assault and related matters, with a focus on being responsible and sensitive to student well-being. For instance, we recently hosted an online webinar for a campus conversation related to the recent events in a manner that allowed everyone to participate in a safe setting. Student government leaders had originally requested an in-person townhall that would have included attendees from outside the campus community, and the university shifted to an online format because it provided an opportunity to share facts and answer questions while protecting the well-being and privacy of our students and their personal experiences.  

3.  What is the university’s approach to sharing information related to Varsity Blues, the indictment of the former dean of the School of Social Work, and ongoing litigation involving Dennis Kelly?

In the Varsity Blues matter, the university has openly shared information and updates with the community since indictments were made public in March 2019, including the creation of a public website with detailed FAQs. Extensive updates were provided to the Academic Senate regarding Varsity Blues on August 19, 2020, and April 21, 2021. Detailed steps have been taken to safeguard the integrity of the athletic admissions process, including:

  • Every student-athlete candidate’s file is reviewed on three levels — by the head coach, the senior sports administrator for the particular sport the student plays, and the Office of Athletic Compliance — before being delivered to the Office of Admission for review.
  • Each USC head coach must certify in writing that the student is being recruited based on their athletic ability.
  • All undergraduate applicants are required to sign an attestation (in addition to the attestation required by the Common App) affirming they submitted their own application, the information is true and accurate, and should any misrepresentation be found, regardless of source, it is grounds for immediate revocation of admission.
  • All undergraduate applicants are required to acknowledge that their application and supporting materials are subject to audit.
  • The Office of Athletic Compliance maintains custody of the completed admissions file and has responsibility for confirming each admitted student is on an athletic roster upon matriculation.
  • The Athletics Department, Office of Athletic Compliance, and the Office of Admission now share software to track all student-athlete applications throughout the decision-making process.
  • All rosters are audited at the beginning of each academic year. Additional random audits are performed during the academic year, and a full audit is conducted near the end of the academic year. 

The small number of responsible individuals, all in USC’s Athletics Department, have been disciplined and/or are no longer employed by the university. 

Regarding allegations against the former dean of the School of Social Work, university leadership first discovered the underlying facts of the matter in 2018 and quickly referred it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for criminal investigation and prosecution. The administration continues to cooperate with the government and will not interfere with an ongoing investigation and active judicial proceeding by discussing this matter publicly.

Regarding the Kelly case, the allegations have been public, the university has been open about the case, and it is appropriately defending itself in court as the case proceeds through the discovery process. 

4.  What is the university doing to address challenges that began under previous administrations?

On May 12, 2021, the administration provided an update to the Academic Senate regarding its understanding of the likely causes of legacy problems at the university. As discussed in that meeting, those causes include inadequate investment in critical infrastructure, underdeveloped governance structures and accountability, and “cultural gaps between our values—what we said about ourselves and what we were actually doing.” Although there is more work to be done, much progress has been made, thanks to faculty and staff who have been working tirelessly on these issues. 

It takes time to achieve consistent and sustained change at an institution of this size, with many diverse and varied units and schools. We are still working, in some instances, to identify gaps and remedy challenges in policy and process across all university constituents and stakeholders. We are not immune from the possibility that individuals could again act in a manner inconsistent with our values. Our commitment is to maintain and reinforce systems, policies, and coordinated education efforts that aim to prevent such misconduct, and to send the strong message that we will not tolerate misconduct and will respond to protect the rights and safety of our students, staff, and faculty.

This administration embraces its responsibility to learn from the past and work to prevent similar events from occurring in the future. Some of the steps already taken include:

  • With respect to the Tyndall matter, in February 2020, the administration resolved the issues raised by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and proposed remedial measures that became part of the university’s Resolution Agreement with OCR, including a reformation of its EEO-TIX office. The OCR resolution letter and Resolution Agreement are publicly available and have been extensively discussed with our community. In February 2020, the university reached a settlement with Tyndall survivors in the federal class action matters, and in March 2021, the administration reached a settlement with the Tyndall survivors in the state court matters. Both settlements provided survivors with compensation for the harm they suffered. The federal class action settlement also included substantial equitable relief remedies to strengthen and enhance university practices and patient safety.
  • With respect to Varsity Blues, the administration took personnel actions immediately after the first indictment was unsealed. Within weeks, the administration had reformed the athletic admissions process to prevent a situation like this from reoccurring. 

5.  What was the consulting firm McKinsey’s role related to USC’s Culture Journey? 

McKinsey has played no role in this work. Improving USC’s culture is a priority for the administration, which has continued to embrace an initiative that began under President Wanda Austin. Barrett Values Centre and 1-Degree/Shift were engaged to assist the university in this project in November 2018, and they have participated in numerous meetings with the community.

The entire university community should take pride in the Culture Journey. Over 24,000 members of our community – including faculty, staff, students, governing bodies, deans, and unit leaders – have participated in our culture journey by sharing their voices and feedback on our desired USC values, behaviors, and actions to enhance our culture. 

6.  Is USC complying with the legal settlement it reached with some of Tyndall’s accusers and a separate settlement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights division?

USC is fully complying with all obligations pursuant to the federal class action settlement and the resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), including providing ongoing information to OCR as required by the resolution agreement. The university has instituted numerous reforms relating to the Tyndall matter, including:

  • Engaging in comprehensive and coordinated efforts to repair USC Student Health and university culture following Tyndall.
  • Fully integrating USC Student Health into Keck Medicine to provide direct oversight of standard of care and physician conduct, uniform policies and procedures, and coordination of diverse reporting responsibilities. (USC Student Health previously was part of the Division of Student Affairs.)
  • Revamping the sensitive exam policy, protocol, and training for all medical staff based on American College Health Association best practices.
  • Introducing groundbreaking, multi-language patient education materials about sensitive examinations so that students, particularly those accessing health care in the U.S. for the first time, know what to expect.
  • Hiring more female, board-certified physicians so students can choose a provider of their gender preference.
  • Expanding the services of RSVP with 10 additional full-time employees, including 24/7 victim advocates and a team of dedicated prevention educators.
  • Creating new and easily accessible methods for collecting information about potential misconduct, including through the solicitation of patient feedback, and implementation of plain-language notice for recognizing and reporting sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
  • Increasing training of Student Health staff in the areas of risk management, trauma informed care, and LGBTQ+ sensitivity.
  • Appointing an Independent Women’s Health Advocate. This independent individual, selected jointly by federal class action plaintiffs and USC and approved by the court, is serving a three-year term. She is supporting USC’s implementation of institutional changes and is providing suggestions for trainings, policies, procedures, and student engagement, among other responsibilities.
  • Creating the centralized Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX; hiring a Vice President for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX (and Title IX Coordinator); fully resourcing the EEO-TIX office with staff and the ability to secure and provide training and rely upon external professionals, as needed, for investigation and resolution processes.
  • Establishing a Deputy EEO-TIX Coordinator for Healthcare matters to ensure coordinated prevention and response to matters on the Health Sciences Campus and within the Keck medical enterprise.
  • Implementing a state-of-the-art critical incident response system to effectively maintain and track all required records of prohibited conduct and institutional response in a timely manner.
  • Revising the university’s Notice of Non-Discrimination and updating key university webpages, internal and external, so that the Notice is consistently available in the footer.
  • Implementing a legally-compliant and user-friendly Policy against Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation, and accompanying Resolution Process for Sexual Misconduct and Resolution Process for Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation, to unite the university’s previously disparate and numerous policies into one, comprehensive policy that applies to all students, staff, and faculty.
  • Creating a new, centralized position, Assistant Vice President for Clery Compliance, within the Office of Culture, Ethics, and Compliance, to oversee the university’s Clery Act compliance program, and expanding staffing and resources within the Clery Office.
  • Implementing a university-wide Clery Act Policy and Interdisciplinary Review Team.

7.  Why did the provost advise faculty and staff not to make assumptions about Greek organizations or those who live in the area where recent events may have occurred?

Many students who are members of fraternities or sororities or who live on or near 28th Street, often called The Row, have reported being harassed and targeted following the October 20 Timely Warning. Students with these affiliations have also reported being treated insensitively by some faculty members. The provost was emphasizing that the university has an obligation to create a safe learning environment for all students. 

In the same letter, the provost stated unequivocally that “[s]exual assault is abhorrent criminal behavior that is unacceptable at our university” and “a systemic public health problem within our culture – both inside and outside of USC.” A complete copy of the provost’s letter is here

8.  What investments has the university made in recent years to prevent sexual assault and support survivors? Where can sexual assault survivors receive medical exams, sometimes called rape kits, that aid criminal investigations?

The university has expanded the RSVP program significantly over the past four years, tripling its size and adding 24/7 availability for its victim advocate program. RSVP also hired dedicated violence prevention staff to provide training and outreach, and added a dedicated position to support LGBTQ+ students. Sexual violence prevention training is required at the start of every term for incoming students. There has been significant growth of dedicated staff in the Office of EEO-TIX and Human Resources, and they – together with the Athletics Department, Fraternity and Sorority Leadership Development, Office for Residential Education, and the Department of Public Safety – provide extensive educational and awareness programming for students, staff, and faculty. 

We are often asked about the availability of Sexual Assault Resource Teams (SARTs) and why we do not have a SART on or close to the University Park Campus. SARTs are highly specialized centers and must be designated by the County of Los Angeles. By law, only SARTs are empowered to provide the forensic exams needed to gather and preserve physical evidence following an allegation of sexual assault to aid in a criminal investigation. SART centers are legally required to provide emergency medical care and crisis counseling and must be co-located in conjunction with a licensed general acute care hospital, a licensed basic emergency department, or a hospital sponsored program clinic. They also must meet specific requirements approved by the County of Los Angeles to treat patients who are victims of sexual assault/abuse. In addition to a SART in Santa Monica, there is also a SART at LAC-USC. The university long has been advocating for and exploring how to make such services more accessible, including the potential to locate a SART closer to the University Park Campus. 

We do have resources to help students get to a SART. Specifically, USC Victim advocates are available 24/7 to assist with transportation and accompany students to a SART center. Referring survivors to a SART center ensures that students receive the highest level of care. The university will continue looking for areas to build more support and resources for survivors and the community, and we will update the community as new elements to our programs are added.