Background and Context
In the spring of 2021, four cases of sexual harassment came to light in the local media (e.g., Daprile, The State, 2021). One of these cases involved a complaint by a staff member against another staff member, and the remaining three involved complaints by students and faculty against faculty. Two of these cases involve active lawsuits. In response to these events, the Title IX Task Force was charged by President Caslen to review current Title IX policies, processes and practices, identify areas of improvement and make recommendations directed at those areas of improvements. The purpose of this report is not to make judgment on past cases but, rather, to critically evaluate the aforementioned facets and offer recommendations to enhance the institution’s effectiveness in addressing sexual harassment and violence (SHV).
This task force was led by Dr. Kirsten Kennedy, associate vice president of Student Housing and Sustainability, Division of Student Affairs and Academic Support, and Dr. Audrey Korsgaard, professor of Management, Darla Moore School of Business. The task force was constructed to represent the community of faculty, staff and students, and was intended to give voice to this community. This report represents their collective observations and recommendations. The Task Force members included:
- Aidan Baker – undergraduate student
- Judith Chontos-Komorowski – medical director, Student Health Services
- Shelley Dempsey – president, Staff Senate
- Emily Dengler – undergraduate student, student body vice president
- Wes Hickman – CEO, USC Alumni Association
- Susan Kuo – professor of law and associate dean for Academic Affairs, School of Law
- Angela Liese – professor of epidemiology and biostatistics
- Derrick Meggie – director, State Government Relations
- Patrice Penney – clinical assistant professor, College of Social Work
- Scott Prill – associate vice president and deputy chief of police
- Bill Pruitt – project manager, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- Suzanne Swan – professor of psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies
- Claire Windsor – undergraduate student
- Lauryn Workman – undergraduate student
- Kat Yoffie – graduate student, School of Law
The Task Force employed a multi-source, multi-method approach to its investigation that included a review of records, documents, policies, and prior reports; confidential in-depth interviews of key individuals from offices directly involved in addressing SHV, including SAVIP, OSC, EOP, Deputy Title IX coordinators, the Provost’s Office; anonymous comments collected through a third-party survey; quantitative analysis of reported cases between 2016 and 2020, culture survey results and training evaluation results. Consistent with our charge, we did not interview complainants or respondents from actual cases, but rather we focused on identifying areas of process improvement.
The Task Force identified three distinct groups of USC constituents involved in Title IX cases: faculty, staff, and students, and those could result in nine combinations of complainant and respondent. This is important because if the respondent is found responsible for violations of Title IX, the disciplinary process is different depending on the classification of the respondent. Therefore, the Task Force divided itself into three working groups to review the processes for the most common scenarios:
- Student complainant/Student respondent
- Student complainant/Faculty respondent
- Employee complainant/Employee respondent
The Task Force conducted its reviews in three phases. The Task Force first engaged in preliminary research to fully understand how sexual harassment and violence (SHV) cases are processed, followed by an analysis of the problem areas within the critical activities in processing SHV cases and lastly, made recommendations for improvement.