Sexual harassment and abuse of power in higher education harm all of us- we are all Student X. As members of academic communities, we are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment due to our close-knit professional networks, university cultures that encourage silence, and power imbalances in faculty-student relationships. Professors, students, and staff across academic disciplines are beginning to share their stories and speak out against the systems that enable and perpetuate sexual harassment.
By standing in solidarity with us, you demonstrate that you:
- Believe and stand with the survivors of sexual harassment that have come forward
- Recognize and support those survivors that do not feel safe or comfortable coming forward publicly
- Are an ally in the fight for safety, accountability, and transparency
On January 12, 2017, Karissa Fenwick, a PhD student at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, was sexually harassed by her academic mentor, tenured professor Dr. Erick Guerrero. Following this incident, Dr. Guerrero further abused his power by threatening Karissa to prevent her from reporting the incident. Over the course of the next 10 months, this incident was investigated by USC's Office of Equity and Diversity, and Karissa's allegations against Dr. Guerrero were substantiated.
The investigation also uncovered prior allegations of harassment against Dr. Guerrero beginning in 2011 by another student, identified as Student X. Despite these findings, Dr. Guerrero has been allowed to keep his job. Sanctions imposed include financial penalties, a semester-long suspension that begins in Fall 2018, and restrictions against interacting with doctoral students in a professional capacity. On Tuesday, October 24, Karissa filed suit against Dr. Guerrero and the University, stating that the University did not take stringent enough action in response to the substantiated findings. When news of the lawsuit reached the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work community on Wednesday, October 25, the majority of students and faculty were unaware of the findings against Dr. Guerrero and were shocked that the School did not share adequate information about this incident to ensure student safety.
On December 1, 2017 a grievance hearing was held at the request of Dr. Guerrero who claimed that he did not receive adequate due process during the investigation. The faculty panel upheld two out of three of his claims.
1. Dr. Guerrero will be allowed to to indirectly question or challenge the complainants (the complainants, Karissa and X, will be allowed to do the same to Dr. Guerrero).
2. Dr. Guerrero will be allowed to re-submit his appeal of the investigation findings using the full investigative reports and this indirect exchange.
3. The re-submitted appeal will be reviewed by a new Provost's designee who has not been involved in the case.
These recommendations will be sent to President Nikias, who has final say over whether or not they will be followed, on January 8.
Students, faculty and alumni at the school have been using various means to express their support for Karissa, Student X, and other survivors of sexual misconduct who may not feel safe coming forward. Students have expressed that they do not feel safe on campus while a serial perpetrator of sexual misconduct is still employed by the University. This coalition feels that the administration’s response has demonstrated that they are not committed to maintaining a culture of safety, transparency, and accountability in regards to sexual harassment and misconduct. We are advocating for the reopening of sanctions against Dr. Guerrero and for policy change at the School and University level in order to ensure the safety of current and future students.