The daughters of USC

I opened my email yesterday to a message from the president of my university explaining that our university would be in the LA Times, once again, for yet another instance USC failing to protect the women who study and work here from abusive employees. I have to link to the story as a matter of public accountability.

The letter that President Nikias shared disclosed what I think were his sincere feelings of sadness and regret about the doctor’s conduct and the university’s lack of action. I won’t quote the letter as I don’t think it’s appropriate to share it beyond the university, but one thing stands out: President Nikias referenced how he “has two daughters”–the perpetual call of the world for why one might care about women and their abuse in the world and the institutions we create in it.

It’s not strictly a bad sentiment, and I don’t want to be language police beyond pointing out the problem that President Nikias’ daughters are not germane to the point at hand, which is that he leads a university that now has a well-proven record of abusing women. I’m glad he has these daughters, I am glad he loves them and wants the very best for them, and I, too, wish them all, including the president, every happiness in life. It’s very sweet, in fact, but it is also a reflection of how very brilliant, very educated, and very well-meaning people often do not have the training really needed to name and confront the toxic environment for women at USC. My time in social work learning competencies around racism and sexism have helped me so much.

To wit: we could have a woman who is an orphan, who has no friends whatsoever, who will perhaps never accomplish anything of particular social value in any way….and she STILL should not have to experience abuse. Ever. At the hands of her parents, a physician, strangers lurking in parking garages, home invaders, professors, bosses, co-workers, or random travelers from 28th century Poland. Ever. She has inherent value as herself that should be inviolate.

That’s the deal. That’s what we should expect from ourselves. As it is, our systems–far beyond President Nikias or what he does or does not say or what he can and cannot do–wrap abusers up in cotton wool and leave women isolated, abused, and disregarded. After all, these events started long before any of our current administrators stepped into their roles.

The doctor in question created problems for his colleagues; regardless if individual patients liked him or not, the health center wound up with months and months of backlog for appointments with the health service provider who wasn’t him, and now he has dealt yet another, horrible blow to the reputation of a university that a whole big bunch of us–from the generally outstanding faculty to the fantastic students –are killing ourselves to make the very best it can be because we believe in this place.

And he got a severance package. And he sued and got a settlement. And he will probably get more green for more lawsuits for reinstatement or whatever among the infinite paths of comfort, gain, and protection abusers have while the rest of us actually doing our jobs at the university face hiring freezes and wage stagnation and staff cuts because the world simply won’t believe chaperone after chaperone after chaperone who raised concerns.

I feel like a bad team member writing about this. As I said, I believe in this place. I try to hit the ball out of the park every time I walk into a classroom because I believe higher education matters. I have tried to be a credit to this place and the people who have supported and believed in me. But if writing in this manner gets me fired, ok; I am thinking about quitting anyway. I have always wondered if I did more harm than good with my presence and work in higher education. As a matter of faith, I hoped that it was. I am no longer sure this institution merited that faith. What’s the alternative? Becoming a hermit in rural Oregon? (Don’t worry Oregonians; this is one Californian who is unlikely to darken your doors.) Another university? Misogyny is everywhere.

I honestly don’t know anymore. I had so many answers when I was young. Now I feel like I don’t have any.