LOS ANGELES (CNS) - USC President Carol Folt has acknowledged the university waited too long to notify the campus community of allegations of drugging and possible sexual assaults at fraternity parties.
The allegations have roiled the campus and caused the USC Interfraternity Council to call a halt to all social activities at campus fraternities after the Department of Public Safety announced the allegations of sexual abuse and drugs being slipped into drinks during parties at Sigma Nu fraternity, where chapter President Ryan Schiffilea has been confirmed by police as a sexual assault suspect, and at other fraternities.
“In late September, RSVP (Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Services) received between five to seven confidential disclosures of possible drugging and possible sexual assault at a fraternity and took the exceptional step of sharing that information more broadly,” Folt wrote in a letter released Friday. “We now know that there was a troubling delay in acting on this information, and specifically in evaluating it for notification to the community. This has highlighted for me the gray area in our processes when reports come into RSVP, and the challenge of marrying a highly confidential support service, which may have limited details, with the need to inform and warn the community.”
USC notified the community of the allegations on Oct. 20, in a campus alert that Folt said was connected to two separate sets of events involving the same fraternity house.
From Sept. 25-30, students disclosed to RSVP that between five and seven students may have experienced drugging and possible sexual assault in connection with a fraternity party. Normally, “absent exceptional circumstances,” reports to RSVP are not shared with campus safety officials to protect the privacy of those students reporting the incidents, the letter said.
However, “on September 30, 2021, based on the nature of the concerns, RSVP made an exceptional decision to share a general summary of the information, while still maintaining the confidentiality of the individuals, with DPS, Student Health, Student Affairs, and the office of Campus Wellbeing and Crisis Intervention,” Folt wrote. “We are still investigating what occurred next, but there was clearly uncertainty regarding how to assess and process the information, and it was not immediately escalated to the Clery Office or others. Instead, the groups that received the RSVP information shared the report with the EEO-TIX Office and began working to determine how to proceed. A meeting was subsequently scheduled for Monday, October 18, 2021.”
Then, on Oct. 16, a student reported to DPS that she had been sexually assaulted by an individual member of the same fraternity.
“Both DPS and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) immediately responded,” Folt's letter said. “The university provided all available information to LAPD, which has complete jurisdiction over criminal investigations of sexual assaults on campus. The university's EEO-TIX Office also initiated an investigation into this matter under the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation, which is ongoing.
“... Because the information in each source involved the same fraternity, the university issued a Timely Warning-Crime Alert that included both sets of information on the evening of October 20 and encouraged people to share additional information.
“We recognize that it was upsetting to receive this information late in the evening, but once we determined that it raised serious and ongoing concerns about campus safety, we wanted to get the information to our community. We are examining how to better convey information like this in the future,” Folt wrote.
On Oct. 23, USC officials received additional reports of sexual assault, as well as additional reports of drugging or drugs being placed into drinks without consent, including some at additional fraternity houses this fall, as well as conduct from previous years.
DPS did not name the other fraternities listed as the subject of allegations.
Folt suspended a student -- believed to be Schiffilea -- in connection with some of the allegations.
“Ryan Schiffilea is a suspect but has not been arrested. This is an ongoing investigation,” Officer Rosario Cervantes of the Los Angeles Police Department told City News Service last week.
“Such behaviors are deeply disturbing, they hurt people and go against everything we stand for as a community,” Folt wrote in an email to the USC community at that time. “We are sorry for the pain and anguish this is causing.”
USC also placed Sigma Nu -- whose motto is “Excelling with Honor” -- on interim suspension, forbidding it from hosting or organizing any activities, parties or other social gatherings at the fraternity house.
The DPS announced on Oct. 24 that it will enforce the Interfraternity Council's notification banning on-campus fraternity social activities.
“The university has also taken steps to increase security and enhanced supervision on and around 28th Street,” DPS said.
After the allegations came to light, some students marched outside the Sigma Nu house, and some even called for an end to the system of Greek life on campus altogether.
“The fraternity is concerned by these serious allegations and will seek to work with university officials to investigate the matter. The fraternity will determine its further actions based upon the investigation,” Sigma Nu's national headquarters said in a statement.
The campus police urged anyone with information about alleged assaults to call 213-740-6000 for the University Park Campus (UPC), 323-442-1000 for the Health Sciences Campus (HSC) or 213-485-6571 for the LAPD Southwest Division.
Calls to the LAPD during non-business hours or on weekends can be made to 877-527-3247 and anonymous tips can be called in to Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477 or submitted online at lacrimestoppers.org.