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USC president admits ‘troubling delay’ in acting on multiple sexual assault reports

Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

(LOS ANGELES) -- There was a "troubling delay" in acting on multiple reports of possible drugging and sexual assault at a University of Southern California fraternity, the school's president acknowledged in a letter to students amid an investigation into growing allegations against fraternities on the Los Angeles campus.

Last week, USC informed students that it suspended the Sigma Nu fraternity after an alleged sexual assault and "possible drug-facilitated sexual assaults" at its house. The move came nearly a month after several students confidentially reported to the university's counseling service that they "may have experienced drugging and possible sexual assault in connection with a fraternity party," President Carol Folt detailed in a letter posted Friday.

The students disclosed the information to the school's Relationship and Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Services (RSVP) program between Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, Folt said. On Sept. 30, RSVP decided to elevate the information to several university departments, including public safety.

A separate incident of an alleged sexual assault by a member of the fraternity was also reported to the school's Department of Public Safety on Oct. 16.

The school's Clery Office, which tracks and discloses campus crime, received information on both sets of events on Oct. 20, at which point the Sigma Nu fraternity was suspended and students notified.

"We now know that there was a troubling delay in acting on this information, and specifically in evaluating it for notification to the community," Folt wrote in her letter.

"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," she added.

Since first alerting the school community to the alleged incidents at Sigma Nu, USC has received additional reports of sexual assault and possible drugging at other fraternity houses this fall and in previous years, Folt said.

All incidents disclosed to the school since Sept. 25 have been reported to the Los Angeles Police Department, which said last week it was investigating possible drug-facilitated sexual assaults.

Activities at all USC fraternities have been suspended indefinitely, and USC will permanently ban or delist fraternities "if warranted," Folt said.

In the wake of multiple campus alerts about alleged assaults at Sigma Nu, USC students have held protests demanding action from the university. Angry notes now also plaster the Sigma Nu fraternity house with messages like "do better" and "enough is enough."

Folt became president of USC in 2019, after the previous president stepped down amid reports the school ignored allegations of widespread sexual misconduct by former campus gynecologist George Tyndall.

"As president, I came to USC with the promise to confront what is wrong and lead the effort to fix what is broken," she wrote in her letter. "As we learn more, there will be some things we can do quickly and others that will take more time. This is too important to not get right."

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