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Sexual Assault/Harassment at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work must not be ignored

Yesterday a student at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work filed suit against a former professor of mine because of the sexual harassment she endured as his student. The school imposed light sanctions against the professor and made him move offices.

In light of recent news about the sexual harassment culture at USC (e.g., former Medical Dean Rohit Varma and fundraising executive David Carrera) and given widespread exposure of sexual harassment throughout the media,

It is unacceptable that a school of social work, grounded in the values of social justice and equality, would condone the actions of one of its tenured professors in perpetuating such a negative and unsafe culture.

To allow someone to continue to have access to survivors and future victims is something that should not be occurring at such a prestigious institution. It is a violation of the ethical obligations under the National Association of Social Workers and Council of Social Work Education. As an alumnus of the university I believe that the school of social work at USC is willfully engaging in actions that do not create an environment of zero tolerance of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The schools response to the recent allegations made against Erick Guerrero are unacceptable to those of us who have been victims of sexual violence and to those of us that expect more from the social work community. Erick Gurerro is just one in a long list of men who have engaged in the harassment and victimization in their official capacity as USC employees.

Yesterday a group of over 70 current and former students came together to express their concerns about the gross negligence on the part of the school to remove Erick Guerrero from his post. Paramount to the conversation was the notion that because of the hostile community that has been created at USC most of the current students feel that in speaking out they “personally run the risk of harming our professional development even though we are demanding the basic right of safety.”

I have long said that the patriarchy is alive and well and it is USC. In the last 24 hours I have found out just how pervasive the culture of victim blaming and shaming is among social workers who are ethically mandated to stand up in the face of oppression. From Erick Guerrero blaming white privilege for these accusations, to students feeling so disempowered and scared that many of them are feeding into the culture by willfully excluding the voices of many of us who want to be heard.

I understand caution. I also understand that systems of oppression do not change if those not personally and directly affected do not take swift and exact action to stand up for the oppressed. USC feeds the beast of sexual violence, harassment, and victimization when their leaders refer to this time as a “painful period”, as if this is just going to go away and the crisis will be averted.

Inaction causes harm and the USC Suzanne-Dworak Peck School of Social Work has implicitly condoned the behavior of one if it’s professors.

As social workers we are advocates in the community and we are bound by a code of ethics to:

  1. Challenge social injustice, and

  2. Respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person.

If the Dean and administrative faculty of the USC Suzanne-Dworak Peck School of Social Work were truly invested in creating leadership around social work training, research and scholarship then they would take swift action that actively demonstrates the condemnation of institutionalized rape culture and sexual harassment not just on campus but within their own school.

Resist, persist, insist on change. Dr. Melissa Bird

PS. If you are a student at USC and you want to report an experience of harassment or assault, you can email me at and I will help you do so anonymously.


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