Hollywood’s academic neighbour takes lead on tackling sex abuse

Higher education institutions are well placed to develop solutions to harassment and assault, says University of Southern California provost

March 17, 2018
Frances McDormand at the 2018 Oscars
Source: Shutterstock

Universities have been doing a lot of soul-searching in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, with many institutions taking the opening presented by the crisis to ramp up their policies aimed at tackling sexual abuse and harassment.

But one university that may be feeling the sting more sharply than your average campus is the University of Southern California.

The private research university in Los Angeles is on the edge of Hollywood, and many graduates of its world-leading cinematic arts school end up working in the home of the US film industry. As such, it has many notable alumni and professors; three nominees in this year’s Academy Awards alone, for instance, studied at the institution.

Michael Quick, provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs at USC, admitted that the institution’s location and relationship with the film industry means that it has been even more important that “conversations have been taking place across our university” on the issue of sexual assault.

He said that universities in general were facing the same problems as Hollywood on their campuses – “in a way, we get all the problems that the world has” – but added that the special role of higher education institutions meant that “we get to figure…out” how to deal with these issues.

“Maybe we can model the best of the world on our campus and export it to the world, just like we do in other fields,” Professor Quick said.

“We have the best engineers in the world, we have the best doctors in the world; and whatever their findings are, whatever the research and scholarship that gets done, we export that.

“Let’s export out how we do things well as a community – things like [dealing with] sexual assault, things like [tackling] abuse of power. Let’s…recognise [these issues], deal with them and then say, ‘Look, we figured out ways to advance respect for everyone.’”

Professor Quick added that while it could be “harder” for industry to address issues such as sexual assault and harassment, universities were well placed to deal with such problems because “our job is to be creative and interesting and smart about all these problems that we’re dealing with”.

Although USC has not come up with any silver bullet solutions to the problem of sexual assault, Professor Quick said that it has “started the process of having…hard conversations” about the topic on campus.

“What I’m hearing from people is that just the chance to have people express what they have been thinking and what they’ve experienced has been incredibly powerful and incredibly important,” he said.

“So that’s the first step. And then the question is, based on all that IQ [of students and faculty], how do we put into place the things that will make things more inclusive and more equitable for everyone? That doesn’t just apply to sexual assault issues – it’s across the board. How do we hear more voices and bring more people to the table around these important issues?”

Hollywood is not the only industry on USC’s doorstep. Up California’s coast is Silicon Valley, home to many start-up and global technology companies, while the university is also conveniently situated to work with East Asia.

“People often think we’re on the west coast of the United States; but in some ways we’re on the east coast of the Pacific Rim,” Professor Quick said.

He said that USC’s “luxurious spot” at a time when the Pacific region is rising has helped to shape institutional strategy on partnerships and student recruitment.

One example of the institution’s close relationship with Asia is its World Bachelor in Business programme, in which students from across the globe study at USC in their first year, at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in their second and at Bocconi University in Milan in their third. Students can choose at which of the three institutions to spend the final year of the course, which enrols about 45 students a year.

“It excites the students to get a degree from all three universities. But, for me, what is exciting is that these students have had those experiences in three completely different cultures and [learned] three completely different ways of thinking about business and interactions in the world,” Professor Quick said.

“It’s a really popular programme, and it really speaks to how universities need to get out there and get their students out in the world and form relationships with industry and with cities in which they reside. It’s just how everyone thinks these days. There are no more silos.”



Print headline: USC workshops sex abuse script for Hollywood

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