On a beautiful spring morning in 2004, on an outdoor stage in view of Tommy Trojan, I accepted my diploma from the University of Southern California’s law school. I was so proud to be a USC graduate that day, and for many days and years after that, as I used my law degree to fight for those who had been harmed by others.
I’m not so proud of USC anymore. Since the news broke last month that USC had let gynecologist George Tyndall continue treating students – as the only gynecologist available to students at the school health center – despite decades of complaints about his behavior, my pride has given way to disappointment and anger.
According to news reports, the school knew about Tyndall’s bad conduct for decades since the 1990s. That means girls I knew, who sat next to me in class, or who stood in line with me to get frozen yogurt at Commons, any of them could have been Tyndall’s victims.
All those years, all those girls whose abuse could have been prevented if the school had just acted on those first complaints it received in the 1990s. Instead, it appears USC simply covered it up and looked the other way, protecting Tyndall – and its own reputation – instead of protecting the students in its care. Even when federal investigators in 2016 required USC to provide all reports and complaints of sexual harassment against staff and faculty, USC still kept quiet about Tyndall, failing to disclose any of the complaints it had received about him over the decades.
As the story of this awful, avoidable mass abuse continues to emerge, I have been saddened and angered – as a woman, of course, but also as a once-proud USC alum. That’s why I’ve followed this story so closely since the news broke; and that’s why, as a lawyer, I’m so focused on helping the victims hold Tyndall – and USC – accountable.
Our school must own up to the harm and pain it caused to all our sister-students that it knowingly failed to protect from Tyndall. The leaders of our school must take a long hard look at how and why this could – and did – happen, and make sure it never happens again. And our school must compensate victims for the harm they suffered. Of course, no amount of money damages can undo what Tyndall, with USC’s knowledge and protection, did to all these girls. But money is the only language that institutions speak, and money damages are the only way to communicate to institutions – like USC, like Kamehameha, like Michigan State – that this will not be tolerated; this will not go unpunished; and this must never be allowed to happen again.
Annika K. Martin is an attorney at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. Annika represents USC students in litigation to hold Tyndall and USC accountable. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-541-7358.