Last week I posted a blog about the sexual harassment that has occurred at the USC School of Social Work. One of my former professors has been found guilty of sexual harassment involving several colleagues that I respect and admire. His colleagues have spoken out. The MSW students have spoken out. And the PhD students have issued a response.
Three groups critical to the success of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social work have spoken begging for action that will protect current and future students.
He has not been fired.
My blog is my platform. I will always speak out against sexual violence and harassment, especially when it affects people that I know. I will use any platform that I have to do so. Two days after posting my blog I received an email from a former classmate of mine from USC.
I am posting her email and my response for three reasons:
The misogyny runs so deep at USC that there is a female dean protecting a male perpetrator who has been found guilty of sexual harassment.
So many of us want to speak out about harassment and assault but are terrified to do so either because we are afraid of the perpetrator or we are afraid of the blow back. I am afraid of neither and I want all of you reading this to not be afraid to speak your truth…even if your voice shakes.
You have heard of Miss Manners…well I am Miss Fuck Shit Up and I have started a space on Facebook and by email so that if someone sends you something like this you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will help you formulate a response that you can use to engage in advocacy on your own terms.
We are all in this together. Now let’s get lit up shall we?
(The senders name, the names of my colleagues, and the names of the victims in this case are redacted from this blog post. The Dean and perpetrator are still named because we should remember who they are.)
I read your blog post about the happenings at USC this morning and I wanted to reach out to you. You know how much I respect and admire your fearlessness and authenticity; its in that spirit that I’m sending this message. Perhaps there are aspects of your involvement in the events of earlier this week that I am not privy to, but as one of the students who was advocating strongly for an approach that gave (name withheld) a voice, I was upset when I read your response. My primary concern was and is to be sure that we know all the facts before we begin making demands and, more importantly, to give (name withheld) the opportunity to participate in shaping those demands. She has risked her career and suffered terribly in order to speak out. I believe strongly that by pushing ahead with an advocacy plan in which she had no voice, we would be exploiting her story. She has experienced enough exploitation already. In no way was my individual response coming from a place of disempowerment or fear, as your post suggests. Moreover, I most certainly did not want to exclude anyone’s voice. My goal was just the opposite: to ensure that everyone, including the survivor whose cause we claim to be championing, had a voice.
I think we all want the same thing, Missy. As we work to develop our list of demands, (name withheld) input is going to be invaluable. For example, in reviewing the faculty handbook’s policies on sexual harassment, it is clear that vague language leaves the door open for the University to wiggle out of their responsibility to protect student safety. (Name withheld) has concrete examples of how this specific language let her down. These examples make a clear and compelling case for change, but we were unable to articulate these issues on Thursday morning because we did not have all the facts.
(Name withheld) and (Name withheld) have been isolated and unable to reach out for support for a very long time. As social workers, I certainly believe we have an ethical mandate to advocate for change, but an equally critical obligation to leverage the power of human relationships to alleviate suffering. Giving (Name withheld) our support and responding to her with compassion is my first priority. Though it may be different from yours, I hope you can understand this perspective.
Hope you, Jim and the kiddos have been well!
Well, as you can imagine…being told to be quiet didn’t sit well with me. So I gave it lots of thought, prayer, whiskey, and meditation. And then I responded to my colleague.
Dear (Name withheld),
I am surprised that it took you all as long as it did to respond to my blog post. There are indeed many aspects of my involvement in the events surrounding sexual harassment at USC that you aren’t aware of. I will start with phone calls with both (name withheld) and (name withheld) soliciting my advice as a macro practitioner and encouraging me to work with (name withheld) to formulate a media and social media strategy that would force Marilyn Flynn to respond to pressure to fire Erick Guerrero from his post. In fact, I took an entire day off of work to do so, especially because (name withheld) kept telling me how important it was that the collective response of the students be timely and as widespread as possible.
Your support of (name withheld) is a great testament to your talents as a clinician and I am so grateful that even through your own trials and tribulations while at USC you were able to develop such a rich, supportive relationship with both her and (name withheld). I am sure you are all awaiting my response to your email and so I will get right to it.
I did not post my blog until after (name withheld) had announced she was suing the school in a very public forum during a televised media press conference. My blog and all of the actions that I took in drafting and posting all of the social media outreach I have engaged in have not been in representation of (name withheld). In fact I have deliberately and intentionally left her name out of every single thing that I have posted discussing the issue. Instead, I have engaged in Macro advocacy, which intentionally focuses on policy and the environment at USC, while highlighting the names of the Dean and Erick Guerrero specifically. This is about a systemic problem that the Dean benefits from because the continuation of the oppression benefits her financially.
While I recognize the need for micro advocacy and the work that all of you are doing to support (name withheld) and (name withheld), this is a critical opportunity to engage in Macro advocacy that creates space in the public sphere so that USC cannot sweep this under the rug. In fact, your very own faculty recognizes the need for multiple forms of advocacy at many levels. In their statement they stated, “We offer unqualified support for our students’ efforts to hold our school and university accountable for faculty misconduct, in whatever form that may take.”
I read the faculty handbook before I posted the blog. I am a policy wonk, it was one of the first documents that I looked at before I moved forward with a social media plan intended to shed light on the University’s continued mishandling of sexual harassment and violence on the USC campus.
To accuse me of exploiting (name withheld) story for my own personal gain is offensive and condescending. The entire purpose of my blog and my response as an alumni of the university is because your peers asked me to respond. While I recognize your expertise in your scholarship, understand that my expertise is built off of time tested models created by one of your own professors at USC.
Rather than criticizing my approach you should be thanking me for creating room for all of you to look like the sane, moderate voice in the movement towards safety for ALL WOMEN on the USC campus. By raising the gritty, inconvenient, more honest questions I have created the space for every one of you who is still involved with that campus to negotiate and articulate your demands with the Dean on Monday morning.
Every successful civil rights movement has a radical faction that makes those that are protesting look sane. Malcom X was the critical balance for Martin Luther King’s voice, the National Women’s Party was instrumental in creating room for the National Association of Suffrage Women to be the moderate voice in the suffrage debate.
Fear shows itself in many ways. Marilyn has created a system where if the PhD students challenge her authority they are threatened, I have experienced it first hand on multiple occasions as have many in our school. It wasn’t so long ago that a student was so terrified of the system that she committed suicide because she could not handle the emotional harassment that she experienced. This is not a personal attack on you it is a personal attack on the climate in which you still find yourself and which I have escaped from. My motivation is to attack the policies that are in place that further marginalize all of the victims at USC. All I know is at one moment I was involved in email threads and multiple phone calls and texts and just as quickly I was met with cold shoulders and silence and NO ONE in your group responded to my requests for information when I asked for it.
But back to the point, which I believe involves sexual harassment and sexual violence at USC. Two separate persons read my blog and then called me immediately afterwards. They thanked me for saying what they wished they could say. If I have done nothing else I gave many many victims a voice and that is my ethical duty as an advocate.
As you so rightly point out, I am indeed privy to other information that you are not. Just as you have known about (name withheld) and (name withheld) experience for years, I have had faculty and others talking with me, asking my advice, and seeking out ways to address this horrific issue through a Macro lens.
My blog post was deliberate, calculated, and applauded. It has given strength to your arguments and given you the opportunity to go to the dean and be the rational voice in the room. Mark my words (name withheld), she will not fire him unless she herself is threatened financially. Until that day comes, I will continue to advocate for investigation and policy change that protects all of the women on the USC Campus, not just (name withheld) and (name withheld).
The actions that I have and am taking are theoretically based and have been tested through years of scientific research. Every time I have discussed this I have ONLY focused on the Dean, Guerrero, and USC. Never have I mentioned (name withheld) name. The minute she went public you lost the right to control the message of every single person involved with the USC School of Social Work. You do not have the right to police my voice. Other people from the school have spoken out publicly. Have you also sent this message to them? (Name withheld) has posted (name withheld) entire story on twitter. There is a direct link to her attorney’s office. For those who have tweeted that information are you also asking them to stop speaking out?
If I am guilty of anything it is exploiting the name of Erick Guerrero over and over and over again in the hopes that his reputation suffers so deeply he is never again able to place himself in a position of power over any woman he comes into contact with.
I am not a victim advocate. I am a Macro social worker who engages in large-scale social justice advocacy on a national level. I am a doctor. I am an expert in my field. I travel the nation teaching social workers and professionals how to engage in this work. This is not my first rodeo and my track record is unquestionable in the field of advocacy.
You see (name withheld), I have engaged in a very deliberate set of actions that are commonly referred to as Strategic Macro Advocacy where each step is taken with precision in order to maximize impact and build community and stakeholder support in order to effect policy change and obtain the desired outcome, which I was told by (name withheld) was the firing of Erick Guerrero. THAT is a message that I have NEVER wavered from.
Sincerely, Dr. Melissa Bird
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