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The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is launching an investigation into the University of Southern California for its handling of reports of sexual harassment by the school's former gynecologist. Dr. George Tyndall is accused of harassing and assaulting women during pelvic exams for nearly 30 years. Now the Los Angeles Police Department is investigation at least 52 complaints involving Tyndall, and the University faces multiple lawsuits from former students. Saul Gonzalez from member station KCRW has our report.
SAUL GONZALEZ, BYLINE: On Saturday, about two dozen USC students and alumni marched from the school student health center to the campus's main quad.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) USC transparency, USC transparency.
GONZALEZ: Their demands - help for Tyndall's alleged victims and a full accounting of USC's possible role in covering up his actions.
VIVA SYMANSKI: We are at a breaking point. Things have to change. USC must change.
GONZALEZ: That's alum Viva Symanski. Tyndall's alleged sexual misconduct is thought to have gone on for years. He worked at the school for nearly three decades before his suspension in 2016. Last summer, he was allowed to quietly resign from USC with a financial payout. The university didn't report Tyndall to state medical authorities, nor did it contact any of Tyndall's patients.
ARIEL SOBEL: I think the university, as much as I love it, was extremely complicit in this, and I think they were accessories to crimes.
GONZALEZ: Ariel Sobel, who was a patient of Tyndall's while a student, has established Justice for Trojans. It's a group offering help to women who feel they might have been victimized by Tyndall over the years.
SOBEL: So some are asking for legal support. Some are looking for others survivors to talk to. Some are looking for therapy. Some just want to, like, have someone talk on the phone with them and, like, listen to them.
GONZALEZ: One group of students particularly concerned are those from China. In recent years, USC has aggressively recruited Chinese students, and about 5,500 are currently enrolled at the school. Andy Zhang is a sophomore and a member of the Chinese Student Association.
ANDY ZHANG: We Chinese students - we come from, I would say, a relatively conservative culture.
GONZALEZ: He says students from China who were Tyndall's patients might be reluctant to report sexual misconduct.
ZHANG: You know, when they run into uncomfortable situations, it can be more difficult for them to speak out.
GONZALEZ: The Chinese consulate in Los Angeles has demanded a full investigation. Pressure on the university is also coming from USC faculty and staff. After 200 of them signed a letter demanding the resignation of school president Max Nikias, he stepped down last month. Among those who signed - LaVonna Blair Lewis with USC's School of Public Policy.
LAVONNA BLAIR LEWIS: This happened once, and I think the issue now is to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
GONZALEZ: She thinks in recent years, the university might have focused too much attention on fundraising and boosting its academic rankings instead of protecting students. Blair Lewis hopes priorities now change.
BLAIR LEWIS: And again, what are we going to do to make sure that we're not having this same story being told with different names?
GONZALEZ: USC didn't respond to a request for an interview. Instead, it sent us a statement about measures it's taking to protect students. They include educating those seeking gynecological services about their rights and how to report complaints. In addition to the LAPD investigation, the campus faces a growing number of lawsuits, including from celebrity attorney Gloria Allred.
GLORIA ALLRED: It should not have taken decades for these women to finally be protected.
GONZALEZ: This week, Allred will add more than 20 additional plaintiffs to a suit she's already filed against the school. For NPR News, I'm Saul Gonzalez in Los Angeles.
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