The USC Sigma Nu controversy boils over – Los Angeles Times

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Nov. 1. I’m Justin Ray. This year has gone by so quickly.

The University of Southern California has been in turmoil over the handling of allegations of drugging and sexual assault by members of a fraternity.

A confidential reporting program at the university received five to seven accounts of possible drugging and sexual assault at a fraternity in late September, USC President Carol Folt said in a message Friday night. But the USC community wasn’t notified about the allegations until three weeks later. The university has suspended the fraternity, Sigma Nu, and acknowledged a “troubling delay” in acting. Meanwhile, protests have taken place on campus.

The controversy has brought the issue of toxic Greek life to the forefront. Here are the main things to know.

What the university has said

In her Friday message, Folt said the university was still investigating the matter but admitted that the students’ reports were “not immediately escalated.”

“We now know that there was a troubling delay in acting on this information, and specifically in evaluating it for notification to the community,” Folt said in her letter. “This has highlighted for me the gray area in our processes when reports come into [Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Services] and the challenge of marrying a highly confidential support service, which may have limited details, with the need to inform and warn the community.”

What the fraternity has said

The national Sigma Nu organization and the USC chapter suspended one member accused of sexual assault pending a complete investigation, according to an internal memo sent to parents of current fraternity members and alumni. The memo did not identify the suspended student.

“The fraternity is concerned by these serious allegations and will seek to work with University officials to investigate the matter,” said Christopher Brenton, director of communications for Sigma Nu Fraternity Inc. “The fraternity will determine its further actions based upon the investigation. Sigma Nu Fraternity remains committed to responding appropriately to all matters of confirmed misconduct.”

What about decertification?

Dozens of faculty and students confronted Provost Charles Zukoski about the issue. They asked him about the possibility of a decertification — cutting off the affiliation between the chapter and the university.

“That doesn’t mean that the organizations go away,” Zukoski said. “Other institutions that I’ve been at, when we decertify a fraternity or a sorority, they can continue just fine throwing parties for their members. And so that’s one of the reasons why not just USC but other institutions continue to want to work with these groups, because at least if they’re certified by us, we can impose some rules — not a lot.”

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And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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The U.S. Border Patrol stopped more people trying to enter California from Mexico illegally over the past year than during any other year since 2008, the Sacramento Bee reported, citing federal statistics. Border Patrol agents encountered almost 202,000 unauthorized immigrants at the Mexico-California border during the 2021 federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Speaking of the agency, it was recently reported that most of the Customs and Border Protection agents who participated in secretive social media groups featuring violent, bigoted posts targeting migrants and members of Congress received significantly watered-down disciplinary measures. The Sacramento Bee


They stuck to their anti-vax beliefs. Now these teachers and school workers are out of jobs. Two teachers, a teaching assistant and a cafeteria manager all opposed the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for Los Angeles Unified employees. One remains teaching but lost a beloved position; another was fired. An employee who won an exemption is out of work anyway. And yet another gave in and got a jab at the last minute, but only because of a family crisis. Similar vaccination deadlines — and decisions — are approaching for L.A. city workers, including police officers and firefighters. Los Angeles Times

A physically-distanced classroom.

A physically distanced classroom.

(Courtesy R. Roger Rowe)

Our daily news podcast

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Gov. Gavin Newsom abruptly canceled plans Friday to lead a California delegation to the United Nations climate change summit in Scotland, citing “family obligation.” Newsom had been preparing for the trip to Glasgow for several weeks. The rest of California’s official delegation to the 26th gathering of the Conference of Parties, or COP26, will attend without him. Los Angeles Times


Student sues San Diego Unified over COVID-19 vaccine mandate, citing religious discrimination. A Scripps Ranch High School student has sued the district in federal court, asserting that because some of the COVID-19 vaccines (including the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech, the only one authorized for use by minors) were tested on cell lines originally derived from aborted fetuses, taking the vaccine runs counter to her Christian beliefs — and being forced to take it violates her 1st Amendment right to freely exercise her faith. She is represented by the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm that handles religious freedom challenges. San Diego Unified Board Chair Richard Barrera and other district administrators could not be reached for comment. San Diego Union-Tribune

The mother of the man San Luis Obispo officials say shot and killed a detective in May has filed a wrongful death administrative claim against the city and county, accusing the police department of misconduct and a coverup. Caroline Wichman, Eddie Giron’s mother, contends that police “mishandled the tactical entry of Mr. Giron’s house and subsequent shootout, which led to the unlawful killing of Mr. Giron by police.” San Luis Obispo’s public communications manager said in response to the lawsuit that “complete facts and information will be released to the public in a timely manner once the investigation is complete.” San Luis Obispo Tribune

Three employees of Pets In Need Palo Alto Animal Shelter have been charged with animal cruelty after seven dead puppies were discovered in a van. On Aug. 2, the trio took a van to the Central Valley to retrieve animals that other shelters could not accommodate or had been unsuccessful in adopting out, according to Palo Alto police. The van lacked air conditioning in the rear cargo area, and the employees didn’t give the puppies water. Temperatures that afternoon reached 90 to 100 degrees. Upon arrival at the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, Pets In Need staff determined that the seven puppies were unresponsive. Pets In Need has operated the Palo Alto Animal Shelter since 2019 under a contract with the City of Palo Alto.


California’s coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have plateaued just as the critical holiday season approaches. Even though the state continues to fare better than most, it’s considered to have “substantial” transmission — the second-worst category in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s four-tier scale. Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, an Orange County deputy health officer, is among those who have been warning for weeks that a pandemic uptick is possible as the weather cools if vaccination rates do not drastically improve. Los Angeles Times

Modesto soon will bill insurance companies when its firefighters put out a house fire, treat someone who has had a medical emergency, respond to a car wreck or go out on other calls for service. Fire Chief Alan Ernst said the billing could start as soon as early 2022. Modesto expects to net about $1.5 million annually for the Fire Department’s budget by billing insurance companies, although the city does not expect every bill to be paid. While revenue from the sales, property and other taxes that pay for public safety are growing, they have not grown as fast as the city’s expenses, officials have said. Modesto Bee


Absolutely devious lick. The latest episode of the podcast “Reply All” explores how young people made school pranks go viral on social media. You may have heard of one trend, “devious licks” — stealing or vandalizing school property. The episode, which reveals that parents might bear some responsibility for spreading awareness of trends encouraging bad behavior at educational institutions, features a Fresno school district. Gimlet Media

“It was a classless move.” So said Morningside High School football coach Brian Collins after his team lost 106-0 to Inglewood on Friday night. Collins, a first-year head coach, said the refs asked Inglewood to run the clock, and they refused. Inglewood head coach Mil’Von James, who had not responded to an email seeking comment, was fired from a previous head coaching position after his team used ineligible players, and the program was placed on two years’ probation for rules violations. Morningside and Inglewood are part of the Inglewood Unified School District. A statement released by the Southern Southern on Saturday “condemns, in the strongest terms, results such as these.” Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: Cloudy, 65 San Diego: Build a secret wine cellar! Cloudy 67 San Francisco: Rainy, 62 San Jose: Rainy 65 Fresno: Treat yourself to a spa day like this capybara did. Cloudy, 66 Sacramento: Rainy, 61


Famous birthdays

Actor Penn Badgley was born Nov. 1, 1986. Have you seen the latest season of his series “You” on Netflix?

Rapper Nelly was born Nov. 2, 1974. He released another song with Florida Georgia Line this year, following their 2012 hit “Cruise.”

I still haven’t heard from Frank Ocean. … :'(

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