The Daily Gamecock

Student petition calls for dismissal of 2 professors, reform of harassment reporting system

A group of USC students has created and circulated a petition calling for the university to fire School of Visual Art and Design (SVAD) professors David Voros and Laura Kissel, who also directs the school.

The group, called the Coalition to Fire David Voros, also calls for USC to reform the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs’ (EOP) system for reporting incidents of discrimination and harassment on campus.

Second-year journalism student and coalition member Charlotte Morrison said the coalition formed in early December after two former professors filed lawsuits against Voros and the university for harassment and discrimination.

A group of students, including Morrison, formed a group chat to discuss what to do in response to the lawsuits. Then, the idea of a petition was born, and the coalition created one together.

“We were just like, ‘This is insane. We should probably — we have the power to do something about this,’” Morrison said.

University spokesperson Jeff Stensland declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuits and the coalition's complaints against the EOP, but he confirmed Voros has been removed from the classroom and is still on USC’s payroll.

The Coalition to Fire David Voros also calls for the firing of Kissel because of allegations made in the lawsuits, including discrimination against one of the professors and mishandling of both of the former professors' reports against Voros.

The coalition includes over 50 USC students, according to Morrison. The Carolina Socialists, the Carolina Democrats, Planned Parenthood Generation Action, the Feminist Collective and Students for Justice in Palestine all officially sponsor the petition, which the group promotes via its Instagram.

The petition itself has almost 2,400 signatures as of Monday. Feminist Collective president and third-year geology student Sophie Luna said the coalition has no numerical goal for the petition, and the petition will be presented to President Bob Caslen soon.

“We just want to get as many people to sign as we can and get a statement of displeasure from the community,” Luna said.

One point Luna said she wants to see changed in the EOP is how it handles the initial reception of a complaint. Once the EOP starts investigating, both the person who filed the complaint and the alleged harasser are informed of the complaint, along with the complainant's name.

"That alone can intimidate a lot of people from even bothering to report what happened in the first place. Not to mention, retaliation from the person they're accusing, too," Luna said.

Morrison said she was “genuinely appalled” when she first found out about the lawsuits.

“I was just a bit shocked to see, like, ‘Oh, my God, I go to a school where this can happen.’ I just thought it was other schools, not our own school,” Morrison said.

Third-year studio art student Julia Ballou heard about the situation when she took Voros’ introduction to painting class in the spring of 2020. Another one of her teachers told her to look up Voros’ name online, where Ballou found articles about a previous lawsuit filed against Voros by SVAD graduate Allison Dunavant in 2018.

“Knowing that stuff, it made everything different. Like, when he would sit down next to me to help me blend something, it would make me super tense,” Ballou said. 

So, when Dunavant retweeted the petition on Twitter, Ballou signed it. She said she hopes the petition brings the situation to the attention of the entire school.

“They’re not acknowledging what happened, and they’re not telling students what happened, and so, it’s up to us to realize when we’re in danger,” Ballou said.

Stensland said in an email statement he is aware of the petition.

"Members of our university community have for years created and signed online petitions on an array of topics to share their voice," Stensland said. "These petitions ultimately don't determine university policy."

If the university doesn’t make any of the changes demanded in the petition, according to Luna, the coalition is “exploring” other courses of action, such as reaching out to prospective USC students and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the agency responsible for the university’s accreditation, to make them aware of the lawsuits.

“I feel like I can’t really count on them to do the right thing, so we have to make them do the right thing, or at least try to make them,” Luna said.

Voros filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits against him on Jan. 5 on the grounds that the lawsuits had insufficient allegations and the statute of limitations for the defamation claims has expired.

Luna said she hopes the situation inspires continuous conversation about harassment and discrimination at the university.

“My hope is that the mood doesn’t go away with Voros if he gets fired, because protecting students and keeping predators out is an action you always got to be involved in,” Luna said. “I don’t think we’ll be stopping there. We’re just always going to be around from now on.”