3 min read
13 Jun
13Jun

Introduction

A former USC student has filed a lawsuit accusing a tenured professor at the Marshall School of Business of sexual assault and harassment. The suit, filed on April 20, names Choong Whan Park, who recently retired, and includes allegations of discrimination by the university itself. 

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I. Background of the Case 

On April 20, a former student at the University of Southern California (USC) filed a lawsuit accusing Professor Choong Whan Park of sexual assault over a three-year period. Park, who retired at the end of the spring 2021 semester, had been with the university since 1997 and served as the director of the Global Branding Center since 2001. 

II. Allegations Against Park 

A. Details of the Allegations 

The plaintiff, Yi Youn Kim, a Korean American woman, claims that Park began making non-consensual sexual advances towards her several months into her employment as his student assistant in 2017. According to Kim, Park assaulted and harassed her multiple times from spring 2017 to April 2019. The lawsuit details five specific instances of harassment and assault, highlighting cultural dynamics as Park spoke almost exclusively in Korean and leveraged cultural difficulties to silence Kim. 

B. Cultural Aspects 

The lawsuit emphasizes that Park, as an older Korean man, exploited cultural norms to make it difficult for Kim to report the assaults. This cultural leverage played a significant role in the alleged harassment and subsequent challenges in reporting. 

III. USC’s Involvement and Response 

A. USC as a Defendant 

USC is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which accuses the university of discrimination. The lawsuit claims that USC was aware of Park’s behavior but failed to act. The university has denied these allegations, stating that they did not commit the acts alleged for discriminatory or retaliatory motives. 

B. Official Responses 

USC spokespeople have declined to comment further, citing the confidential nature of personnel matters. Similarly, a Marshall School spokesperson described the case as an ongoing legal matter, offering no additional comments. 

IV. Internal Investigations and Additional Victims 

A. Formal Complaint and Investigation 

Kim filed a formal complaint with USC’s Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX in October 2020, prompting an internal investigation. The investigation revealed that at least three other young women of Korean descent had similar experiences with Park. Despite these findings, the results of the investigation have not been made public, and USC has not disclosed the status or accessibility of the investigation report. 

B. Statements from Additional Victims 

The lawsuit mentions three other women, identified only as Victim 1, Victim 2, and Victim 3, who alleged similar experiences of non-consensual touching, hugging, kissing, and groping by Park. Their claims date back to 2011, indicating a pattern of behavior. 

V. Broader Implications 

A. Culture at USC Marshall School of Business 

The allegations against Park are part of a larger issue within USC’s Marshall School of Business. The school has faced previous allegations of a toxic culture, including the resignation of Dean James Ellis in 2018 following an investigation into the handling of harassment and discrimination complaints. 

B. Need for Cultural Change 

Professor Carol Wise has described a culture at Marshall that tolerates and even normalizes harassment, underscoring the need for significant cultural change within the institution. Kim’s lawyer, Jane Reilley, emphasized the importance of this lawsuit in driving institutional change to protect students. 

Conclusion 

The lawsuit against Park and USC is set to further unfold, with a meeting scheduled with a judge on September 17. This case highlights ongoing issues of sexual harassment and discrimination in academic institutions and the need for systemic change to protect students and ensure a safe educational environment. 

FAQs 

What are the main allegations against Professor Park? 

The main allegations include multiple instances of non-consensual sexual advances and harassment over a three-year period. 

How has USC responded to the lawsuit? 

USC has denied the allegations of discrimination and stated that they did not commit the acts alleged for discriminatory or retaliatory motives. The university has declined to comment further due to the confidential nature of personnel matters. 

What is the significance of the internal investigation? 

The internal investigation, prompted by Kim’s formal complaint, revealed that at least three other women had similar experiences with Park. However, the findings of this investigation have not been made public. 

What cultural factors are considered in the lawsuit? 

The lawsuit highlights that Park, as an older Korean man, used cultural dynamics to silence his victims, who were also of Korean descent, making it difficult for them to report the assaults. 

What are the next steps in the legal process? 

The next steps include a meeting with a judge on September 17 to discuss the case further. The lawsuit will continue to unfold in court.

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