Editor’s Note: Meggie Kwait is a USC alumna who attended the university from 2005-2009. She is now a teacher and lives in New York City. The views expressed here are the author’s. View more opinion on CNN.
The University of Southern California, a stone’s throw from Hollywood, has mastered the art of illusion.
Former university president C.L. Max Nikias once said the Romanesque and gothic brick-and-ivy buildings give the 138-year-old university the appearance of “1,000 years of history we don’t have,” according to the student newspaper The Daily Trojan. The school’s alma mater claims that “where Western sky meets Western sea/our college stands in majesty,” but the school actually sits inland, near downtown Los Angeles. Even the school’s mascot, Traveler, a pure white horse ridden by an armored warrior, has a secret: in equestrian terms, that horse is considered gray.
I arrived at USC in 2005, a National Merit finalist on a full-tuition scholarship, fresh from a Central Valley farm town. I dreamed of becoming an opera singer, and I adored the trappings of what the school calls the “Trojan Family,” from Heisman Trophies to TV episodes shot on campus.
In 2008, I made an appointment at the student health center on campus, where I was seen by Dr. George Tyndall, a gynecologist who worked there for almost three decades before the school fired him in 2017 for inappropriate behavior. On Tuesday, a $215 million class action settlement agreement between USC and several law firms representing many women who say Tyndall (who denies wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime) sexually abused them, was filed in federal court.
I am one of those women. While performing a pelvic exam on me in 2008, Tyndall inserted his ungloved fingers inside of me. He made lewd comments about my sexual orientation, manhandled my breasts, and insulted my intelligence. Afterward, humiliated, I detailed the experience on a comment card in the lobby, holding back tears.
USC never followed up, and I forced the appointment from my mind. I graduated from college and moved across the country. I got married. I became a teacher. And then, one day last year, I logged onto Facebook to find Dr. Tyndall’s face staring out at me in a news story. I was hit with a wave of nausea, and my whole body went cold, then numb. Ten years after the first and only time I ever met that man, just a glimpse of his face in a photograph was enough to bring back the intense feelings of shame that had kept me silent on his examination table.
In the months since then, reporters have raised up stories of women who accused Tyndall of abuse. Their narratives span decades, and they are as diverse as the women themselves. Over and over, though, there is a common theme: I was frightened, I was ashamed, nobody listened to me.
USC, with all its wealth and power, failed to protect the daughters of its Trojan Family. Despite multiple complaints made through various channels, the administration abdicated its responsibility for years, putting thousands of women under the care of a predator.
I grieve for the tarnished image of my beloved alma mater, and for all my fond college memories now tainted by knowledge of this abhorrent miscarriage of justice.
But when I joined the class action lawsuit against USC, I also learned that the Trojan Family wasn’t an illusion at all. My Trojan sisters and I are standing together to speak out. Crying #MeToo, we are consoling each other with the knowledge that we are not alone. Together, our voices are loud enough to force the university to listen. Through this settlement, USC is finally acknowledging the women who say they were abused by Tyndall and who have been ignored throughout the past 30 years. As interim president Wanda Austin stated, the university is promising to make impactful changes. In addition to a $215 million award, the settlement our attorneys negotiated requires USC to implement structural changes to prevent and report abuse, in the health center and beyond. Nothing can ever give us back what Tyndall and USC took from us, but for me, it is gratifying to know that future generations of Trojan women will not be shamed into silence.
In the center of the USC campus stands the Trojan Shrine, popularly known as Tommy Trojan. Inscribed on the statue’s base are the attributes of the ideal Trojan:
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When I was a student, Tommy Trojan had no female counterpart, but today, Hecuba of Troy – a queen known in ancient Greek mythology and literature for her strength in adversity – also stands in the University Village. I pray that she will supplement macho Tommy’s list of attributes, teaching the Trojan Family to be honest, compassionate, responsible, sensitive, and self-reflective. That would be a transformation truly worthy of Tinseltown.