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Trojan Democrats: Rick Caruso Covered Up Sexual Violence at USC

In their open letter to Angelenos, the Trojan Democrats explain why Rick Caruso, who is the chair of USC’s Board of Trustees, cannot be the next mayor of Los Angeles.

Rick Caruso smiles in front of trees in a campaign photo
Image: Rick Caruso | Facebook

We are the Trojan Democrats, the University of Southern California’s local organization of Democratic students — a chapter of the College Democrats of America and the largest student-run political organization at USC. As such, we do not speak on behalf of the university.

We write to express our deep concern with Rick Caruso, chair of USC’s Board of Trustees, recently announcing his candidacy in the Los Angeles mayoral race. To the utmost possible extent, we urge our allies and friends to refrain from supporting Caruso’s bid for mayor for a few key reasons. We cannot in good conscience allow for this campaign to continue without speaking up about Caruso’s history, and we feel we have a duty to share our personal experiences with his leadership at USC in order to create a more holistic view of Chairman Caruso.

This past fall, USC was rightfully ridiculed for mishandling allegations of sexual assault, abuse, and drugging by members of multiple fraternities at the university. Trojan Democrats joined eight other organizations in founding USC’s Student Coalition Against Sexual Violence and subsequently helped organize protests and meetings with the university’s administration. USC’s administration under Rick Caruso’s leadership has failed to take into consideration our cries for help and demands for accountability of both our school’s leaders and the assailants.

The reality we see everyday on campus is wholly at odds with the fiction in a campus-wide email recently authored by Caruso in which he claims his time on the board “[brought] accountability, responsible leadership, consistent oversight, and effective and transparent reporting practices … and culture change” to the university.

Nationwide, one in four college-aged students is sexually assaulted or raped each year, as reported in a 2019 survey. At USC, it’s almost one in three. That statistic is staggering — and only reflects incidences of reported sexual assault at our university.

Faced with the events of this past fall, women attending USC are forced to exist on a college campus where they know that sexual assault numbers are higher than at other institutions across the country. Worse still, many feel that the university’s administration has failed to take tangible action to combat such violence. They are made to walk around with the feeling that if they attend social events at USC and are assaulted, nobody will be there to protect them, support them, or hold their assailants accountable. Students who may have experienced sexual violence in the past are forced to relive their trauma every day within the confines of a university where they may feel ignored, creating an extraordinarily harmful and isolating environment. The lack of resources for survivors coupled with a lack of transparency and inaction on behalf of the university fosters an emotionally volatile learning environment where some students say “it is hard to survive” under Caruso’s leadership, with no sentiments of tangible change being made.

Photograph of a sign reading "University of Southern California" on a fence at USC's campus
Image: Alex Malek

Caruso, a former USC fraternity member himself, failed to combat the sexual violence experienced by students this school year and has not interacted with the leaders of the Student Coalition. Instead, Caruso has stayed silent. His choice to sweep these actions under the rug is disingenuous — much like his recent choice to change his voter registration from Republican to independent, and as of last month, from independent to Democrat, in anticipation of his mayoral candidacy.

Further, Caruso and his family are longtime political donors who, according to the Federal Elections Commission, have invested a total of $755,440 in disclosed political contributions since 2007. While this financing has gone to both Democratic and Republican candidates, Caruso has invested $156,300 into Democratic candidates and a whopping $599,140 (almost four times as much) into Republicans and pro-life candidates, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the California Republican Party — all of whom tirelessly fight for federal legislation to oppress women, people of color, and historically marginalized communities. We strongly condemn any candidate who has donated to anti-choice politicians working to restrict women’s freedom. Caruso’s past actions have contributed to the current nationwide assault on a woman’s right to reproductive choice.

Rick Caruso has failed to show a steadfast commitment to both the Democratic Party and the values we hold. This election is not a referendum about who can “clean up Los Angeles,” as Caruso’s campaign states; this is an opportunity for Los Angeles to demonstrate the strength, courage, compassion, and discipline we have as a city in electing the right person to be our leader.

To our fellow Angelenos: We ask that you look closely at each mayoral candidate as you decide who is the right leader to serve the great people of Los Angeles. Recall what happened the last time the American people elected a billionaire real-estate tycoon as our leader. Los Angeles does not need a repeat 2016 performance attacking women’s rights starring Rick Caruso — in fact, we deserve substantially better.


The Trojan Democrats