USC Title IX investigation: Ex-Song Girls coach body-shamed squad members

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- A USC Title IX investigation has found "sufficient evidence" that the university's former Song Girls coach body-shamed, harassed and retaliated against several ex-members of the spirit squad, according to multiple reports.

According to a letter from USC's Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the investigation found that Lori Nelson created a "hostile and unhealthy" environment within the Song Girls program. The investigation also examined allegations of discrimination based on race and gender, but found insufficient evidence to support those claims, the newspaper reported.

The letter determined, however, that the university was "limited in its ability to impose a sanction" against Nelson, since she resigned in October 2020, the same day she was informed about the Title IX investigation, The Times reported.

Ryan Saba, Nelson's attorney, gave The Times a statement saying the 30-year leader of the Song Girls program plans to appeal the findings.

"Ms. Nelson is pleased to have been completely exonerated on all accusations of discrimination based on race, appearance or any other factor," Saba told the paper. "As for the harassment and retaliation claims, the evidence did not support the conclusion because the complaining parties did not make these allegations against Ms. Nelson until after they were cut from the team by a panel of judges that did not include Ms. Nelson. The overwhelming statements of the audition judges and other witnesses refuted these outlier allegations of wrongdoing.''

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USC released a statement to the paper saying, "Many current and former Song Girls view the program as one of the highlights of their undergraduate experience. Through their participation in the program, Song Girls develop close friendships, translatable skills and a strong sense of belonging. Regrettably, not everyone has experienced the program in the positive way that was intended."

Eighteen former Song Girls told The Times previously that Nelson would regularly and publicly rebuke women for their eating habits, personal appearance and sex lives, with many saying they suffered from body-image issues as a result. Three former Song Girls told the paper they suffered from eating disorders, and one said she fell into a near-suicidal depression.

The Times reported, however, that Nelson was strongly supported by other former Song Girls who disputed the allegations. According to the paper, 56 former Song Girls signed a letter describing their positive experience under Nelson.

Those who made the allegations against her, however, said they felt validated by the investigation.

"I love my university, and it was hard for me to have this negative experience associated with it," foremr Song Girl Adrianna Robakowski told The Times. "So I am truly grateful to have had USC listen to us and do the right thing by its students."
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