10 Former USC Song Girls Detail Toxic Team Environment in 'LA Times' Report

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIApril 23, 2021

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09:  A USC Trojans helmet on the field before the college football game between the USC Trojans and the Arizona State Sun Devils on November 9, 2019 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ten former members of the USC Song Girls detailed a toxic culture within the program in an exclusive report by Ryan Kartje of the Los Angeles Times.

Per Kartje, the women discussed "a toxic culture within the famed collegiate dance team that included longtime former coach Lori Nelson rebuking women publicly for their eating habits, personal appearance and sex lives."

Kartje added the ex-dance squad members who spoke with the paper "faced serious body image issues within the program that went beyond normal fitness required to be on a spirit squad."

Three members said their time with the USC Song Girls led to "some form of eating disorder," and another woman experienced severe depression and considered taking her own life. Eight women who spoke with Kartje said they attended counseling sessions.

The USC Song Girls also reportedly had to sign a contract that stated they needed to "stay within five pounds of their audition weight," per Kartje. In addition, Nelson reportedly scrutinized the team's physical appearance.

Per Stuart Carson of the Daily Trojan, Nelson led the team for over three decades before resigning last November amid a Title IX investigation that was launched against her.

That investigation, which began in August after three members of the Song Girls initially brought complaints to athletic director Mike Bohn in February, was enacted to look into “potential violations of the university’s non-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policy by Ms. Nelson," per Kartje.

Nelson was placed on administrative leave October 29 before later resigning.

Nelson, who declined a request for an interview with the Los Angeles Times, released a statement through attorney Ryan Saba: "Ms. Nelson vehemently and unequivocally denies the harmful and misleading allegations made against her."

One of the 10 women who talked to Kartje, USC senior communication major Josie Bullen, spoke with Carson on the record: “This isn’t just about our stories, it’s about creating change at USC. This is a culture that exists nationwide and I think that’s another reason why we came forward in the [Los Angeles Times] is because we’re hoping it’ll reach an audience beyond USC.”

She also added: “It’s also relieving that this systemic, misogynistic institution is finally being exposed because it’s been in place for decades, and so many women have suffered because of it."

The USC Song Girls have performed and appeared at Trojan athletic events and other school-related functions since 1967.


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