USC investigation into Song Girls determines ex-coach ran 'hostile and unhealthy' program

·3-min read

USC finished a Title IX investigation into allegations that former Song Girls coach Lori Nelson harassed and retaliated against members of the spirit squad when she was leading the program, and pledged to make changes to it, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The school found “sufficient evidence” that Nelson, who led the program for nearly 30 years before resigning, body shamed, harassed and retaliated against several members of her program while running a “hostile and unhealthy” environment between 2016-2020, per the report. This, the school said, violated multiple USC policies.

More than a dozen dancers spoke out about their experiences with the Song Girls, and said they were shamed for their weight and eating habits, were forced to wear a full face of make-up at all times regardless of location and were shamed for their sex lives, among other things, by former coach Lori Nelson.

Several of the dancers said they developed eating disorders and/or body image issues, and another said she became depressed and contemplated suicide.

“For years, many of the people with a stake in this process have invalidated our experiences, which is how the toxic issues persisted for decades,” former Song Girls member Josie Bullen told the Los Angeles Times. “Our one and only goal in going to the school and telling our stories was to ensure that no student would experience what we did. The findings of this investigation are providing a huge step forward in accomplishing that.”

The school has pledged to change the program to make it more inclusive and welcoming.

“Thinking back to my year on the team is difficult, but it’s healing to know that the program is moving forward in a positive direction,” Bullen said, via the Los Angeles Times. “I hope that the findings bring healing and peace to all Song Girls who were affected by the issues that we were.”

USC Trojans cheerleaders on the field during the 2019 Holiday Bowl
USC Trojans Song Girls on the field during the 2019 Holiday Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, CA. (John Cordes/Icon Sportswire Getty Image/

Nelson to face no consequences

Nelson stepped down after many of the dancers complained to school administrators and USC opened a Title IX investigation. Nelson, who was just the second Song Girls head coach in the program’s history, has denied the allegations.

The school said that Nelson won’t face any consequences, as she resigned from her post. She plans to appeal the school’s findings.

“Ms. Nelson is pleased to have been completely exonerated on all accusations of discrimination based on race, appearance or any other factor,” Ryan Saba, Nelson’s attorney, said in a statement, via the Los Angeles Times. “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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