ASUC Senate votes no confidence in campus’s handling of sexual assault

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After a heated discussion at Wednesday night’s meeting, the ASUC Senate passed a bill critiquing university disciplinary policies regarding sexual assault cases.

The bill, SB 130, states that policies implemented by campus bodies such as the Center for Student Conduct and the Title IX compliance officer strip sexual assault victims’ rights in the reporting process. The bill was passed with 12 votes in support, five against and one abstention. Two senators were absent from the vote.

SB 130 was authored by Aryle Butler and CalSERVE elections coordinator Anais LaVoie, along with CalSERVE Senators Klein Lieu, Megan Majd, and DeeJay Pepito. Pepito is running for ASUC president in the upcoming elections.

Two sexual assault victims spoke at the meeting about experiences with ineffective university policies in dealing with cases of assault.

Butler, who said she was a victim of sexual assault, spoke about inadequate campus responses to complaints of sexual harassment made by victims who have chosen to remain anonymous.

 Present at the meeting was Title IX officer Denise Oldham with the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination and student conduct specialist Erin Niebylski in the Center for Student Conduct. Both offices are specifically named in the bill as campus entities with ineffective policies.

“Our concern is that misinformation about how these cases are handled might deter students from coming forward with complaints or, at the very least, cause confusion about how these cases are handled,” Oldham said in an email after the meeting.

Lieu rebuffed implications that there were mistakes in the bill and said that the authors of the bill had it reviewed by the ASUC lawyer for any inaccuracies.

“Literally, there are over 10 documents you have to go (through) to understand sexual assault on this campus,” Lieu said at the meeting. “I think that’s egregious. I hope with this bill we can start streamlining this and start having (the policies) make sense for students.”

The bill takes issue with a number of specific UC Berkeley policies, including the campus definition of sexual assault, which the bill claims requires victims to prove they were not consenting rather than providing affirmative proof of consent.

Additionally, the bill states that there are more resources and knowledge available for those accused of assault than for victims, as is evident on the website for the Center for Student Conduct, which “provides a flowchart for the accused to understand disciplinary processes, but does not provide information allowing survivors to understand what happens when a report is made or follow-up on their reports once submitted,” according to the bill.

More seriously, the bill claims that if the Center for Student Conduct determines there is not sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation of an assault accusation, there is no recourse or appeals process for a victim to appeal this decision.

Student Action Senator Rosemary Hua was one of several senators concerned about the language of the bill, particularly the clause stating that the ASUC holds “no confidence in the University’s current sexual assault policies and disciplinary procedures.”

“We should tell them what they’re doing wrong, but there is a fine balance — we also need to work with them,” Hua said during the meeting. Hua announced at the meeting that she herself has been a victim of sexual assault.

In a later email, Hua said senators should sit down with campus officials and start amending policies instead of condemning them. She added that she believed the bill should be sent back to committee to rework its language.

Supporters maintained that the bill was not an attack on campus bodies but instead a way to bring the ASUC into the discussion of assault on campus.

Rafi Lurie, a Student Action senator and a candidate for ASUC president in this spring’s election, said he felt that the bill should have been tabled for a week to address Hua’s concerns.

“I feel that because, as a survivor, she feels that way, out of respect to her and people on campus who feel like her, it would have been better to rework the language and then pass it so that all parties that the bill aims to address would feel comfortable with it,” Lurie said in an email.

Other Student Action senators echoed the concerns of Lurie and Hua, including Student Action Senator Mihir Deo, who said in an email that this was not a CalSERVE against Student Action issue.

“The prime reason I voted against the bill was that this bill was not clearly vetted,” Deo said. “The student advocate wasn’t even consulted about the bill, and it creates a new wing in her office. She also stated that there was miscommunication on both sides.”

CalSERVE Senator Nolan Pack spoke passionately in favor of the bill during the meeting, saying that it was the ASUC’s job to protect students.

“Though the ASUC’s legal counsel confirmed that the bill accurately reflects university policies, several senators disregarded this advice and supported the notion that there was a ‘misunderstanding,’ in spite of the fact that nobody who criticized the bill could identify or articulate the alleged misunderstanding,” Pack said in an email.

Student Action Senators Chen-Chen Huo, Lurie, Hua, Deo and Ryan Kang voted against the bill. Student Action Senator Nils Gilberston abstained, and Student Action Senators Emily Chen and Tom Seung Kyun Lee were absent from the vote. All other senators voted in support.

Ally Rondoni is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at arondoni@dail[email protected].

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