It shouldn’t be hard for college students who are sexually assaulted on campus to file complaints with their campus administrations. But recently, reports from across the country have shown that these administrations might not be doing all they need to do to promote a safe campus environment.
We hope this isn’t the case at UC Berkeley.
Last Wednesday, nine UC Berkeley students filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the campus discouraged them from reporting incidents of sexual assault to local authorities, underreporting instances of sexual violence and failing to notify remaining campus community members of these threats.
Following a review of the complaint, the U.S. Department of Education will decide whether to investigate the campus’s policies to review whether it is appropriately responding to sexual assault crimes. If it is found in violation of the allegations, UC Berkeley could be fined $35,000 for each offense.
A college campus like UC Berkeley is a home away from home and a place where students should feel safe and protected. The campus has a system in place to try and promote this type of atmosphere. UC Berkeley provides a number of resources — such as the Gender Equity Resource Center and counseling at the Tang Center — that are dedicated to preventing sexual assault and promoting violence prevention education.
Cases of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and assault or rape reported to the campus administration are pursued by the campus Center for Student Conduct. According to the code of conduct, all reports are handled with “utmost seriousness, and the student will be referred to the appropriate persons or units for assistance.”
UC Berkeley is also obligated to follow federal Title IX regulations, which stipulate in the code of conduct that “the University has an obligation to communicate information regarding University policies, regulations, and procedures to concerned members of the University community” as well as a “legal obligation to disclose the outcome of the discipline proceedings to the student who reports being sexually assaulted.”
What is worrisome is the ASUC Senate’s April vote expressing no confidence in the campus’s handling of sexual assault cases. A bill passed at the April 3 meeting drew issue with the campus’s code of conduct policies stripping sexual assault victims’ rights in reporting the incident.
A number of problems raised by the victims are also concerning.
One of the victims who filed the complaint said she received an email informing her that an investigation had taken place seven months after she reported a sexual assault incident to the campus. She said she was told the situation was resolved through an “early resolution” process but was not told whether her assailant received disciplinary action. Her assailant then graduated, making him or her exempt from any further action at the hands of the campus.
If the investigation finds problems with the campus’s response, UC Berkeley needs to take immediate action to revise its policies and work to improve its environment and communication with students. If the investigation does not find the campus in violation, we can still use this moment to reflect on the code of conduct and work to ensure open and transparent communication with the students who filed the complaint.
We should applaud the victims for coming forward and make sure they know their allegations are being handled with respect and diligence.