ASUC Senate passes bill calling for reform on university sexual assault policy

Condemning past university policy concerning sexual assault, the ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday night calling on UC officials to include comprehensive reforms as the university finalizes a new sexual harassment and violence policy.

The bill, SB 11, focuses on enforcing stricter penalties — such as suspension or expulsion — for perpetrators of sexual violence, making the investigative process more transparent for survivors and broadening the policy to protect persons of all genders. It also calls for an increase in funding in order to properly investigate and adjudicate cases as well as a process to provide better mental health services for survivors.

Aside from the additional funding, SB 11 also requests that survivors who report assaults be regularly updated on and included in the investigation process, unless the survivor requests otherwise.

The bill follows a Tuesday email announcement by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks that the campus is providing additional resources for survivors of sexual assault, including the creation of a confidential survivor advocate position to help survivors navigate the reporting process, in addition to a similar role within UCPD. The campus will also launch a new website in the coming months to provide information about sexual misconduct.

Still, the bill asks for further reforms on campus, such as the appointment of two new Title IX coordinators who must be hired by committees with at least two students on them.

“I feel relieved, proud and a little scared,” said CalSERVE Senator Caitlin Quinn, co-author of the bill, in an email. “The administration isn’t going to be happy that we know Dirks’ email (about campus sexual assault) wasn’t enough.”

The bill reaffirms the senate’s vote in  April 2013 of no confidence in UC Berkeley’s disciplinary procedures, which accuses the university of valuing its reputation over the welfare of its students.

Student Action Senator Lauren Week said her personal history with sexual assault motivated her to support the legislation.

“I wish I could have been more involved,” she said about her experience with the process.

What happens now, Quinn said, depends on what the university does — or doesn’t — do. The university recently posted its new policy, though it has yet to be officially announced, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

The new policy, issued Feb. 25, mandates, among other requirements, that survivors receive a written copy of their rights when they report the assault. Survivors will also be kept informed about possible outcomes and procedures that will take place as a result of their complaints.

The definition of sexual harassment and violence has also been expanded to protect those who may be discriminated against based on gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

Klein added that the policy will not be finalized for some time, saying the university is looking to incorporate the feedback it has received, although the policy will remain generally the same.

UC Berkeley is undergoing a review by a state auditor of its administrative practices and assault policies, along with UCLA and two other state university campuses. The deadline for the university to submit its reformed policy to the federal government is March 7, according to Klein.

Savannah Luschei covers student government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @savluschei.