Sexual Harassment


I have one 105 pages to read for class tomorrow.

Right now, I’m in a cafe trying to read them, and I can’t.

I can’t read because I keep getting distracted by the fact that when I told someone that a tenured faculty member in my department was being accused of sexual harassment, they weren’t surprised.

I can’t read, although I want to, because I’m distracted by the fact that when Claude Steele resigned, he didn’t mention, not even in passing, his mishandling of the pervasive and oppressive sexual harassment issue on this campus. I’m distracted by the fact that his replacement, interim provost Carol Christ, is a woman, asked to step in and clean up a mess created by irresponsible men. And she did step in, in her own words, “ready to do whatever I can at this crucial moment in the university’s life.” Here is a woman — a former president of Smith College with a doctorate in English from Yale — appointed to an interim position as a figurehead, as if the appointment of a single woman were to somehow fix, overnight, the culture of harassment and subsequent impunity that we experience every day on this campus.

And she’s not the only one. Melissa Murray, appointed as interim dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law after Sujit Choudhry resigned earlier this year, is also a woman. As the university “searches for a permanent dean,” she is lauded for her “willingness to serve.” Again, here we have an extremely capable woman, awarded for her teaching at Berkeley Law and adored by her students, blatantly used by the administration to smooth over this huge, unignorable issue that hurts women — a woman asked to set aside whatever other responsibilities she may have in order to contribute to fixing a problem that she didn’t create but that nonetheless directly affects her.

These women deserve to be in these positions because they’re qualified for them. They deserve to hold them for more than a few months, for reasons other than just to save face for the university until the position is filled permanently, most likely by a man.

I deeply admire their willingness to step into the figurative line of fire during times of such turmoil; I just wish they didn’t have to do it. I wish women were in a position in which they could choose to help when they saw fit, not do it because the situation is so dire that no one else can help. Not because men are so unwilling to even recognize the issues that it takes women and victims to explain it to them.

In student groups, in the classroom, in graduate student cohorts, the double burden of suffering discrimination and harassment — and also explaining it and fixing it — falls on women. Women can’t do the work they’ve come to this campus to do because they are too busy ignoring gross comments that always slide just under the bar of harassment. Women can’t do the work they’ve come to this campus to do because when they look around them, they see an environment that rejects their presence. Women can’t do the work they’ve come to this campus to do because, instead, they are asked to serve on committees and groups to fix a problem they didn’t create. They’re asked to help remediate the continuing sexual harassment and discrimination on this campus — essentially, to stop an injustice perpetrated against them.

But what can we do? This ends up being the question: the real, unanswerable question that turns my attention away from my reading. First, we must create an atmosphere of empathy and solidarity. Certainly among women but also among feminist allies of all kinds. Second, we must have our voices actually heard. Putting women in positions of power is only step one. Then we must listen to what they have to say. Shrouding these issues in secrecy creates an environment in which victims feel uncomfortable coming forward, in which groups of graduate students are divided into camps based on their implied allegiances, in which the perpetrators of abuse and harassment are protected by a shield of silence.

We must demand that men make an effort to understand the situation and, based on that understanding, change their behavior. We must demand transparency so the next time someone is accused, all affected parties know right away — so that it is impossible to sweep an investigation under the bureaucratic rug.

These cases are only going to continue rising to the surface, but our reaction to them doesn’t have to remain static. We must band together, and, for sure, we must do the work we came here to do.

Marianela D’Aprile is a student at UC Berkeley.

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  • Yu-ping Vickie Wang

    Read below for excellent cases of mansplaining. Read above or below for raging comments about being accused of mansplaining.

    • lspanker

      I see nothing of the kind. You care to deal in specifics? Go ahead, otherwise nobody here is going to take you seriously.

      • Oski

        Dude, you spend your day trolling Daily Cal opinion pieces with patriarchal, belittling, close-minded commentary.. You don’t actually think anyone is taking YOU seriously, do you?

        Just checking…

        • lspanker

          Dude, you spend your day trolling Daily Cal opinion pieces with patriarchal, belittling, close-minded commentary..

          In other words, I wasn’t being Politically Correct. Thanks, I knew that already.

  • s randall

    It isn’t a gender specific issue. Males are much more likely to be guilty though.

    Go back to your studies. There have been a lot of issues that have come up in the 40 or so years that I have graduated from Berkeley. This one has all the signs of a problem that is getting fixed. When they can people high in the food chain, you know that they are serious about fixing it.

  • greymase

    I graduated in 1991. First, let me congratulate the author on a fine piece of opinion. Whether Carol Christ might want to act as an interim chief or not does not detract from the point made by Ms. D’Aprile. You do not need my validation, but I offer it nonetheless as support for a reasoned and controlled outrage. Second, I am sad to see that in the intervening 25 years, my alma mater has made so little progress. In much the same way that those who decry certain abuses are most often later found to be committing them in the shadows, Berkeley has worn its mantle of progressive thought as a shield to some fairly awful and thoughtless action, and inaction over the years. In my time there on housing staff, I was acquaintance raped by one of the female senior staff members; in an art class, a woman intentionally exposed her genitals at me (eye contact and smile to let me know it was purposeful, and as a self-avowed lesbian, it was not to show interest, but was, without question, to harass me) during a critique, and when reported to the professor, it garnered her only a mild warning (had the shoe been on the other foot, you can be sure more would have been done); my fiancee’s artwork was stolen and reconfigured by another student – again no consequence other than some victim blaming; and worst of all was a man in the fraternity I briefly pledged striking a woman who had shown interest in him he did not want across the face, knocking her unconscious – the reaction from my VERY temporary “brothers” (who also called the only black member, “Buckwheat” and “The Brother Brother” behind his back) was a total twisting of cultural inclusion: the aggressor was from Spain (where I had just lived for a year) and we had to understand that they treat women differently there (they don’t – for better or worse). Unfortunately, Cal is no better when it comes to quashing reports of misbehavior to avoid communal discomfort than any other University. It is time it live up to its precepts, and ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Has it occurred to you that maybe Carol Christ, at the age of 72 (and having served as EVC/P of Cal from 1994-2000) might not want the position for an indefinite period of time?

    The way it looks to me, she’s coming back from semi-retirement in order to help this campus through a transitional period. I’m fairly sure that if she wanted the job permanently, she could have it. You might want to look into the actual circumstances of events before beating your breast and moaning, “Oh, the patriarchy!”

  • lspanker

    It’s hard to take women seriously when they express outrage about “sexual harrassment”, given how fluid and inconsistent that definition is these days. When a Democratic president engages in sexual behavior with an intern, or rap musicians sing songs with misogynistic and demeaning lyrics, it’s all good and well, but if it’s a white male student, or someone working for a corporation or organization with deep pockets for a potential legal settlement, it’s not OK. How is that again?

    • Mark Talmont

      Last weekend C-Span featured a forum on this issue. One presenter Prof. Diane Rosenfeld of Harvard did go beyond the usual broad-brushed denunciations and cited some specifics, the most memorable being the apparently normal celebratory “rap” of the U. of Miami (Fla) footballers featuring lyrics celebrating assaults so violent that new orifices would have to be made into the victim’s flesh. I could not find this in the on-site text but those interested may wish to view the program here:

      Anyone familiar with this genre is not surprised by this; yet liberal politicians, including the top line right up to the Big O and the Empress-in-waiting herself, have constantly sucked up to this thuggery, using them for fundraisers, some of the “artists” being invited into the White House. This kind of invective has been endemic to the youth culture for decades. Is somebody surprised some of them act on it?

      Meanwhile there is a real problem with some of the institutional behavior, as some of the overdone reactionary aspects are documented here:

      You have to read that case to believe it.

      Now while all the campuses are busy putting all the staff and faculty through re-trainings, what does freshman orientation look like? Would they ever warn the girls about drinking generic punch served to them in an open cup where they don’t know where it came from? Like one of the U Va girls said, “don’t drink the jungle juice”. Are we going to have to have government subsidized lifetime nannies for everybody? Or maybe that’s the idea.