If you missed the Valentine’s Week performance of The Vagina Monologues here on campus, I strongly recommend that you and a loved one watch “The Hunting Ground,” available on Amazon and Netflix. These shows remind us how crucially important it is to change the campus culture that has protected perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment.
There’s a triumphant scene toward the end of “The Hunting Ground” that was shot in the library in North Gate Hall at the Graduate School of Journalism, affectionately known as the J-School. I’ve worked at the J-School for 10 years as director of admissions and student affairs, and now as director of career planning. In the scene in our library, UC Berkeley students, all survivors of sexual violence on campus, testify about their experiences. They also explain how the response by campus officials made their experiences worse.
I know exactly what they are talking about. In 2012, I reported to UC Berkeley’s Title IX Office, now called the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, or OPHD. What followed was a year-long nightmare, culminating in backlash that almost cost me my job. I put together a 3-inch stack of documentation and hired the best lawyer I could find. When my lawyer said I should brace myself for a drawn-out legal battle against the unlimited legal resources of UC Berkeley, I dropped my case.
At that point, I was already emotionally and physically exhausted from months of OPHD-enforced isolation and multiple hours of testimonies. The worst part for me was that OPHD forbade me to talk with anyone. A faculty member found me crying in my office one day, and asked what was wrong. When I confided in her, both of us received written and verbal warnings from OPHD, forbidding us from any further communication.
Don’t be fooled like I was: OPHD works to protect UC Berkeley’s reputation, not its victims. Its mission seems to be fulfilled when it silences victims.
Now the J-School is facing its own long-overdue #MeToo and #Time’sUp moment. Recently, several of our J-School alumni posted their experiences of harassment and discrimination on Facebook. The campus and the J-School leadership’s response: We need to turn everything over to OPHD.
In a meeting Jan. 10, we were reminded that all staff and faculty are required to report incidences of sexual harassment and violence to OPHD. I spoke up. I said I’d never want anyone to go through what I went through with OPHD. A few people at the meeting responded by saying I could be sued for not reporting to OPHD. Someone then pointed out that we could avoid reporting to OPHD if we warned the victim not to say the perpetrator’s name. Subsequently, every staff and faculty member received a flyer showing the steps to report sexual harassment and violence. The arrows on this flyer point to OPHD as the place to report.
There is hope: PATH to Care, started in 2015, is a confidential service for victims of gendered violence on campus. It follows the spirit of the sexual violence and prevention guidelines set up by the outgoing Obama administration — recently withdrawn by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Despite the Trump government rollback of protection for victims, the Obama guidelines can still inform policy for university campuses.
On Valentine’s Day, the J-School offered sexual violence and harassment training for faculty and staff. Though several were absent, this marked the first time our faculty has had sexual harassment training. (Our faculty are almost all men, and all but two are four decades older than our students.)
I’m also heartened by the response of the students at the J-School, particularly the leaders who have founded a new Berkeley chapter of Women in Media. They give me the strength that I wish I had in 2012.
Pam Gleason is the director of career planning at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.