You never think it’s going to happen to you; I certainly didn’t think it could happen to me. I mean, I was a feminist. I had participated in my high school’s production of V-Day, led a Take Back the Night march and rally through my downtown and devoted countless lunch periods to my high school’s “Gender Equality Now!” club. I knew what consent was. I knew what sexual assault was. I knew why reporting it was so important to stopping assaults from continuing, and I knew talking was supposed to help.
But it took me months to process what happened to me. I realized that despite all my readings and discussions and activism, I had been sexually assaulted and hadn’t really realized it. I still bombard myself with questions, asking if I’m wrong. And while I believe the stories of all other survivors I’ve met, I can’t even come to terms with my own.
The closest I ever came to reporting was the summer after it happened. I had been getting text messages from my assailant — who “just wanted to talk” and wanted me to get over it — for much of the spring semester and into that summer. One day, I was sitting on campus, working with other queer students to prepare for the first weeks of school when I got another text. I absolutely lost it and decided enough was enough. I had to tell somebody. The staff person I talked to listed options to me, but all of them involved facing my assailant. None of them sounded like I stood any chance of winning, but they all sounded costly, both financially and emotionally. I broke down crying — not because of my assailant, but because of the system.
In my sophomore year, activism for these issues started picking up. I co-founded the 6000 in Solidarity Campaign and helped create literature thousands of students would see. We educated students about how the university was letting our students down. When I was emotionally stable enough, I would tell students how the university had let me down personally. Last year’s ASUC Senate passed SB 130 with a few senators dissenting, creating a vote of no confidence in the university’s policy regarding sexual assault.
Since last year, the dialogue has certainly shifted. We’re talking about it more. Administrators know what’s wrong. The state legislature is doing an audit of our university as well as many others. But the policies themselves? They haven’t changed much. Students I’ve talked to still don’t feel comfortable reporting, and students are still being assaulted by their classmates, instructors and friends. Nothing has changed for survivors who still have to see their assailant in their classes, on Sproul Plaza or in a cafe.
I introduced SB 11 early in February but tabled it to make its language stronger and to time the passage of the bill to be in sync with the 31 survivors, including myself and other authors of the bill, filing a joint Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights as well as a complaint under the federal Clery Act. I am extremely proud to say the whole bill passed without any amendments or concessions, and I am glad to say our clause containing a vote of no confidence in UC Berkeley disciplinary procedures remained intact. SB 11 passed unanimously, thanks to the bravery of survivors who gave public comment and the commitment and compassion of my senate class.
The new policy from the UC Office of the President is a step in the right direction.
Most of the changes in the new universitywide policy look great on paper, but when it comes down to implementation on campus, I’m not sure. They’ve expanded the definition of consent and acknowledged that discrimination based on gender identity is also protected under Title IX, but survivors still can’t ensure a formal investigation if the Title IX coordinators choose to “address” the situation informally, or appeal the decision if they do.
At UC Berkeley, small changes are being made, too. The university hired a new Title IX coordinator, but they hired him without student input. In an email in late February, Chancellor Dirks said measures were being taken to hire a confidential survivor advocate, hire a survivor resource officer in UCPD, hire an additional Title IX investigator and create a one-stop resource website. These would all be great steps, but we still need to address preventative steps to decrease sexual assault in the first place and develop policies to expel perpetrators of sexual assault.
SB 11 itself does not change policy. What the bill does is tell survivors that we, their student representatives, stand in solidarity with them. The bill tells our administration and the UC Office of the President that we are still watching. They cannot simply wait for those of us on the frontlines to graduate — we’re raising new leaders and spreading the word like wildfire so that this work does not die with us. This bill is enshrined as a public record so that future students can look back at our work and hold the university to the promises it is making us.
An email isn’t enough. I am by no means saying Chancellor Dirks won’t live up to his word. I truly hope all of those positions are created and filled, and I long to see this resource website. With a new chancellor, a new executive vice chancellor and provost and a new interim dean of students, I hope we can usher in a new era of sexual assault prevention and creation of resources for survivors — I really do. I now sit on the complaint response subcommittee of the Title IX Compliance Advisory committee, and I see good intent in those who came to the table. But one email and a few meetings per semester are not enough to instill confidence in those of us who have been let down by our beloved UC Berkeley.
Caitlin Quin is an ASUC Senator and the co-author of the SB 11 bill.