Congresswomen meet with Dirks, student sexual assault survivors on campus

Nathaniel Solley/File
UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek, speaking, and other student survivors of sexual assault met with Rep. Barbara Lee, far left, and Rep. Jackie Speier, far right, to discuss campus sexual assault policies with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

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Two U.S. congresswomen visited UC Berkeley on Tuesday to meet with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and a group of student survivors of sexual assault who have been advocating improved sexual harassment and violence policies on campus.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, are currently working to introduce federal legislation to combat cases of sexual assault on college campuses. At a press conference following their meeting with the chancellor, Speier said Dirks was committed to working with her, Lee and students to “change the culture” at UC Berkeley regarding sexual assault.

“In conversing with Chancellor Dirks, we believe that UC Berkeley can be that force of change,” Speier said at the press conference.

Speier plans to introduce the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency on Campus Sexual Assault Act — federal legislation that, among other stipulations, would require colleges to implement more requirements for sexual assault prevention education. Lee will be a co-sponsor of the bill, which is in the final stages of being drafted, Speier said.

Lee, whose district includes Berkeley, lauded the bill for its potential to increase administrative accountability in the handling of sexual assault cases.

“This is a moment we, unfortunately, have to be proud of,” Lee said about the bill. “It is because of this legislation … that we’ll see sexual assault no more.”

Claire Holmes, the associate vice chancellor for communication and public affairs, declined to comment on the legislation because it is still pending. She noted, however, that the campus supports anything that bolsters its current policies.

“We’ll work with the students and work on prevention and education and continue to evolve as we learn what people really want and need from us,” Holmes said.

In addition to sexual assault prevention measures, the bill would also require colleges to administer a climate survey in hopes of holding schools accountable in the sexual assault reporting process.

The University of California announced the results of its own systemwide climate survey in March, which found that 4 percent of campus respondents said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact while at UC Berkeley within the last five years.

The group of student survivors enumerated its qualms with the campus’s current implementation of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. Sofie Karasek, a UC Berkeley junior who has spearheaded the movement on campus against sexual assault, alleges that administrators have failed to address student concerns about these issues.

“Many students do not feel safe here, and this must change,” Karasek said. “We need to enforce Title IX.”

Thirty-one current and former UC Berkeley students filed two federal complaints against the campus with the U.S. Department of Education in February. At the state level, California’s auditor is expected to release results in June from its investigation into how UC Berkeley and three other public universities handle cases of sexual assault.

Dirks also announced in February that the campus is providing additional resources for survivors of sexual assault, including the creation of a confidential survivor advocate position to help students navigate the reporting process.

The call for increased resources and support at UC Berkeley parallels a nationwide movement to prevent incidents of sexual assault on college campuses. Speier has sent a request to U.S. News and World Report to create one comprehensive ranking of the degree of sexual violence that exists on college campuses.

“It’s chilling that there is this level of indifference at universities,” Speier said. “I believe this university must step forward and be a model for rest of the country on how we’ll proceed.”

Contact Zoe Kleinfeld at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @zoekleinfeld.