UC Regents hear from task force on improving sexual assault policies

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
UCLA senior Savannah Badalich and UC Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Audit Officer Sheryl Vacca answer questions from regents

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SAN FRANCISCO — A UC task force on fighting and preventing sexual violence presented seven recommendations to the UC Board of Regents on Wednesday that would streamline efforts to educate and respond to sexual assault across UC campuses.

The task force’s presentation marks the beginning of discussing how to best implement a systemwide model built on the report’s recommendations. In June, UC President Janet Napolitano convened the task force to look at ways to improve existing campus programs devoted to sexual violence prevention and response.

The recommendations come in the wake of increased scrutiny of sexual assault policies at universities and campuses, including UC Berkeley. In June, a state audit report showed that some UC Berkeley faculty and staff are not properly trained to respond to and report incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Among the seven recommendations, the task force suggested creating a consistent “response-team” model at all campuses by January, adopting systemwide investigation and adjudication standards by next July and developing a comprehensive training and education plan, including awareness programs, over the course of the year.

infobox_Emily-RobinsonThe task force also recommended establishing an independent, confidential advocacy office that offers resources for survivors.

Many of the task force’s recommendations aim to resolve inconsistencies among campus policies. All UC campuses currently have systems in place to address sexual violence.

“Improving the university’s current processes will make a difference in effecting cultural change in sexual violence and assault prevention,” said UC Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Audit Officer Sheryl Vacca, who leads the task force.

UC Regent Norman Pattiz asked whether the task force considered ways to approach creating a culture of prevention, such as reaching out to mass media.

“We live in a culture of glorification where a lot of the things we are talking about are societal in nature,” Pattiz said. “We see it on the TV, hear it in the music; it’s everywhere. It’s pervasive.”

In response to Pattiz, Savannah Badalich, a UCLA senior and sexual assault survivor involved in the task force, said universities often serve as models for the communities around them. She mentioned how the idea of affirmative consent initially sprouted from college campuses and is the focus of a state Senate bill, Senate Bill 967, which awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

During the meeting, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks shared specific policies that UC Berkeley plans to enact in light of recent UC efforts to address sexual violence.

According to Dirks, the campus intends to levy blocks for students who do not complete mandatory sexual assault education programs, such as ones scheduled in the beginning of the school term or orientation. He said about 500 students did not participate.

Meghan Warner, a UC Berkeley junior and sexual assault survivor, spoke during public comment and urged the university to respond to the task force’s recommendations with significant funding increases to all campuses.

“Without real funding increases, recommendations are publicity stunts that will not make a difference in student safety,” Warner said.

In her statement to the regents, Napolitano said she would commit to making sure that these recommendations are funded appropriately.

Contact Bo Kovitz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.