Students demonstrate in opposition to UC Berkeley’s handling of national conference on campus sexual violence

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The ASUC Sexual Assault Commission led a silent display Tuesday in opposition to certain aspects of a national conference on campus sexual assault and violence hosted by UC Berkeley.

Starting Tuesday and continuing Wednesday at the Berkeley DoubleTree Hotel, the conference included higher education researchers, students and experts who discussed the effectiveness of various policies in dealing with sexual assault cases on campus. Some student advocates, though, have criticized the event for lacking sufficient student involvement and being inaccessible.

During a panel discussion at the conference on ensuring a fair process for sexual misconduct investigations, students with duct tape over their mouths surrounded the perimeter of the room, holding signs of survivor testimonies that pointed to the insensitive treatment they had received throughout the handling of their sexual assault cases.

According to UC Berkeley junior Meghan Warner, the commission’s director and co-chair of Greeks Against Sexual Assault, some students in the ASUC were involved in the planning of the conference, but these students were neither involved in the sexual assault commission nor were they publicly identified survivors of assault. She also said that the distance to the DoubleTree hotel, located about 4 miles from campus, and the fact that many students are studying for midterms made much of the conference inaccessible to students.

“There are aspects of the conference that are really positive, such as the workshop by Jaclyn Friedman. There have been aspects that have been really horrible,” Warner said. “It clearly wasn’t focused on survivors.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said, however, that students were involved in the planning of the conference and that 100 seats were set aside for students. Half of these seats were reserved for UC Berkeley students specifically, who were given discounted tickets at a $20 rate.

Currently, campus policies for preventing sexual assault include the Bear Pact orientation program for all incoming students and Haven, an online learning program about sexual violence, according to the campus’s sexual assault prevention and response website. Students who do not complete these requirements are subject to registration blocks the following semester.

Members of the ASUC Sexual Assault Commission solidified their plans for Tuesday’s demonstration approximately two weeks ago, according to Warner.

A similar display is planned for Wednesday evening during a closing keynote speech by Anita Hill, an attorney who testified in 1991 that she was sexually harassed by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Warner said the display, which will be put on the steps of Wheeler Hall, will feature survivors’ testimony about interactions with administration, other officials and friends.

The campus is currently under investigation for its handling of sexual assault and harassment cases, following a complaint filed by 31 current and former UC Berkeley students who alleged that the campus violated Title IX, a federal law that prevents sex-based discrimination in education programs.

“For (the campus) to act as a role model in this conference is insulting,” said UC Berkeley senior Sofie Karasek, who has spearheaded multiple complaints against the campus and is a member of the ASUC Sexual Assault Commission.

With the exception of the closing keynote address, the conference is not open to the media. Wednesday’s events include panels on rape culture on campuses, the emerging prevalence of student activists and a video message from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Contact Ivana Saric at [email protected].