Sexual assault conference should have been more accessible

CAMPUS ISSUES: Two-day event was almost entirely closed to media; just 100 seats reserved for students

UC Berkeley’s first-ever National Conference on Campus Sexual Assault and Violence, held this week at the DoubleTree Hotel, should have been more accessible to both students and the media.

The two-day conference excluded members of the media, including staff of The Daily Californian, from attending the event, with the exception of Anita Hill’s closing keynote speech. More importantly, the conference was a 40-minute bus ride from campus and offered only 100 seats to students, half of which were reserved for UC Berkeley students.

We understand the reasoning behind closing the conference off to reporters; sexual assault survivors and advocates should have a space where they can freely exchange ideas without moderating what they say for a larger audience. Through limited seating capacity, the campus made it clear that its targeted audience was not students but administrators and policymakers.

But when attendees write on social media platforms that a panelist compared sexual assault survivors to those who provoked the lynchings of blacks in the South, the media should be present to report on and contextualize the situation. After many survivors posted the alleged remarks on Facebook and reporters asked campus officials to confirm what was stated, a spokesperson said she had no comment on the matter.

The media is thus placed in a precarious situation when it cannot confirm or contextualize what was really said. Reporters can only source the remarks secondhand and must say the allegations were not fully substantiated by the campus.

Apart from reporting problematic statements, the media is also responsible for serving as a record and providing information to the general public. When so few students are able to attend, it is the job of the press to write accounts for those curious about what happened. A functioning media holds those in power accountable to their actions and fosters discussion among the general public.

Administrators and students who planned the conference should have taken a more nuanced approach to determining which forums and panels they wanted to be open to the media. Certainly, if there’s a roundtable discussion of personal trauma and if those participants are uncomfortable sharing their stories with a wider public, then the discussion could have been off the record or closed to reporters.

Holding the conference relatively far from campus on two weekdays and charging students to attend created another level of inaccessibility, on top of the fact that only 50 spots were reserved for UC Berkeley students.

Student activists who have led the movement against sexual assault said the campus did not fully involve them in planning the conference. These students, who have a history of distrusting administrators, should not have been disregarded in designing the event.

Conference planners should have taken advantage of the many inexpensive facilities on campus and opened the events to a larger audience. And for those unable to attend, the media should have been invited to disseminate information on an issue that is critical for our campus community.

Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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