April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and sexual violence and sexual harassment both are pervasive problems on university campuses nationwide. It’s an unfortunate reality that in the United States, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and 21 percent of transgender/nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted. Sexual violence and harassment have no place at UC Berkeley, where our most important values include treating one another with respect, support, honesty and integrity.
In this spirit, we want to underscore that our campus remains firmly committed to ensuring our practices and policies live up to our principles. It is also important that all students understand their rights and the campus investigation and adjudication process.
As survivors consider their reporting options, we recommend any survivor first contact our campus confidential resource. The PATH to Care Center is a good starting point for survivors to receive confidential support after any experiences of sexual harassment, emotional abuse, dating and intimate partner violence, sexual assault, stalking and sexual exploitation. Advocates can help those who have experienced harassment or violence explore all of their options, rights and resources in a confidential and nonjudgmental environment.
In January 2016, the University of California Office of the President’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault issued new standards for adjudicating reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment, as well as disciplinary sanctions. All UC campuses — including UC Berkeley — adopted these new systemwide standards for investigating and resolving reports.
What does this mean for students at UC Berkeley?
Now and moving forward, all staff involved in investigation and adjudication must have trauma-informed training. This includes understanding the short- and long-term effects of crisis and trauma, while taking into account the fact that an experience of violence can, and often is, a traumatic incident that may impact participation in an investigation.
The processes themselves have also been updated. For example, the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, or OPHD, and the Center for Student Conduct, or CSC, jointly send written notice of the allegations to all parties. CSC determines whether policies have been violated, and if it finds that disciplinary sanctions are appropriate, the sanctions will be determined in accordance with guidelines set forth by UCOP.
Additionally, hearings — which only occur if a student appeals CSC’s decision — are conducted by an appeal officer instead of a panel. Further, following the first appeal, students have an opportunity to appeal to the chancellor’s designee. The vice chancellor for student affairs serves as the primary designee with the addition of the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion serving as a secondary designee.
There are clear guidelines for disciplinary sanctions for those found responsible for violating the sexual violence and sexual harassment policy, and they are consistent across the UC system. Disciplinary sanctions for incidents involving force, deliberate incapacitation or recording sexual images without consent will result in a suspension for at least two years, up to dismissal from the entire UC system. This also applies to sexual assault involving penetration, domestic/dating violence or stalking. Disciplinary sanctions for other sexual contact in violation of policy will result in a suspension for at least one year.
For students who have been charged with violating the Code of Student Conduct and face suspension or dismissal, student affairs case managers will provide resources, information and referrals.
We want harm and violence to end so that we can create the kind of environment and community we all really want and deserve. The broader commitment to implement these new standards across all UC campuses is part of a systemwide effort to reverse the dire statistics on sexual assault and violence. It’s also critical to our work to create a Berkeley campus where it is crystal clear that sexual misconduct is not tolerated and where students, faculty and staff can all work and learn in an environment free from harassment, discrimination and violence.
Mari Knuth-Bouracee is the director of sexual assault prevention and student advocacy of the PATH to Care Center. Hallie Hunt is the assistant dean of students and director of the Center for Student Conduct. Denise W. Oldham is the director and Title IX officer of the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.