‘We feel harassed’: UC Student-Workers Union launches #ViolenceFreeUC campaign at UC Board of Regents meeting

Sophia Armen/Courtesy

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Updated 5/25/2018: This article has been updated to reflect a statement from UC Office of the President spokesperson Stephanie Beechem.

The UC Student-Workers Union, or United Auto Workers Local 2865, launched its #ViolenceFreeUC campaign at the UC Board of Regents meeting Wednesday, aiming to pressure university officials into strengthening sexual violence survivor protections.

Members of UAW Local 2865 and members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, or AFSCME Local 3299, spoke at the regents meeting’s public comment Wednesday morning. UAW Local 2865 touched on a range of topics in public comment, from difficulties faced by graduate students of color to the protection of sexual violence survivors on UC campuses.  

“We feel harassed, we are in spaces of violence, we are in spaces of discrimination,” said UC San Diego graduate student and UAW Local 2865 member Sophia Armen during public comment. “We want to make it very, very clear: all eyes are on you. We need a campus free from sexual violence, sexual assault.”

UAW Local 2865 has been bargaining for a new contract since February because the union contract is set to expire in June of this year. The union launched a petition on Twitter on May 16 with seven proposed changes to the Title IX process. The petition has been included in UAW Local 2865’s contract bargaining asks, according to Armen.

Additionally, the petition demands that measures be implemented allowing student workers who have complained of sexual harassment to work in an environment free from hostility and discrimination.

“We are demanding accountability, we are demanding structures of consequences on campus and most importantly, we are demanding a culture free of oppressive systems like gender-based and sexuality-based violences,” Armen said.

The UC is committed to updating the contract with “provisions that align with the university’s systemwide sexual violence and sexual harassment policy,” according to UCOP spokesperson Stephanie Beechem.

“The University of California is firmly committed to protecting its community members from sexual violence and sexual harassment, ensuring fair adjudication and investigation procedures, and further fostering a culture of safety and respect on all its campuses,” Beechem said in an email.

Beechem also noted that the policy was created with help from students who were on the UC President’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault and that the university recently convened an all-student advisory board to help decide how to address sexual violence and sexual harassment. The UC will continue finding ways to incorporate input from students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders, according to Beechem.

The petition lists seven demands, such as providing updates to complainants during a case of disciplinary review and establishing “consistent disciplinary outcomes for perpetrators.”

Specifically, the petition highlights the struggles that graduate students face in terms of sexual assault, noting that graduate students experience harassment from personal advisors upon whom they rely for career advancement. According to the petition, UC administration has been unwilling to negotiate over inadequate Title IX policies.

“The UC kind of says things and doesn’t follow through … for actually protecting survivors,” said Juliet Kunkel, a UC Berkeley graduate student studying education. “They tend to bury things in bureaucracy.”

Armen said the #ViolenceFreeUC campaign was the UC’s #MeToo movement and builds on several years’ worth of work undoing rape culture and looking for survivor justice.

Beezer de Martelly, a UC Berkeley graduate student studying music, said initiatives like the My Voice survey are not helpful in assisting survivors of sexual assault. De Martelly added that task forces and “nice emails” were not enough action on the part of the administration.

“I think that the UC knows that we’re done on some level, and they use things like (surveys) to try and defuse real activism,” Kunkel said. “(We’re) kind of putting our foot down and saying it’s time that we protect ourselves and protect the people we care about.”

Contact Sakura Cannestra and Revati Thatte at [email protected].