Campus alumna starts nonprofit to support assault survivors prompted by experiences

Natalie Cleaver/Courtesy

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Content warning: Sexual violence and sexual harassment

Inspired by her own personal experiences, UC Berkeley alumna Natalie Cleaver launched a nonprofit, BerkeleyToo, aimed at reforming the process for campus community members to report sexual harassment.

According to Cleaver, despite changes that have been made to resources for sexual violence and sexual harassment survivors, she still believes the reporting process is hostile to victims. Cleaver said she hopes BerkeleyToo can connect victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment as well as pressure campus administration to change the investigation process.

“It is so important that students have a place to communicate anonymously,” Cleaver said. “You can’t stop people from being bad, but you can control behavior, and that is what institutions (such as UC Berkeley) are for.”

As a graduate student, Cleaver encountered unwelcome sexual solicitation from a faculty member. Documents from the investigation indicate that the faculty member was found with a preponderance of evidence to have been “responsible for a violation of the 2008 policy.”

Cleaver added that it took eight years before she decided to file a report. Encouraged by the #MeToo movement, Cleaver came forward to the campus Title IX office.

By the end of the investigation, which lasted more than a year, Cleaver said she felt that the Title IX violation reporting process was more harmful than the harassment that caused it. Through BerkeleyToo, Cleaver hopes to shed light on how the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, or OPHD, handles reports of harassment by faculty members.

“The stated goal is to stop sexual harassment by faculty at Berkeley, period,” Cleaver said.

Several other OPHD cases have come to light in recent years. In August 2018, campus architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad was suspended for three years and chose to retire after he was found to have harassed a graduate student. In February, professor Alan Tansman was suspended after he was found to have violated the sexual violence and sexual harassment policy. 

Despite BerkeleyToo’s main target being cases of sexual violence and sexual harassment perpetrated by faculty, Cleaver added that she wants to use the nonprofit as a base for victims to organize and communicate.

She also acknowledged that focusing on faculty sexual harassment is only one iteration of an overarching problem. Cleaver plans to use the nonprofit to further examine the flaws she perceived during her experience with OPHD’s investigative process.

“Many people have raised the issue of in-person cross-examinations being potentially traumatic for complainants, requiring survivors to perform and explain the harm they have experienced under the gaze of their alleged perpetrator,” said Corinne Biencourt, chair of the ASUC Sexual Violence Commission, in an email. “I would like to see a more trauma-informed policy that centers the ongoing wellbeing of survivors.”

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.