In an email sent out to students Monday, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block announced an update to the systemwide policy that governs the UC’s response to incidents and allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment.
The email highlighted a small but critical shift in the responsibility of campus employees within the University’s investigatory process that prioritizes the institution’s reputation at the expense of sexual assault and harassment survivors.
According to the email, “the policy designates employees as ‘responsible employees’ required to report information concerning sexual harassment and sexual violence to the Title IX coordinator.”
Administrators, faculty and employees in supervisory positions are now required to report any information they are given about anyone at all affiliated with UCLA. All other employees, including student workers, are responsible for reporting any information indicating a UCLA student may have experienced sexual violence or harassment.
Faculty at other campuses who have been required to report incidents of sexual assault have pushed back against similar policies, charging that mandatory reporting could silence students who fear an automatic report and a subsequent lengthy and intensive investigation.
The UC not only ignored these complaints, but widened the net of mandatory reporters past faculty, leaving even fewer safe avenues for survivors to be able to discuss their experiences confidentially.
Trusted faculty members, resident advisers and even friends who happen to work on campus are now all responsible to report any and all incidents of sexual assault and harassment they hear about during their work duties.
The policy effectively negates the ability of faculty, supervisors and fellow students to act as confidantes, instead putting the impetus on them to report and possibly initiate an investigation, regardless of how the survivor wants to go about the matter.
The move is certainly an effort on the University’s part to save its reputation, but it in fact does nothing to address the weaknesses in its current investigatory process. Title IX offices across the UC don’t suffer for want of cases, but for inefficient and ineffective investigations.
Prior experience has shown time and time again this process is not only flawed, but often used to stymie the complaints of the individual and protect the interests of the institution.
The federal case against UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg is a recent example of this. According to the legal complaint filed by two students, former UCLA Title IX officer Pamela Thomason failed to inform the students of their rights under Title IX and discouraged the filing of formal complaints. The UC denied the claims, but punished the professor with a slap on the wrist that included a fine of roughly 2 percent of his annual salary.
In the fall, Piterberg returned to UCLA’s history faculty and Thomason moved from UCLA to serve as the systemwide Title IX compliance officer for the California State University.
Regardless of the veracity of the complaints, the volume and nature of the allegations taken in conjunction with the University’s guarded response to them paints a picture of a system that is opaque, frustrating and inherently damaging to survivors’ education, career and mental health.
Sexual misconduct ultimately involves taking agency away from another person, leaving them without control or choice over their own body. Ending these incidents on campus must not involve further theft of survivors’ agency by removing the choice they have in how to pursue and discuss their case in a way that is best for themselves.