Sexual harassment and assault, and more generally rape culture, is an acute problem on campuses across the country. Most recently, a public outcry over a series of mishandled cases at UC Berkeley resulted in the removal of faculty members from campus.
However, this is the exception rather than the rule. We at Bruins Against Sexual Harassment were alarmed by the recently uncovered cases of sexual harassment and assault perpetuated by UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg and the university’s mishandling of them, as reported at length in the Los Angeles Times and in the Daily Bruin. These cases remained secret until the survivors filed a civil lawsuit against the university. UCLA and Piterberg reached a legal settlement behind closed doors – uncovered only after protests from faculty and students – in which UCLA suspended Piterberg for a quarter without pay and fined him $3,000, but allowed him to continue teaching.
In general, university policies and responses to individual cases treat them as isolated events rather than inherent to institutional structures, and do little to promote deterrence and compliance with the often vague rules currently in place at UCLA.
These cases demonstrate the need for more transparent and democratic structures for policy creation and decision-making in specific cases. Since sexual crimes are about power and not sex, the best way to combat them is to create more democratic and transparent administrative procedures that would be rooted in the campus community. Graduate and undergraduate students formed BASH to tackle this task. We seek to curtail the culture of silence around this issue and to promote a safe and empowering work and study environment for all members of the campus community – students, staff and faculty. Currently, BASH is building a coalition of campus organizations committed to increasing transparency and democratic systems around sexual harassment and assault.
The BASH platform calls for three things. First, it calls for the immediate removal of all proven serial sexual offenders from campus, as the safety of all members of the campus community should be the highest priority. Second, it calls for clarification and specification of the Title IX policies governing the handling of sexual harassment and assault on campus, by a democratic body made up of members representing all constituent parts of our campus community. Many stakeholders agree that the current policy, although an improvement in comparison to the old one, remains too vague. All the constituent parts of the campus community must have a say in this process. Third, it calls for the formation of a democratic community oversight board on matters of sexual harassment and assault made up of faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduate students. This would ensure transparency and upholding of the interests of the campus community as a whole.
We do not claim that these three points will solve the problem of sexual harassment and assault, but we do believe that these are crucial issues for each and every one of us as the people who live, work and study on campus. Our demands are necessary steps towards ensuring that any future cases are handled in a transparent and democratic fashion that would put our interests as a community first.
In order to increase awareness of our platform and mission and continue our coalition-building efforts, we are organizing a community action event Tuesday at Janss Steps at 4:30 p.m.