For a university that’s no stranger to boasting top-ranking statistics, UCLA seems to shy away from one number in particular: rising sexual assault rates.
UCPD released a report last week that reflected a nearly 40% rise in reported instances of sexual assault on campus in 2018. It’s a staggering rise, especially considering these figures don’t account for unreported cases.
And contextualized by a 38% reported increase between 2016 and 2017, it’s safe to say that the UCLA community feels anything but safe.
The uptick in sexual assault in the past years isn’t new, and neither is UCLA’s reluctance to address it. But with a slew of sexual assault scandals dragging at UCLA’s heels, the university is seemingly poised to crack down on these numbers – but it instead seems intent on dragging its feet. At their core, these skyrocketing reports derive at least in part from the university’s handling of sexual assault and harassment cases.
That is to say, UCLA hasn’t been handling them well.
Just last winter, the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi put itself on probation for the quarter after it was investigated by the Interfraternity Council and the UCLA Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life for a sexual assault case. But only ten weeks later, it decided the party drought had gone on long enough – subsequently lifting its own probation.
Maria Blandizzi, the dean of students, said the university responded effectively to the Phi Kappa Psi case, but she could not offer specifics about sanctions against the fraternity.
“We continue to actively engage in education related to understanding consent,” Blandizzi said. “And we attempt to do that specifically with the community of students that affiliate with fraternities and sororities, because we acknowledge that the social environment might prompt challenging situations between individuals.”
And while more education is always a safe bet, it does make you wonder why the dean of students can’t remember what UCLA did in such a high-profile case – despite the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life reporting directly to her office.
But maybe that’s because the university didn’t do much of anything.
Aside from the glaring concerns of self-inflicted probations, the university’s lackluster response only served to further a pattern of nonchalance regarding sexual assault. In fact, it seems content allowing the IFC to handle issues almost completely internally.
And while it is easy to write Phi Kappa Psi’s case off as an isolated case, the truth is more sinister – and more systemic.
Ty Pearson, a fourth-year anthropology student who campaigned for Undergraduate Students Association Council Student Wellness commissioner partially on a platform of supporting crisis management for students involved in Greek life, said he thinks the university is complicit in a culture of negligence.
“No one should be immune from the repercussions of committing a crime,” said Pearson. “It’s a lot of student labor and student initiative that is tasked with making the voices of victims or survivors more prominent – it’s never been the university.”
From the 2018 Zeta Beta Tau lawsuit to the viral image of an assailant swirling the internet, sexual assault is pervasive within Greek life. What’s even more pervasive is UCLA’s unwillingness to make substantial change.
After all, fraternities rake in the cash.
Largely due to high organizational fees and a strong focus on identity, studies point toward college fraternity affiliation in determining alumni donations. Because of these factors, fraternity alumni tend to be disproportionately loyal to their alma maters, and have used their padded pockets to prove it. And as public schools are in a constant battle for state funding, upsetting substantial donors is a risk UCLA – like many other universities – clearly isn’t willing to take.
UCLA approaches sexual assault as a purely legal problem, leaving its students and organizations to deal with difficult conversations in the aftermath.
Then again, the university must have the process down like clockwork considering its track record. A donor’s alleged inappropriate treatment of student-athletes. A UCLA obstetrician-gynecologist accused of multiple sexual assaults spanning years. A professor charged with possession of child pornography.
Clearly, the university’s reputation is stained in more ways than one. But what’s missing from all of these cases is the explanation UCLA owes the public – and the conversations that should inevitably follow.
“I just feel like we need to just talk about this issue,” said Jasmine Hanna, a fourth-year sociology student and UCLA Campus Assault Resources & Education peer educator. “The only way we’re going to be able to eradicate sexual- and gender-based violence is by talking about it and by actively wanting to learn about how to prevent violence from happening in the first place.”
And though organizations like CARE can help initiate that conversation, the UCLA administration has a duty to consistently acknowledge and condemn the violence perpetrated within its walls. The way in which UCLA approaches sexual assault has the potential to shift the campus atmosphere and conversation – even if it means finally establishing precedent through harsher consequences and more open conversations.
In doing so, these cases might begin to heal, as opposed to scarring over.
Granted, this data is only that – raw data. As such, it has limitations, and its origins require further context. One such potential context is an increase in reporting, as opposed to an increase in assaults. But considering the recent Title IX amendments, which arguably disincentivize students to go through the reporting process, it becomes increasingly clear that this problem lies beyond the issue of reporting.
Instead, it lies in the hands of a university stuck between sexual assault scandals, a morally ambiguous attachment to donations and an unfulfilled responsibility to its students.
And if the university lacks the self-awareness to realize that, who knows what it will take to give it a wake-up call.