Saturday, May 30

Panel discusses how UCLA can prevent sexual assault, support survivors

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion held a CrossCheck Live event as part of the university’s sexual harassment awareness week. Panel members discussed institutional blind spots in providing support services for sexual harassment and assault victims. (Liz Ketcham/Daily Bruin)

University officials and legal experts said institutions must increase support for victims of sexual harassment and hold harassers accountable at an event Tuesday.

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion held a CrossCheck Live event as part of the university’s inaugural sexual violence and sexual harassment awareness week. Jerry Kang, vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion, moderated a panel of attorneys, representatives and faculty members who discussed institutional blind spots and failures of support services for sexual harassment and assault victims.

CrossCheck Live is a series of moderated discussion panels held by the EDI office that aim to address issues such as race, diversity and police brutality.

Several panelists discussed ways to combat sexual harassment in higher education.

Anna Park, regional attorney for the Los Angeles District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said University of California employees are protected by Title VII, which makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants based on their sex. She added students are protected by Title IX, which governs sexual harassment and gender discrimination in federally funded educational systems.

Park added she thinks universities need to be proactive about preventing sexual harassment.

“Everyone must take responsibility. Training has to happen and you must voice yourself,” she said. “Faculty must understand what is appropriate, and people should come forward and discuss this important topic.”

Kathleen Salvaty, the UC systemwide Title IX coordinator, said colleges can lose federal funding if they violate Title IX policies. She added she thinks the University needs to work closely with employees and students to address sexual harassment issues.

“Seeing the student-driven movement giving rise to changes by the UC (Office of the President) in the formation of UC policies to define and prohibit sexual harassment is a start,” she said.

Salvaty added it is challenging for the systemwide Title IX office to act on cases of sexual harassment that go unreported, which may include cases of male students who do not report stalking, or Muslim students who do not come forward on cases involving alcohol.

Chandra Bhatnagar, the director of UCLA staff diversity and affirmative action/EEO compliance, said he thinks there need to be more ways for individuals to report harassment, such as through mentors, psychological offices and legal services. He added his office works with the UCLA Title IX Office to investigate and take action against employees that commit harassment.

“UCLA is the fourth-largest employer in Los Angeles, and hence is not exempt (from) Title VII and Title IX laws,” he said. “If you are a supervisor, you have the obligation to report.”

Panelists said they think faculty play an important role in helping address sexual harassment on campus.

Jessica Cattelino, associate professor of anthropology and senior faculty research associate at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, said the faculty’s Academic Senate helps govern how sexual harassment policies are implemented. She added faculty are required to report instances of sexual harassment.

Cheryl Harris, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, said she thinks faculty members must understand boundaries and separate their personal and professional lives. For example, Park said professors should not take students out to clubs or drinks under the excuse that they will discuss academics.

“To mentor doesn’t mean to harass,” she said.

Students who attended the event said they hope the panel will help start more conversations on sexual harassment issues.

Sevi Bayraktar, a graduate student in the world arts and cultures/dance department, said she liked that the panel had speakers from different backgrounds. She added she thinks the university still has to do more to address sexual harassment on campus.

“It’s hard, and people facing trauma from sexual assault need support groups,” she said. “It’s all a work in progress.”

Kanwalroop Singh, a law student, said she felt the speakers could have provided more information on resources to help victims cope with harassment.

“It’s nice to see the conversation shifting to sexual harassment at UCLA, but I would like to see the university provide more tangible resources to create an assault-free campus,” she said.

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