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Students should be more involved in progress of reports they file to EDI office

Students can report discrimination to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. But this process often confuses them due to poor communication on the progress of their complaints. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Deepto Mizan

June 2, 2019 10:59 p.m.

When students report discrimination, the last thing they need is to anxiously wait for a response from the office meant to handle it.

That seems to be the norm at UCLA, though.

A guest lecturer from San Fransisco State University gave a guest lecture on Islamophobia and expressed her anti-Zionist views in an anthropology course last month. A student in the class found the professor’s views to be anti-Semitic and another said it was verging on hate speech.

Students and faculty are able to file reports with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for incidents like these that involve discrimination or harassment on the basis of identity aspects such as culture, race or gender. The office investigates these matters to reach a resolution between both parties or pursue legal action. Both the Discrimination Prevention Office and the Title IX Office are under its purview.

Yet, the EDI office hasn’t addressed the students’ individual needs in the wake of the controversy, as students’ filed complaints about the guest lecture have gone unaddressed.

This makes the path to resolution even more difficult. The lack of communication from the office leaves students confused about the progress and result of their incident reports, ultimately leaving them skeptical if they will receive a response or resolution.

The reports regarding the anthropology guest lecture are only a few in a list of instances in which the office has left students in the dark about the progress of their complaints. And yet it’s an important part of the EDI office’s responsibility to guide students through any incidents of discrimination or harassment they may face.

Although well equipped to receive complaints, the office is lacking a way to interact effectively with students.

Randi Kusumi, executive assistant to Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang, said the EDI office runs full, impartial investigations in order to find a mutual resolution. It also holds informal meetings with Kang to attempt an alternate path to resolution.

Despite this two-track system, the office’s approach to helping students through the resolution process is missing an important part: keeping students in the know about the progress of their cases.

Viktorya Saroyan, a third-year sociology student, was in the anthropology class during the controversial guest lecture. She said she filed an EDI report because she found the speech verging on discriminatory.

Regardless of the veracity of the claims against the guest lecturer, the fact that Saroyan barely heard back from the EDI office is concerning. What’s more, she wasn’t even the victim of the alleged hate speech – she filed a report because she thought the lecturer’s disposition during the presentation was harmful.

“They got back to me quickly when I first sent my email. But after the second one, they responded saying, ‘We heard you have been the victim of racial discrimination, please fill out this form,'” Saroyan said. “I wasn’t even a victim, though. I’m still wondering if I somehow sent it to the wrong place. They still haven’t responded since.”

This kind of situation is unbecoming of an office meant to promote equity, diversity and inclusivity. No matter what position the office takes, students should be able to expect they will be kept in the loop after requesting university involvement.

But the EDI office’s lack of transparency isn’t a new phenomenon.

Sexual harassment cases have also featured minimal communication from the university. Kristen Glasgow, a UCLA graduate student who was sexually harassed by former history professor Gabriel Piterberg, had to file her Title IX claim twice until the university finally responded. Piterberg lost his employment nearly a decade after she was initially harassed.

And even after the numerous reforms made after Kang was appointed in 2015, students still see the EDI office as unable to to address their incidents in a wider sense. Two years ago, students found ambiguous office hours, online Q&As and blogs as a lacking effort to address their problems – and they still do today.

The office’s relationship with complainants clearly misses the mark. The resolution system is fundamentally internal, resulting in incident reports being handled in an unclear fashion. Glasgow was left in the dark about whether UCLA would respond to her claim and Saroyan’s claim was even misidentified. These failings indicate that the people seeking resolutions are not considered an important part of the process. Extended periods without communication alienate and ignore the individual at the center.

While it’s true the EDI office can’t communicate every detail of a full investigation, that shouldn’t be an excuse to keep students completely in the dark. After all, people file incident reports to the university because they want things to be done in response – not to just hope that things will be.

The office plays an undeniably important role on campus. As the administrative apparatus to deal with serious conflicts, it has a strong responsibility to ensure students and faculty aren’t forgotten.

Bruins shouldn’t have to treat discrimination and harassment as if they were cold-calling professors for research opportunities; they deserve a response the first time.

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Deepto Mizan | Opinion columnist
Mizan is an Opinion columnist.
Mizan is an Opinion columnist.
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