Submission: An Open Letter to Chancellor Blumenthal and Acting EVC Lee

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Thank you for the letter from interim campus provost’s office titled “Sexual assault and harassment on campus” which certainly goes further than Chancellor Blumenthal’s earlier letter. The chancellor’s letter to the campus community said in short, “We are changing the culture around campus sexual violence. We had a problem, but we dealt quickly and effectively with it.” Though it was ostensibly the reason for the letter, the chancellor didn’t even mention the $1.15 million settlement on behalf of the faculty member accused of rape. I suspect the campus community would have felt better and safer had the name of the accused faculty not been withheld. I had to read about the settlement in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the names of the victim and perpetrator on BuzzFeed.

The campus talks increasingly about changing a culture of sexual violence, a goal I wholeheartedly support. But silence and omission around sexual assault (excepting the name of the survivor, at their discretion) does not create a culture of transparency.

Reading more about the university’s reported negligence in dealing with previous reports of this faculty’s behavior, the reported minimization of the accusations, the choice to quietly settle, the omissions in the chancellor’s letter concluding the events, all made me ashamed of my long and continued association with the campus. The only thing courageous about the affair was the survivor’s commitment to sharing her story to prevent it from happening to others.

When one makes mistakes, which is inevitable, the best thing we can do is to hear our accusers, be honest about what happened and courageously face our mistakes with a plan of how we can make substantive change.

The chancellor’s letter was not courageous nor transparent. It did not admit the possibility of mistakes, did not talk about the learning process and cultural shift we are all undertaking around sexual violence. Even if campus council still had questions about the the accuser’s story, the chancellor could have given a much fuller picture. Instead the chancellor’s letter felt defensive and self-congratulatory, “As soon as these allegations were reported, the campus acted swiftly to address the victim’s claims,” an assertion, by the way, which stands in direct contrast to the survivor’s claims.

I understand that personnel policy may limit what you can reveal. I understand that the UC regents have to make difficult choices on behalf of the whole university system. But until the university is willing to courageously make difficult choices that prioritize survivors of sexual violence over the institution, we will never quite meet the campus’ commitment to social justice.

Yours,

Wes Modes

Lecturer

UC Santa Cruz