Whether it receives national coverage or is buried within a campus survey, the issue of sexual violence and how it is addressed pertains to every university.
The federal government announced last Thursday that 55 universities in the country are currently under investigation for improperly handling cases of sexual assault and violence. While UC Santa Cruz was not named one of these schools under investigation, four California colleges are being looked at, including UC Berkeley, USC, Occidental College and the Butte-Glen community college district.
The universities are being investigated to see if they are complying with Title IX, a federal law created in 1972 making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in association with programs recieving federal assistance, such as university programs and activities. This law also requires campuses to properly respond to cases of sexual misconduct.
By openly and publicly naming these schools, the federal government is not necessarily affirming that any of these schools mishandled cases of sexual assault and violence. Instead they are raising much needed awareness that many students have similar concerns about sexual assault victims being ignored and unheard.
While UCSC is not directly implicated in these investigations, issues of sexual assault on college campuses and how they are handled is still a relevant issue on campus. Part of the recent campus climate survey gauged student opinions concerning the campus environment and the results showed UCSC is far less than perfect.
6,399 UCSC faculty, staff and students — approximately 30 percent of the campus population — responded to the survey. Of these 6,399 people, 4 percent, or 246 people, said they had “experienced unwanted sexual conduct at UC Santa Cruz within the last five years.”
Though this 4 percent may seem small in comparison with the entire campus population, 246 people is 246 too many. There are currently at least this many people who may have felt, and still may feel, unsafe at UCSC. In addition, these reports come from only 30 percent of the campus. While we’d like to think the opposite, the other 70 percent of the UCSC population would likely have many more instances to report.
Often, when numbers are released regarding sexual violence and assault, they primarily discuss women. However, the highest percentage of groups who said they experienced this unwanted sexual conduct consisted of people who identified as genderqueer and people who identify as having disabilities.
Campus safety measures such as the dispatch service and escort program are invaluable programs in improving general campus safety, but the discourse and discussion surrounding how to appropriately address sexual assault cases is lacking, even at a campus as liberal as UCSC. While we may pride ourselves on achievements in research and sustainability, among other recognitions, we also have to acknowledge that sexual safety remains an issue on our campus and we must strive to improve our own processes of addressing these cases.