By Luz Arely Portillo, UCSC alumna
To Whom It May Concern:
I was made aware of …[a Graduate Student Association Executive Board letter regarding the climate surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment at UCSC]. I want to express my gratitude to the GSA E-board in calling this out…[T]here are administrative procedures to address sexual harassment and sexual violence grievances but it is common knowledge that the administrative procedures do not properly, effectively or equally address the problem, and actually create an unwelcoming, alienating and threatening atmosphere that silences those who seek these administrative reliefs…
I would like to express and reiterate the GSA E-board’s assertions about the deficiencies and the discrimination that the administrative procedures for redress burden a victim with. I can’t speak for all the cases, but I will speak for mine to reiterate why I stand with the GSA E-board. I did not know what to call what happened to me and as I was navigating the limited options I had,and so I put complete trust in the administrative process and Title IX. I was forthcoming and cooperative since Monday, June 15, 2015, a day and a half after my rape. I did not know that administrators and staff would try to take advantage of my cooperation to minimize my reality and undermine the damage that was done to me not only physically and emotionally, but also academically.
When I reported my rape on Monday, June 15, 2015, I expressed my deep concern about coming forward and naming my rapist for fear of the damage it could have on my academic life. I was assured that it was the right thing for me to come forward. After some thought in that initial Monday meeting, I decided to name Hector Perla Jr. as my rapist. I was told by Tracey Tsugawa that we would ask the Dean of my Division what my options were. In that meeting, I was told that it would be possible to find a way for me not to lose that invaluable recommendation in consultation with the Dean of the Division. Many emails, phone calls, and meetings later, the “solution” offered was for me to find a different professor within my department to confide in, explain my rape “situation” to, and ask for a letter of recommendation. How could I have explained what happened and asked another professor with whom I hadn’t worked as closely to jump in and write me a letter of recommendation, especially when I was advised not to mention my rapist’s name due to the possibility that my reporting would get back to him? In essence, the only option they gave me was to either essentially give up any hope of receiving a letter of recommendation entirely or compromise my already unevenly stacked investigation.
I want to be very clear about this: I never once demanded a letter of recommendation. What I did do was ask guidance as to what I could do to minimize the fallout of the damage to my academic career caused by my rape at the hands of my professor. For some reason that I can’t justify in any capacity, on February 5, 2016, after multiple excuses for delaying the release of the report and after being strung along since well before Thanksgiving, I was deeply hurt to see in the publicly available report, that the authors and investigators stated (to the Chancellor, the Executive Vice Chancellor, the Academic Senate, the University of California’s legal counsel and the committee on Privilege and Tenure at UC Santa Cruz): “Additionally, Ms. Portillo said she was in need of letters of recommendation and asked if Respondent could be forced to write a letter of recommendation for her with approval from the Dean.” They misconstrued my well-founded and valid fear of the repercussions my academic career would face by stating Hector Perla’s identity.
I had stated my deep concern about the impact it would have on my academic plans as well as the impact it would have on the Latin American and Latino Studies department to Tracey Tsugawa. The investigators might say they understand this “grave” concern but unless they are or have ever been subjected to losing the very thing they have fought and worked hard for, they can’t, and surely enough their indifference to this loss is not uncommon.
The investigators and report authors’ description of my “demand” is not only a lie, it is a gross manipulation of a rape victim, one who had been raped just two days prior, of her attempt at seeking an administrative path to address her “grievance.” I never imagined that trying to follow the proper procedures that are in place to “adequately” address the grievance would lead to the institution’s passive minimization of my reality that ultimately led me to lose faith and trust that the Title IX office would conduct a full and unbiased investigation. It was this that made me realize that I had to fight for myself because I was not going to be silenced.
Sure enough, when I obtained legal representation and the ball started rolling, deadlines were not met or were not communicated that they would be moved until after the date had passed, the perpetrator was allowed to submit his statement or response to my complaint egregiously past the stated deadline, and most infuriating, the Title IX office tried to sneak past me and my attorneys that Tracey Tsugawa’s note taker was actually a licensed attorney in California hired by UC Santa Cruz to “independently” investigate the issue. Had it not been for my attorneys and my insurmountable doubt in their honesty, I would have been fooled and I would have said what happened and it could have possibly affected not only my insufficient academic grievance recourse but it could also have been used against me in a court of law. I had to be as blunt as: “I am not speaking until I know who Ms. Roach is, what her profession is and for what purpose was she brought into this investigation.” Essentially, the Title IX office attempted to get me to self-incriminate myself, they dug into my intimate life trying to establish a pattern of behaviors that was nonexistent, and they would play the game of pretending to be on my side when all along my best interest was never aligned or even properly weighed against the University’s best interest.
As I quickly found out in the following two months, no one at the institution was on my side. I could feel that what had happened to me while under the professor’s academic supervision and responsibility was trying to be “swept under the rug,” a process which we, the survivors of sexual assault have seen is the go to “remedy” for the University of California system as a whole.
Knowing this, I decided I would not be be re-victimized by my institution, which was my only “demand” (the administration likes to use “demand” and “concern” interchangeably, or so it was apparent to me in my particular case). The university’s role in serving as a Title IX resource for a student has never been the their priority. More often than not, the institution will side cautiously as to not look indifferent while protecting their own interests at the cost of the student’s rights as afforded to them by The Office of Civil Rights, Title IX legislation and the Dear Colleagues letter. The university’s “army” is expert at finding loopholes so as to not “violate these rights” while at the same time cleaning their hands of any responsibility and liability for their gross negligence of addressing these perpetrators’ actions.
Not surprisingly, this is the common narrative that I have seen first hand, when a student raises any concern or actual factual allegations about a professor, tenured or not; it is more likely than not loop holed around to clean the university’s hands of any liability. The university has followed a system, regulations, and internal administrative processes for decades, as we have seen with every new complaint, that serves them to protect and conserve their “pristine” image as one of the nation’s “best” university systems. To expect a student to go over multiple code procedures and cross reference to make sure the university has not taken advantage of one of these loopholes after this student’s experience of trauma is just another tactic to silence, blame and paint the victim as the one who should have known better. Could anyone say that every faculty member has read, studied, cross-referenced, and outlined every single code from UC
Santa Cruz and the separate codes of the University of California? As a complainant, if you don’t fall in one loophole, you’ll fall in another, and that is how the university silences victims. I was meant to feel inadequate to stand up to their “army” of attorneys, “advocates,” insurance adjusters (I’m talking to you, Sedgwick), and countless other people who met with me at mediation and used language such as “finding myself in this predicament” to try to intimidate
I was never going to back down or stay quiet. My own conviction was not going to let anyone silence me from telling my truth. I never, let me reiterate, never, signed a document saying I was ever satisfied with our settlement. This was and is THEIR contention, not mine. If the university wants to say that I ever demanded anything, it was that however the settlement proceeded, I would never agree to a non-disclosure agreement. That was all I ever wanted, and I didn’t stop fighting until that was assured.
I came out and called out UCSC, the Title IX office, George Blumenthal, EVC Galloway and the Regents as a whole for their deficient, harmful, denigrating practices that harm the very students that are a vital part of this institution. Without students what can a university do but shut down? It is time for them to respect our humanity, our rights and most importantly our indispensable role in their “revered” universities.
So despite my departure from the University of California, Santa Cruz, I completely support the GSA E-board’s letter regarding … the students who have lost complete faith and trust in coming forward to the university. It is the time that faculty understands that while they may feel threatened by these recent actions, we will not sit down, shut up or let “the momentum of this political climate” that has exposed and brought to the forefront the University of California’s negligent and deficient actions and policies, just slide by.
… I can tell you from my experience only, that while faculty has the luxury of asking the administration to defend them and condemn such certain actions, we, the students, have never been afforded that luxury. Faculty, you need to check your privilege and see who you are hurting while you hide behind your position, your tenure and ultimately the University of California’s skirts when you ask for them to come to your defense.
We should all be held accountable for our actions. Faculty, if you fear that you might be the target of such a false accusation … you should maintain their integrity and stand behind what is right. Do not give reason to be questioned because after all, you hold academic responsibility for anyone who could ever possibly be interested in your field (check the APM’s if you don’t believe me). If you know something, anything that is even slightly questionable, it is your responsibility as a member of the community (in addition to your now new academic responsibility), to call out, report and confront these actions. To prevent and not lament the burden the victim has to carry, in part, due to your silence and indifference.
Two admirable people who I look up to, who gave me hope, and gave me my sense of validity in my complaint have put into words what students have been silenced about for so long. Ironically one these speeches came from an event held at UC-Santa Cruz. Anita Hill spoke on February 27, 2015, during a lecture on equality, and said: “How have we moved on? Have we learned from those experiences? But most importantly, we are here because we have refused to let that painful episode just be a painful spectacle. We have refused to let it be just nothing. We have struggled to make it meaningful for women and people of Color.” She continued, “Like the Senate committee, university leaders don’t want to make difficult decisions about consequences for people committing sexual assault… and political leaders need to commit to fighting inequalities.” Shortly thereafter, I found Vice President Joe Biden’s many speeches, remarks, and public opposition to the normalization of sexual assault and the accepted misogynistic attitudes that are pervasive in Institutions of Higher Education. At the White House’s United State of Women Summit on June 14 th , 2016, he said, “We will have succeeded when not a single woman who is violated ever, ever asks herself the question, ‘What did I do?’…We will have succeeded when not one man who raises a hand or takes a violent action against a woman is able to say with any credibility in his own mind, ‘Well she deserved it’… Ending sexual violence isn’t merely about changing the law and making it better…, it’s about changing our culture…if a fraternity member sees a brother taking a clearly incapacitated woman to an upstairs bedroom? If you don’t have the courage to say, ‘Hey, Jack, not in my house,’ you are an accomplice.”
This sentiment applies to faculty, staff and all members of our surrounding community. Faculty, if you hear that your colleague is violating your own Faculty Code of Conduct and standards, and you decide to look the other way, you are an accomplice. If you see something and don’t say something, you fail to uphold the National Education Association’s Code of Ethics, which reads specifically,
“In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator—
- Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to
learning or to health and safety.
- Shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement.
- Shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status,
political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly– Exclude any student from participation in any program Deny benefits to any student Grant any advantage to any student
- Shall not use professional relationships with students for private advantage.
- Shall not disclose information about students obtained in the course of
professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law.”
This letter has been long, but it is necessary to call out the privilege that faculty is afforded and… are afraid of losing by calling on the administration to condemn those who expose unacceptable behaviors that have been tolerated for decades. Faculty, your position of power and the protections you enjoy will no longer silence us. We will not sit down, we will not shut up. Most importantly you will not phase us out or phase out your responsibility simply because we graduate. If you don’t stand up for our rights and call out those who oppress and violate our rights, then we will…
Luz Arely Portillo