The Center for Student Conduct and the OPHD did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment about U.C. Berkeley’s sexual misconduct policies. Likewise, Denise Oldham, the Title IX officer, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Al Jazeera.
Oldham told The Los Angeles Times in February that the university does not use early resolution for cases of sexual assault and that she “can’t imagine a situation where that would be appropriate.”
But the email to Commins from a student conduct officer reads, “Please note that your case was resolved through our informal process on March 5, 2013.”
U.C. Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said the school is “committed to taking a close look at what we can do to better serve students and incorporate their concerns as we seek to address these issues. That process remains underway.”
She added that fewer than 10 sexual assault cases have gone through the Center for Student Conduct's disciplinary process since 2008 and that those assailants found responsible were “removed from campus.”
But some wonder if — at a university with more than 35,000 students and just a handful of officers handling sexual assault cases — more still needs to be done.
“One of the biggest issues we’re seeing is a resource gap,” said Timofey Semenov, 21, a senior at U.C. Berkeley who serves as student advocate, a role in which he helps advise both students filing complaints and those accused of conduct violations.
Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, a nonprofit advocacy group, says that more important than legislation or changes in campus policies are sexual violence awareness campaigns, training in bystander interventions and education about what consent and healthy relationships look like. “I think that’s really the only way we’re going to see a substantial change in the culture,” she said.
When students are aware of what sexual violence is, she said, it creates a community that doesn’t accept it and more students come forward to report incidents.
“What it’s about is just having a fair, prompt and equitable process,” she said. Both Kiss and Semenov were speaking before to the new policy was announced.
Likewise, Shannon Thomas, 21, a senior at U.C. Berkeley, told Al Jazeera before Friday that she’s not sure that Berkeley’s latest measures have made a difference. At the beginning of this semester, she said a student in one of her classes started sexually harassing her, messaging her about “hate sex” and “politically motivated sexual assault.”
According to a statement accompanying the group’s Title IX complaint, when Thomas reported it to the OPHD, she was told the incidents didn’t meet the university’s high bar for sexual harassment, so the student wasn’t removed from their class, as she requested. The Title IX officer spoke with her assailant and told Thomas that he was “genuine and sincere” and said he was joking, so she shouldn’t worry, according to Thomas’ written narrative.
Thomas provided Al Jazeera with an email written to the Title IX officer on her behalf by a university dean who did not want to be named, saying that “for a representative of this university to characterize threats of ‘hate sex’ as a laughing matter is beyond shocking and completely unacceptable."
Thomas said that while she doesn’t blame the university for the harassment, she no longer trusts the school to stand up for her. “For four years, I dreaded leaving U.C. Berkeley,” she said, “and now I can't wait to get out.”