As a university student, I believe it’s a privilege as well as a social responsibility to know what’s going on in the world around us. But often times, there are roadblocks: maybe you don’t read the news everyday, maybe you’re too busy with your work load and, just maybe, you’re embarrassed to ask out of the fear that others may look down at you for living under a rock of sorts. You’re not alone.It’s time to do something about it! Learning is a part of a student’s journey, and with this column, I hope to offer a basic spiel on some major contemporary topics. I hope to inspire readers to go out there and learn more about these topics and issues after scratching the surface.
Within the past few months, we have witnessed widespread dialogue, continuing political and social action and localized activism against the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Since the beginning of 2014 alone, debates have circled through federal reaffirmations from the White House, press conferences from senators nationwide, and even a colorful upsurge in student activism here at UC Irvine.
On Feb. 28, 2013, the United States Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), an act originally published in 1994 that serves to protect victims of crimes such as rape, domestic violence, stalking, dating violence and other types of assault. Changes were made last year to the Clery Act as part of the reauthorization of VAWA, which prompted a special White House committee to initiate updated policies on these issues for college campuses.
This college-specific initiative, published in Jan. 2014, hopes to establish more inclusive and comprehensive national uniform policies, including the need for transparent campus track records regarding the procedures and programs used to prevent these crimes from happening.
So, I was curious about what action the UC system has taken and what UCI’s response was.
UC President Janet Napolitano issued a UC-wide report in March 2014 as a reaction to this reaffirmed protocol, attempting to deconstruct the language and bureaucracy surrounding these issues. The report made efforts toward inclusiveness, this time regarding faculty in the population of individuals under these new measures instead of just students. It also took into account the entire UC-affiliated jurisdiction, including all UC campuses and even the Lawrence Berkeley. National Laboratory and other UC affiliated locations. This report also offered an update in response procedures among administration at the wake of an assault.
In a recent press conference regarding the Reaffirmation of VAWA on college campuses nation-wide, Sen. De León praised UC Irvine for its comprehensive and transparent protocol in confronting crisis prevention and sexual violence awareness education. He admired UCI’s work as one of the best in all of California.
De León went on to say that “schools must adopt better policies and practices to prevent these crimes and to more effectively respond when they happen. And federal agencies must ensure that schools are living up to their obligations.” Indeed, UCI has already been on its toes, hard at work in creating more inclusive, safer protocol to its already beneficial practices.
Dr. Mandy Mount, director of the UC Irvine Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) Office, shed some light on some of the policies UCI hopes to put into action in light of this protocol. Changes include the transferring of investigations responsibilities from one office of Student Conduct, to a more specialized Office of Equal Opportunity and Defense (OEOD), providing the students with a more hands-on involvement in assault prevention. In addition, the White House has chosen to recognize sexual assault beyond the law. On March 31, President Obama published a Proclamation highlighting April 2014 as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this isn’t the first time he has done so. Throughout his campaign, President Obama has been in strong support of resurfacing these gender-based issues and generating political measures to alleviate the violence and form partnerships.
“This month, let us recognize that we all have a stake in preventing sexual assault, and we all have the power to make a difference. Together, let us stand for dignity and respect, strengthen the fabric of our communities, and build a safer, more just world,” Obama said in his proclamation. I am proud to see UC Irvine students in fierce support of these advances in student defense. In fact, student leaders who are affiliated with the CARE Office, such as Right To Know peer educator and junior, Tess Andrea, who runs a highly active and advocacy-oriented student organization on campus known as “A Positive Space of Women.” With her Co-President, senior Laura Baker, and other active members, the organization has begun a Letter of Solidarity, a letter which they hope to send to UC Regents, Chancellors and the state, detailing grievances and suggestions they have regarding UC-wide sexual assault protocol and awareness.
This organization does not agree with how administration has been handling sexual assault on college campuses — particularly in light of certain traumatic events that have happened at UCSB, UC Berkeley and campuses across the nation.
“The bulk of [our letter] details things that we feel should be implemented across the UC campuses; administration needs to take sexual assault seriously; [there should be] entry-level education for students on campus that includes information on all forms of abuse (assault, rape, harassment in workplace and classes, etc.) and is mindful of the grievances of faculty and students [who may fall victim to these crimes],” Andrea said. The letter also is a call for students, staff, faculty and administration alike to cultivate awareness about gender-based violence. Although the letter is in its early drafts, this organization hopes for this letter to circulate throughout the state of California – to UC admin, governors, reps, UC Regents, Title IX officers and all other affiliates.
This past February, the organization acted in solidarity with numerous campus organizations across UC Irvine in what became known as the VDAY Rally on Valentine’s Day, spreading awareness on numerous acts of violence often acted against women, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. These clubs supported the international campaign known as “1 Billion Rising” with posters dawning statistics/messages while marching in crowds around UCI for roughly an hour. The rally was profound, intellectual and spread awareness in a way that was truly loud and clear.
Last month, the Greek community hosted a mile-long walk around our campus in an attempt to raise awareness on sexual violence in an event known as “Walk a Mile for Empathy.” Posters dawned with statistics and messages of solidarity were held by Greek student leaders throughout the march. As many as 80 to 90 Greek and non-Greek members alike marched to spread the word about the prevalence of sexual assault.
UCI awareness on sexual assault will take a visual stand between April 14 and 16. A passive display known as “The Clothesline Project” will be comprised of symbolic colorful t-shirts designed by survivors of gender-based violence and their allies. This display will take place at Gateway Plaza. Afternoon performances from students will take place at the Flagpoles throughout these three days in solidarity against sexual violence. The events will conclude with “Take Back the Night,” a candlelight vigil and march. The march reached an audience of 2,000 students last year. The relationship between these topics and UCI students are bound to become more natural and consistent over time, if they haven’t already. “This work needs to be ongoing; happening every day and throughout the year,” Dr. Mount said. Certainly, UC Irvine is doing this little by little, one day at a time.
As a student looking for strong student activism, numerous resources and workshops to build awareness, for ways to become an ally in support of eradicating prevalent college campus issues, and for a chance to be a part of a national movement toward peace, I am happy to say I have chosen the right school.
The efforts made by students and staff at UC Irvine is unprecedented. Let’s hope it stays that way for many generations to come. Look for Kelly’s bi-weekly column detailing social issues that we are embarrassed to ask about, but are dying to know.