Isla Vista Beat Reporter
Second-year history of public policy and Chican@ studies double major Alejandra Melgoza will continue to pursue negotiations with the University of California, Santa Barbara to increase sanctions against her alleged sexual assailant, another second-year student whose current sentence suspends him for the spring and summer 2015 quarters, per a March 2 decision by UCSB Student Affairs.
Melgoza said that though her “ultimate goal is expulsion,” she is willing to negotiate an extension of her assailant’s suspension through the time of her graduation from UCSB instead. She dictated these demands in a letter to the office of the chancellor seeking to appeal the Student Affairs decision, but it was to no avail; an April 1 response from the chancellor expressed support for the existing sentence.
The chancellor likely denied her appeal because while the UCSB student code of conduct dictates that sanctions might be reduced after they are levied, there is no stipulation that they might be increased, a discovery Melgoza was disheartened to make in her search for policy to support her appeal.
“I’m only a second-year, and I still have two more years here,” Melgoza said. “I don’t want my whole college career to be fighting this. Because this happened my first year, I haven’t been able to enjoy my college experience at all.”
She thought that might change when she returned from spring break at the end of March, knowing that her assailant was banned from university premises. Just two days into spring quarter, however, a friend told her that she had seen him on campus. Melgoza did not immediately report the incident to the university, but after two more friends approached her regarding similar sightings, she felt inclined to act.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” she said. “I said no, it’s not true. It’s not possible. The system cannot fail me like this. I trusted them.”
Melgoza went to the Office of Judicial Affairs and met with Assistant Director Suzanne Perkin, who allegedly told her that she was not sure anyone from the office had reviewed the details of the sanctions to her assailant, which prohibit his presence on university property.
“I know the reason why Judicial Affairs says it’s really hard for them is that it’s really hard to pinpoint where that student’s at at all times,” said Office of the Student Advocate Chief of Staff Anais Zavala.
When Melgoza filed an official complaint in fall 2014, she did not initially have an adequate case against her assailant, in part because she took no immediate steps to report the assault to law enforcement or medical personnel in January, when it allegedly occurred. With no police report, medical report, or rape kit, she was forced to rely strictly on witnesses who could testify about factors leading up to the assault. Melgoza credits one testimony from a female friend as key in demonstrating to Judicial Affairs that she could prove a policy violation in a hearing of the Sexual Violence Conduct Committee.
According to Perkin, the committee looks at “evidence that supports the definitions of either sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault according to the UC Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence.” The UC Policy defines sexual assault as occurring when “physical sexual activity is engaged without the consent of the other person or when the other person is unable to consent to the activity.” Therefore, proving responsibility for a policy violation to the Conduct Committee primarily hinges on proving a lack of consent.
“They make a decision based on all the information that they have,” Zavala said, “so based on the testimony from the victim, from the assailant, any witnesses that each had, and what they find credible and not credible.”
The most difficult part of the judicial process for Melgoza came during the committee hearing, where both parties were required to appear and all relevant testimony was presented. According to Melgoza, her assailant admitted that he recalled nothing about the incident and that he had “only wanted something physical” with her, rather than an emotional relationship. She listened to this testimony from mere inches away, with only a curtain separating her from her assailant.
“The hearing was probably one of the most traumatizing experiences after the act itself,” she said.
A few days later, the committee unanimously found Melgoza’s assailant guilty of violating university sexual assault policy and recommended that he receive a two-quarter suspension. A little over two weeks later, the suspension was approved by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Mary Jacob, though Melgoza was not satisfied.
“Before I got the answer from Mary Jacob, I had also called her, but she didn’t return my call,” she said. “I wanted her to make the decision by meeting me first and not just through paper, because paper says nothing and because that just dehumanizes me even more.”
Zavala said Melgoza is not the first to feel wronged by the judicial system in its handling of sexual assault.
“[Survivors] go through so much during this whole process that no amount of quarter suspension will ever be enough justice for what they went through,” she said. “Does that make it equal to what he or she did to this person? In my perspective, I don’t think so.”