Isla Vista Beat Reporter
Photos by Benjamin Hurst, Photo & Multimedia Editor
Sexual assault survivors and their supporters left the fifth floor of Cheadle Hall in triumph at almost 3 AM on Thursday, May 14, after a 13-hour sit-in ended with a signed agreement between the three students leading the movement and University of California, Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang.
Second-year history of public policy and Chican@ studies double major Alejandra Melgoza, and fourth-year sociology majors Lexi Weyrick and Melissa Vasquez, organized the sit-in at the chancellor’s office to protest the mishandling of their respective sexual assault cases by the UCSB Office of Judicial Affairs.
Attendance remained fairly stable at around 30 people throughout the demonstration, though many came and went to tend to other obligations. As the afternoon unfolded, Melgoza, Weyrick, and Vasquez prepared a list of 13 specific demands calling for university policy changes and redress for the suffering they have been through following their assaults. In all of their cases approximately a year or longer has passed since each of their assaults.
The protesters, who arrived at the chancellor’s office at 1:15 PM on Wednesday, May 13, refused to leave when staff clocked out after hours. They insisted on speaking with the chancellor about their demands that night, though the chancellor had reportedly been driving to Pasadena, Calif., earlier that day.
“I will pour my heart out to you, Chancellor Yang,” Melgoza said.
Yang returned to his office at 8:30 PM, the result of negotiations mediated by Associated Students President Ali Guthy over the phone earlier that evening. Yang, Melgoza, Weyrick, Vasquez, AS Executive Director Marisela Marquez, and Chican@ Studies Department Chair Denise Segura then assembled into a conference room down the hall to begin discussion. The walls were lined and the room overflowed with advocates from the sit-in and other supporters intent on listening.
“I will pour my heart out to you, Chancellor Yang,” Melgoza said.
Melgoza’s assault occurred in January 2014, though she did not first visit Judicial Affairs until March 2014. At that point, she says staff members dissuaded her from reporting the assault, chalking it up to “bad sex” that may simply not have satisfied her. Melgoza was shocked to see her trauma so belittled.
“Coming from my cultural background as a Latina, losing my virginity to my assault was the most horrible thing that could have happened to me,” she said. “I thought my value as a woman was completely gone.”
Though her assailant left school the following 2014 spring quarter for personal reasons, he returned in the fall, compelling Melgoza to act. The Judicial Affairs proceedings began in December 2014 and lasted about four months, during which time Melgoza recalls seeing her assailant around campus often, including at her workplace, Carrillo Dining Commons.
Ultimately, Judicial Affairs awarded a two-quarter suspension, a punishment Melgoza feels is insufficient and which she has since made many attempts to appeal, including through a letter to the chancellor. However, she was content to know that she would no longer see her assailant on campus during the 2015 spring quarter; until, that is, three friends reported that they had seen him on campus on three separate occasions. Upon reporting the sightings to Judicial Affairs, the office’s only response was to give her assailant a warning call.
“Going home is not an option for me,” she said. “I have to get my diploma and I have to graduate because I have nothing out there waiting for me. Providing for my family is my first priority, and [I do] that by getting my diploma. So my only chance of succeeding is if my perpetrator is no longer on campus.”
In response to these grievances, Yang and administrators have agreed to pursue suspension for Melgoza’s assailant until her graduation from UCSB. They have furthermore promised to amend the UCSB student code of conduct to specify a minimum required sentence for those found responsible for student code violations. Yang says he will push for a four-quarter minimum for sexual assault. Officials will also explore the possibility of immediate suspension of the survivors’ assailants, effective for the remainder of the 2015 spring quarter.
“These aren’t issues that we need to be constantly tapping your shoulders about. Once this is on your desk, this is your concern. It’s the safety of a student. What if my perpetrator would have killed me this year? What then?”
Vasquez shared her story next, a brutal account in which police found her partly strangled with a bloody nose, inside her university-owned apartment last spring. When her parents came to pick her up from her first year of UCSB as a transfer student, they were met with a much more bruised and swollen version of their daughter.
“It’s not fair that someone who did that to someone they ‘love’ will be allowed to leave this university with value to their life, while taking value from someone else’s life,” Vazquez said of her assailant.
Vasquez’s assailant, who was arrested by UCPD the same night of the assault, received a one-quarter suspension as his sentence. Like Melgoza, Vasquez sent an appeal letter to Yang, an effort that reflects the futility she perceives in all her dealings with the administration.
“It’s very absurd that we have to be fighting for our rights for this long,” said Vasquez. “These aren’t issues that we need to be constantly tapping your shoulders about. Once this is on your desk, this is your concern. It’s the safety of a student. What if my perpetrator would have killed me this year? What then?”
Per another of the group’s demands, Yang and administrators will facilitate discussion with the Isla Vista Foot Patrol about issues such as hiring more female staff and implementing cultural sensitivity training. Furthermore, the UC Police Department will explore options for “safe spaces” for survivors, to be constructed during events such as Deltopia and Extravaganza. The university will also pursue a formal investigation of the Office of Judicial Affairs.
Weyrick was the final survivor to share her experience. Her assault occurred during Halloween 2013, shortly after she had begun a “friends-with-benefits” relationship with a friend. On Halloween, Weyrick became intoxicated to the point of blackout. The following day, she learned that she had unwittingly had sex with the friend, which unsettled her a great deal.
“I don’t know if anyone has ever experienced being told that you had an intimate experience with someone and not knowing it,” Weyrick said, “but it’s incredibly violating. And I sat on it because I didn’t want to spend my only two years at this university dealing with sanctions, dealing with policies, dealing with reporting it… but I couldn’t sit on it any longer.”
Because she decided to report later, Weyrick fell prey to the 12-month statute of limitations for filing claims under Title IX. Additionally, at the time the assault occurred, sexual assault was classified as harassment under Title IX, making it unclear what sanctions are appropriate. She may not see sanctions for her assailant before they both graduate, but she is committed to the cause nonetheless.
“This is a really great opportunity that we’re giving you right now to be a leader on sexual assault on campus,” Weyrick said to Yang. “Instead of reacting to us and trying to deal with us as if we’re a problem, I feel like this is a great opportunity for you to actually listen to the students who you care about and who you represent.”
Per their demands, the three women will receive compensation as part of a Survivor Fund for school and living expenses, and the university has been tasked with finding a permanent funding source to sustain it in the long term. Each woman has also been granted a prepaid plane ticket to Sacramento so they can bring their advocacy to the UC Regents.
Officials responded receptively to the idea of enhanced sensitivity training. Staff training programs that are already in place to combat rape culture will be expanded to include student employees. Additionally, the university will ask the Academic Senate to implement cultural sensitivity training for UCSB faculty and staff.
Furthermore, the administration has agreed to the public distribution of quarterly statistics about sexual assault on campus. Student Affairs will explore funding for the hiring of new CARE staff, and a half-time advocate will reportedly begin working at the county-owned IV Clinic building over the summer. Overall, the three leading survivors saw unprecedented success in administrative response to the demands.
Once the three women announced their triumphs to other sit-in participants, the already lively scene got a second wind. Cheers and tears in equal measure flooded the room with joy.
“I’ve been dreaming of this night for so long,” Melgoza said, “so to have it realized is unbelievable.”
I am proud of those who spoke up about the cruel and disheartening acts of domestic violence and sexual assault. As a previous member of take back the night (Class of 2010), I understand the misperceptions of what truly constitutes as sexual assault. Never be silent and always speak up against what is wrong, because we all have the rights to our bodies and we all deserve respect.
Weywick began a friends with benefits relationship with the guy, and then reported it as sexual assualt more than a year later?
Now she is getting essentially a full ride scholarship?
Something isn’t right here.
I recommend a course in reading comprehension for you, or are you a dude that thinks if you have a friends with benefits relationship, you’re entitled to rape your friend if they happen to pass out due to drugs or alcohol? Do you think that once you’ve been intimate with someone a few times, you no longer need their consent for sex?
As a devil’s advocate here, what makes you think that she and him weren’t together and both blacked out and had sexual relations? I’m not saying that she’s innocent or that he is either. We are simply reading an article that doesn’t necessarily bring out both of their stories. Yes it may be true in which case said friend with benefits is a scumbag, but until then, he is innocent until proven guilty.
All any we have to go by is what is in the article. Sure, that’s only one side of the story, but it’s all we have. Based on the story as written, I stand by my comments to Stan. You can invent all the “what ifs” you want, but we’re responding to an article. Why do you even speculate from the position that the woman isn’t being truthful? The article simply referenced Weyrick’s comments during the negotiations. It wasn’t specifically about or a detailed account of what happened to her. In my opinion, at the heart of the problem is that too many guys believe, the guy is innocent until proven guilty, and until the guy is proven guilty, the woman is liar. I’ve heard it in the locker room since junior high school, but the fact is that women rarely are found to be lying in these cases. Don’t take my word for it; Google it.
Waaaahhhh I got to drunk and can’t take responsibility for my actions!!! Jesus fucking Christ she even has the audacity to reveal that they were FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS. How dumb can you be. This talk about “safe spaces” wow this is a university for adults not a fucking daycare for children. Way to destroy the integrity of your university Chancellor Yang.
I totally hear you, while at the same time you simply cannot base one case on other experiences. If you are solely reacting to the article that’s a case of taking the “evidence” as situational on the victim’s side, and when you do that you will most likely side with the individual making said accusations- learned it from a course at UCSB. When you hear the whole story then chances are you might switch your side.
You are totally misconstruing my message as I am not accusing her of being a liar, nor am I saying the guy is an angel. We are a nation of laws and unfortunately the burden of proof may not necessarily be the best way of determining guilt; with that said, in a court of law, the burden of proof would lie with her since she is the one making the allegations.
Do I agree that this system is perfect? Not necessarily. Do I agree that this system needs amendment? Undoubtedly.
Guys like Andrew are why stronger policy is even necessary. Scumbags, who think a person who is passed out is fair game and whatever is done to them is their fault, are the problem. http://itsonus.org/ So much to learn and so little brain mass.
Alex, I have heard the who story, and the guy admits to what she claims. He’s like Andrew, however, and thinks he did nothing wrong. http://itsonus.org/
I’m assuming you are a straight male…with that assumption (and the assumption that your response to this article makes you a pig that would like to be raped by a female) how would you like it if say you got blacked out drunk and then woke up next to a male who admitted to having sex with you the night before? Is that then your fault that you were blacked out and incapable of saying “no” or even resisting? Or is it the perpetrators fault for taking advantage of you not being able to stop that from happening?
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