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Sexual Assault Rally Prompts Counter-Protest

Sexual Assault Rally Prompts Counter-Protest
A group of University of California, Santa Barbara students stand on the library lawn and rally for justice for sexual assault survivors on campus. Mathew Burciaga/Executive Managing Editor

Kelsey Knorp
Contributing Writer

About a dozen University of California, Santa Barbara students gathered on the lawn between the Arbor and library on Monday to call for hastened fulfillment of all 13 demands issued to the university administration last year after a 13-hour sit-in in Chancellor Henry Yang’s office. The peaceful demonstration also drew a few counter-protesters with objections to the university’s jurisdiction over sexual assault cases in the first place.

Off-Campus Sen. Alejandra Melgoza and UCSB alumna Lexi Weyrick organized the protest to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the sit-in and remind administrators of their commitment to reforming university policies on sexual assault. A written update by Now UC SB — the movement initiated by Melgoza, Weyrick and alumna Melissa Vasquez prior to the sit-in last year — alleges that administrators have so far “completely ignored” demands calling for immediate suspension of students found responsible for assault by the university court, as well as their immediate removal from housing.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Melgoza pointed to a persistent lack of resources and diversity within the UCSB Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) office and broader administration — another shortcoming the Now UC SB demands sought to address. “I think every single administrator that I’ve met regarding sexual assault has been white,” she said.

The Now UC SB update is an annotated version of a document issued May 11 by the group of administrators tasked with handling the demands. Though the task force has so far held eight public meetings, Melgoza and Weyrick argue that poor advertising has resulted in “limited student involvement and input” on policy adjustments and hiring decisions made over the past year.

The original task force update reports three new hires in the Office of Judicial Affairs and CARE, along with an unspecified number of new female appointments within the UC Police Department. New faculty and staff training programs are highlighted, as well as student resources like a survivor fund and a feedback program for complainants and respondents who undergo judicial proceedings.

One of the most substantive strides for the movement could be a decision from further overhead, though Melgoza and Weyrick are skeptical of the specifics. In January, UC President Janet Napolitano implemented a system-wide policy with a two-year minimum suspension for students found responsible for violating sexual assault policy — “in most cases.” Inquiries by the activists into UCSB’s evidentiary criteria for those cases have reportedly gone unanswered by the administration.

Yang passed through the Arbor about an hour into Monday’s demonstration — which lasted from just after 10 a.m. until around 2 p.m. — and was stopped by Melgoza and Weyrick to hear their complaints. The chancellor “acknowledged that he has not fulfilled the promises of the demands yet,” according to Weyrick, and proceeded to warn the Division of Student Affairs of potential counter-protests in the interest of maintaining civility.

Shortly after Yang’s appearance, three members of UCSB’s Young Americans for Liberty crossed the walkway from where they’d been sitting near the Arbor store to occupy an adjacent portion of the library lawn. Fifth-year history major Andrew Cavarno and fourth-year political science major Jason Garshfield held printed signs disputing the right of universities to adjudicate sexual assault cases, Garshfield’s reading: “Pro-Due Process ≠ Pro-Rape.”

YAL President Dominick DiCesare, a second-year computer science major, told The Bottom Line that the group takes issue with the preponderance of evidence standard used in university courts to determine academic sanctions. The standard requires that 51 percent of the evidence presented to a judicial body favor a complainant’s claim before a ruling is made against the respondent, according to the Legal Information Institute.

DiCesare argued that UCSB’s judicial process undermines the due process owed a defendant in criminal court, where guilt must be proven without a reasonable doubt before conviction.

“Essentially, when we say preponderance of evidence is enough, we’re equivalating rape cases with a common civil case,” DiCesare said. “If anything, we’re diminishing the level of that crime by saying that we don’t require the same amount of evidence.”

DiCesare and Cavarno also disputed the commonly cited statistic that one in five women are sexually assaulted during their college years. The figure dates back to a widely-discussed 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice that has held up in more recent surveys by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, as well as the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But Cavarno pointed out that within the same 1,000-student sample polled by the Post and Kaiser, only 38 percent of subjects believed the one-in-five statistic to be true. He and DiCesare emphasized that the disparities in these numbers and lack of consensus among researchers should warrant discussion of both sides.

“All of us agree that rape is an extremely prevalent issue, but it is not by any means an epidemic,” DiCesare said.

Efforts by Melgoza, Vasquez and Weyrick recently won the support of California State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who wrote in a letter to Yang that she hopes to collaborate “to ensure that UCSB is as responsive as possible to the unique needs of students” and believes “their experiences should reflect our action and progress.”

Around noon, the Now UC SB supporters formed a line facing the Arbor walkway, displaying handwritten signs with messages including “We Support Survivors” and — among the more specific — “Since demands have not been met, we will not be silent yet.” Generally vocal in her activism, Melgoza chose to keep things on the quieter side due to the change in campus climate she said she’s seen over the past year as a senator.

“Last year it was easier, I think, to speak out,” she said. “And now with a lot of the hostility, the harassment, the stalking, the online attacks, I feel that it is a lot harder for students to speak out on what their true beliefs are — which is a very interesting paradox, just because a lot of students are encouraging free speech.”

Neither group of demonstrators ventured to interact with the other, though several administrators gathered on the sidelines to ensure things remained civil. Among them was Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn, who arrived early in the afternoon to ensure that the groups maintained a respectful distance from each other.

“I want to make sure that everybody has a chance to have their demonstration without infringing on anybody else’s right,” Klawunn told The Bottom Line.

A previous version of this article stated that Cavarno cited a statistic gauging students’ concern about sexual assault, when in fact the figure he mentioned measures their confidence in the “one-in-five women” finding. The error has been corrected above.

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