By Claire Breen, Gilberto Flores and Héctor Sánchez Castañeda
While the University of California, Santa Barbara remains a primarily liberal campus, a small but fierce group of students remains adamantly opposed to embracing left-wing ideologies.
Last month, students showed just how deep the ideology rift can extend when two distinct events were held a day apart. While one event argued that a rape epidemic was fictitious rhetoric, the other addressed the epidemic as a national concern.
A False Epidemic
The UCSB chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) held a discussion on Wednesday, May 18 at Broida Hall to talk about the issue of campus rape. The presentation, originally planned as a panel discussion, attempted to answer the question: Is there a rape epidemic occurring on college campuses?
The answer, according to fifth-year history major and event speaker Andrew Cavarno, is no.
Cavarno claims that the media’s use of the oft-cited statistic that one in four or one in five college women are raped is damaging to the due process rights of accused students on college campuses, and that there is no consensus on how often women are raped on college campuses.
Citing a variety of sources from the Sexual Victimization of College Women, the National Women’s Study and the Stanford Campus Climate Survey, among others, Cavarno argued that the rate of women raped in college fluctuates from survey to survey, with results ranging from one in four women to one in 62.5, and even as high as one in 200.
“For all I can tell,” Cavarno added, “the only reason that people choose one in four and one in five is because that makes it an epidemic. That’s incendiary. That’s what they already wanted to find in the first place.”
He also said students are divided on who should handle reports of sexual assault. According to data presented by Cavarno, 48 percent of students believe that these cases should be handled exclusively by the police, while 47 percent believe it’s appropriate for schools to also investigate these crimes.
“Schools cannot objectively adjudicate sexual assault,” he said. “It is impossible for schools, given their conflict of interest, to actually secure due process rights for both the accused and the accuser.”
He proposed that a new system should be created, one that respects the rights of both parties and is not stacked in favor of any one side.
“The word ‘epidemic’ implies that there is some sudden wave of sexual violence, or that things are getting worse,” Cavarno said, “This is just not the case.” He further argued that every available crime statistic implies that the rate of sexual assault across the country has decreased in the last thirty years, across all socioeconomic, racial and cultural demographics.
Cavarno also went into detail on his attempts to make the evening’s discussion more two-sided.
“What I wanted to have was a panel discussion,” Cavarno said, “where informed individuals from both sides of this contentious issue could come together, present each side of this issue in the best light possible, and then anyone who wanted to watch the debate would be presented with both sides…”
After multiple talks, emails and phone calls, Cavarno said he was unable to find someone to oppose his position for a panel discussion, characterized by a lone empty chair to his left.
“Why have I sent over 100 emails in the last month to feminist studies professors, national organizations, to administrators, offering to pay people to come and sit in this chair and defend this position?” Cavarno lamented. “Why is it impossible to find anyone who can defend it with evidence?”
A main point Cavarno made about the presentation itself was that, regardless of what the rate is, rape and sexual assault is still a very serious problem.
“When you get too caught up in arguing the numbers, you can kind of miss the point,” Cavarno said. Even conservative estimates like one in 32 are not low, he argued. “So regardless if it’s one in five or one in fifty, it’s too many and still needs to be taken seriously, regardless of the number. We still need a system that works and allows survivors to feel safe and supported on campus.”
Fighting Rape Culture
The Associated Students Office of the External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) hosted its first-ever UConsent Carnival on the lawn of the Student Resource Building on Thursday, May 19 to promote sexual consent awareness.
UConsent, adopted by the UC Student Association (UCSA) in 2014, is “a response to national public health concerns of sexual violence and sexual assault affecting universities,” according to the UCSA website. The campaign has been implemented on all UC campuses, though this was its first year at UCSB.
Using tables striped with red and white in typical carnivalesque fashion, the UConsent Carnival included treats like snow cones and candy, a raffle to win sex toys and more. One feature was a “kissing booth,” which — in a play on the traditional carnival attraction — offered attendees a Hershey’s Kiss candy along with a legal definition of consent and an example of how to give consent in a “sexy” way.
Gema Hernandez, the UConsent Director of EVPSA at UCSB, told The Bottom Line that consent is defined as “affirmative, sober, ongoing and can be revoked at any time.”
In response to the idea that affirmation “ruins the vibe,” Hernandez argues that there are fun and easy ways to establish consent. The “kissing booth” examples of sexy consent were meant “to show people that it’s really not that weird to check in with your partner and make them feel good, which is what sex should be about,” she said.
“I think it’s really important to destigmatize the issue, and to make people feel comfortable talking about sex and consent,” Hernandez said.
Fourth-year biology major Claire Idehen said she came to the carnival because she also works in the EVPSA office as the IGNITE campaign coordinator. Idehen said the IGNITE campaign “is centered around spreading awareness about mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline and specifically how the prison system influences higher education for UC students.”
Idehen said that everyone in the EVPSA office helps each other with their respective campaigns, and she feels it is important to go to each other’s events to show support.
Not only was Idehen there to show her support for her colleagues, but she also felt that consent education is crucial at UCSB. “I think there is a huge rape culture, not only in our society, but on college campuses in particular. So it’s really essential to have events like this to bring awareness to how important consent is, and to just build a healthier conversation about safe sex on our campus.”
A Fragile Peace
Even with opposing events like this happening all throughout the year, students seem willing to listen to each other. The most recent example pointing to this was British journalist Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit to UCSB on Thursday, May 26.
Organized by YAL, tensions were high. Multiple UC Police Department officers and Community Service Officers patrolled Corwin Pavilion that evening, expecting some form of protesting from individuals opposed to Yiannopoulos’ “Feminism is Cancer” event.
The event went uninterrupted. Opponents silently left the building instead of challenging the event.
However, a day prior to Yiannopoulos’ visit, chalk markings were found throughout campus. Messages like “Trump 2016” and “There are only 2 genders” covered the campus’ walkways.
There is no way to measure the degree of tolerance these groups have toward each other, but with ever-escalating tensions in this year’s presidential campaign, everyone will have a stake in having their voice heard during the upcoming months.