9/17/2016 0 Comments
In recent months, the hot topic in national conversation has undoubtedly been the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Since the beginning of 2014 alone, federal reaffirmations from the White House, press conferences from senators nationwide, and colorful upsurges in student activism across the UC’s have recognized the resounding presence of gender-based violence. Now’s the time, they claim, to stop such injustice once and for all. But will we listen?
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 update policies on these issues specifically for college campuses.
This niche initiative, published in Jan. 2014, hopes to establish more inclusive and comprehensive policies across the nation’s academic institutions. It includes the need for transparent campus track records regarding the procedures and programs used to prevent these crimes from happening. The UC Irvine campus has been no stranger to these evolving conversations of gender-based violence. In fact, UC President Janet Napolitano issued a UC-wide report on March 2014 as a reaction to this reaffirmed protocol, attempting to deconstruct the language and bureaucracy surrounding these issues. The report makes efforts toward inclusiveness, this time absorbing faculty in the population of individuals protected under these new measures. It also takes into account the entire UC-affiliated jurisdiction, including all UC campuses, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other annexed locations throughout California.
Despite the new protocol, UC Irvine remains a shining example of excellence in the field of sexual assault prevention. At a press conference earlier this month, California State Senator Kevin De León praised UC Irvine for its comprehensive and transparent protocol in crisis prevention and sexual violence awareness education. He recognized 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.
For instance, Dr. Mandy Mount, director of the UC Irvine Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) Office and chair of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative notes that some of the latest updates to UCI protocol include the transferring of investigative responsibilities from one office of Student Conduct, to a more specialized Office of Equal Opportunity and Defense (OEOD). This move will provide students with what Dr. Mount describes as a “more hands-on involvement in assault prevention.”
But the moving and shaking doesn’t end at the desks of the our institution’s figureheads. In fact, students within our campus community are already posing as prominent leaders in the name of violence prevention. Right To Know peer educator and junior, Tess Andrea, runs an advocacy-oriented student organization known as “A Positive Space of Women.” With her Co-President, senior Laura Baker, they have rallied the community around a Letter of Solidarity. This letter, which they hope to send to UC Regents, Chancellors and state officials, details grievances and suggestions they have regarding UC-wide sexual assault protocol. This organization does not agree with how administration has been handling sexual assault on college campuses — and by leveraging the power of the student voice, they are hard-set on making permanent change.
“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, we want this letter to circulate throughout the state of California – to UC admin, governors, reps, UC Regents, Title IX officers and all other affiliates,” says Andrea.
This 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. The rally was organized to spread awareness on numerous acts of violence often acted against women, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. Student orgs across the nation supported the international campaign known as “1 Billion Rising” with posters dawning statistics/messages while marching in crowds around UCI for roughly an hour.
These efforts continue to grow on our campus. 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 tshirts 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.
The efforts made by students and staff at UC Irvine is unprecedented. Let’s hope it stays that way for many generations to come.