Friday, March 11, 2011

OSC and Rape

Today's conduct hearing, for one of the Wheeler Hall occupiers from 2009, was live-tweeted by @reclaimuc, @callie_hoo, and @sgnfr. All of these twitter feeds are conveniently available on a twitter list we've put together, appropriately titled "kangaroo court." The cast of characters includes Thomas Frampton, star counsel for the defense coming off a huge victory in his last case; Jeff Woods, prosecutor for the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) and widely seen as one of the stupidest and most incompetent people in UC Berkeley's administrative bureaucracy; Ron Fearing, professor of electrical engineering and the faculty chair of the hearing panel; and, in a minor role, Stacy Holguin, who interprets the Code of Conduct as OSC's "procedural adviser" and monitors protest actions as administrative spy. The hearing ended for the day around 5 pm, and will be taken up once again on -- and this is entirely appropriate -- April Fool's Day.

In the middle of the hearing, we received the following update from thosewhouseit:
What a joke this whole conduct process is. We just learned that Student Regent Jesse Cheng was found guilty of sexual battery by UC Irvine’s OSC. The sentence? Disciplinary probation. To put this in perspective, this fucking rapist gets off with probation, while one of this blog’s own contributors was given a stayed suspension and 20 hours of community service . . . for his participation in the 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall. Even more egregiously, Cheng will not be removed from his position on the Board of Regents, in effect condoning sexual battery. Again: non-violent civil disobedience gets stayed suspension and community service; rape -- let’s dispense with the technocratic minimization as “unwanted touching” and call a spade a spade -- gets disciplinary probation, a markedly lighter sentence. What the fuck is wrong with these people?!
This is not a new or accidental phenomenon, nor is it only a question of Cheng's position as student regent. Rather, it speaks to the nature of the university's quasi-legal student conduct apparatus itself. The system operates according to assumptions of difference, inferiority, and hierarchy -- whether they are based on politics, age, race, or -- as is the case here -- gender. Again, this speaks to not some sort of idle speculation but a striking pattern of impunity. Take the following examples, just published in the last couple weeks. First, an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer discusses the case of a female UC Berkeley student who was raped four years ago by a "persistent upperclassman." Pay close attention to what OSC does and does not do in the context of these rape allegations:
Emily Lorenzen knows her story of being sexually assaulted is a difficult one for people to hear. The petite 22-year-old isn't bothered. She knows her listeners don't know what to say. But they need to hear her words.


Emily Lorenzen was from a small town in Oregon and a member of a University of California athletic club, going away for a training weekend early in her first year at college. Here's what she remembers: A persistent upperclassman whose sexual advances she had earlier spurned, joined by other members of the club, pressured her into drinking too much alcohol and taking off her clothes. She did.

Her father thinks it's fortunate that Emily doesn't remember what happened next. She does remember waking up the following morning in a bed next to the man she previously rejected. She was naked except for her bra. And her vagina hurt.

Her worst suspicion was confirmed the following day, when the party-minded club, turned the sexual assault into another drinking game, she recalls.

"I knew when I woke up. But I knew for sure when somebody said I had to take a shot because I had sex," she said.


After Lorenzen told her family about her experience, they all thought the worst of the ordeal was behind them. They now believe that the injustice she suffered when she reported that she was raped to a campus safety officer at Berkeley was greater than the actual assault. The officer told her that she should not have been drinking, and then launched a cursory investigation by sending letters to the club members, asking them to come to his office for an interview.

They got their stories straight, she said.

"I just wanted something to happen... Either the guy getting punished or Berkeley having to change its ways," Lorenzen said.

But no consequence came. Following pressure from the Lorenzen family, Berkeley sanctioned the club, but the student Lorenzen accused of raping her was not disciplined, nor were students who she said concealed the truth. Those students' lives moved on. And for a long while Emily's did not.

Berkeley officials declined to comment on Lorenzen's case, citing student privacy laws.

Janet Gilmore, a spokesperson for the university, said Berkeley has a trained team of professionals that reviews sexual assault cases and provides support services to victims. She added that Berkeley is "always looking at ways to strengthen and improve the experience for students that report to us" and would review the Oregon University System's new policies.

In Lorenzen's case, however, Berkeley's professional committee declined to consider student conduct charges or hold a full student conduct hearing in her case, citing lack of evidence. Though Lorenzen repeatedly requested to attend the meeting, she was not invited, she said.

Henry Lorenzen, a lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney, says he knows the difference between a quality process and a legal defense. He felt Berkeley offered only empty process to his daughter.

"They wanted to protect the university more than have a process that worked well both for the victim and the accused," he said.
The other example is more recent. Two weeks ago, the Daily Cal reported on the story of Angelica Guevara and Oriana Sandoval, Berkeley students who had been sexually assaulted by the same student at Boalt Law School. Though the case is itself both unique and extremely upsetting, some characteristics of the story might be familiar to all those who have had to interact with OSC bureaucrats over the past year and a half:
About a year ago, Angelica Guevara was allegedly sexually battered by a fellow student at UC Berkeley's School of Law.

It took her five months to build up the courage, but in July 2010, she and another woman decided to come forward and report the incidents to the campus Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards [that's the official name for OSC] after hearing that several other women had also felt harassed by the same individual.

But for months after coming forward, Guevara - who graduated last May - has dealt with last-minute conduct hearing cancellations, miscommunication between the campus and witnesses to the incident and insufficient information about the standing of the case due to federal restrictions placed on the campus. And now that the hearing has happened, she may never find out the outcome.

"The tragedy is that it makes me not want to come forward if something worse were to happen in the future," Guevara said. "I'm disappointed to know that if a woman comes forward, her voice is still diminished."

Guevara alleges that she was grabbed inappropriately by a male law student last year while walking across campus with a friend. The other law school graduate to file a complaint against the same male student, Oriana Sandoval, had been at a law school event discussing the male student's pending divorce, when, after the others in her group left, he allegedly told Sandoval that his divorce was in her interest before putting two fingers up to his mouth and simulating oral sex.

"My incident was in a pattern of behavior," Sandoval said. "His behavior was escalating and that was why I filed a complaint."

Per student conduct procedure, the women were put in touch with Denise Oldham, interim Title IX officer and director of the Campus Climate and Compliance Office - which investigates complaints of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination and provides direction to the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards in the resolution and investigation of these complaints.

When Oldham told Guevara that she had been unable to contact Guevara's two witnesses, Guevara e-mailed them on Sept. 1 to ask why they had not responded to Oldham and CC-ed Oldham and two law professors.

After receiving a reply from both witnesses saying that they had not been contacted by Oldham, Guevara received a phone call from Oldham advising her that it was better to handle this issue over the phone instead of by e-mail.

"I remember hanging up the phone and crying uncontrollably," Guevara said. "I felt alone, and I began to feel I regretted the day I came forward."

The hearing was rescheduled twice, but ultimately took place Jan. 26. Guevara said she was given one night's notice before each cancellation and had had to cancel work in planning to attend each.

Due to work-related commitments, Sandoval, who lives in New Mexico, had informed the center she would not be available to Skype into the hearing, which meant she was unable to corroborate Guevara's allegations.

"If we couldn't have been there in person or Skype in, there should have been alternative ways for us to participate," Sandoval said. "Written questions could have been submitted to me."

Due to the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the campus cannot discuss conduct cases unless the person investigated gives their consent - thus, the campus may be unable to disclose the hearing outcome or the reason for the cancellations, to Guevara or Sandoval.

"It's unfortunate that we are, at times, limited by the law in terms of the information we are allowed to provide," Oldham said in an e-mail. "The result is that complainants are not always aware of all the efforts we are making to fully investigate their allegations."

Susan Trageser of the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards said there are two exceptions under the conduct code where complainants may learn of an outcome - in an instance of significant violence or an issue of sexual assault. Because this case does not fall under these categories, Guevara and Sandoval may not learn of the hearing's outcome.

"(Now) I don't care whether he's found guilty or not," Guevara said. "The damage is already done."
If capitalism depends on patriarchy, then so too does the neoliberal university. OSC, it seems, exists not to punish (let alone prevent) sexual violence but rather to counter anti-privatization, anti-austerity protesters alone. Instead of facilitating the spaces dedicated to overcoming hierarchical and patriarchal relations, OSC is dedicated to their reproduction and normalization. Entirely aside from the questions of legal liability these cases bring up, OSC itself therefore constitutes an enormous physical liability to the safety, dignity, and integrity of particular kinds of people who make up the university community. If for no other reason than this, OSC must be abolished.


  1. "The other law school graduate to file a complaint against the same male student, Oriana Sandoval, had been at a law school event discussing the male student's pending divorce, when, after the others in her group left, he allegedly told Sandoval that his divorce was in her interest before putting two fingers up to his mouth and simulating oral sex."

    I doubt very much that this qualifies as harassment, under the definition used to adjudicate. It was crass, boorish, what have you, but it does not constitute behavior which effectively denies her the opportunity to get an education.

  2. Totally agree. Let's focus on real victims, real sexual harassment and misconduct.

  3. There's a pretty big difference between being too drunk to remember having sex and date rape. Emily dates a 50 year old man in Portland and he cheats on her constantly. She does not make smart decisions. She does not seem to want to take any personal responsibility. It's sad.