Recently, President Barack Obama announced the launch of a federal task force to address the issue of sexual assaults on university campuses nationwide. This announcement came on the heels of a recently released report by the White House Council on Women and Girls that estimated nearly 20 percent of female college students have experienced some form of sexual assault, and identified college as a particularly risky place for women.
Currently, several universities across the nation are being investigated for suspicion of non-compliance with federal policies regarding the proper procedures for handling reports of sexual assaults. Among the schools under investigation is UC Berkeley.
Several students have come forward to complain about the university's mismanagement of sexual assault reports. They allege that campus reporting procedures are nebulous, that sexual assault reports are not taken seriously, and that perpetrators of sexual violence do not experience consequences that are in proportion to their offenses.
Given UC Berkeley's long-standing reputation for encouraging and supporting civil rights and social justice, these accusations are alarming. UC Berkeley is one of the area's great treasures, a physical representation of the intellectual and progressive values that prevail in the Bay Area.
As local citizens, while we relish in the accomplishments of UC Berkeley, we must also hold ourselves accountable for its failures. We are all stakeholders here; sexual assault is not a personal problem or even a women's issue -- it is something that impacts all members of the community and should be treated as such.
How reports of sexual assault are currently handled sends a message to the residents of the area, one that undermines the significance of sexual violence. Policies are geared toward the inevitability of assaults, and sanctions for those found to be guilty are hollow -- having to write essays, being issued warnings, or in some rare cases being placed on probation. Compared to academic integrity policies mandating that those caught cheating twice face expulsion, being accused of sexual assault seems relatively inconsequential.
If anything can be learned from the university's history, it is that UC Berkeley possesses the potential to be the catalyst for large-scale change.
Berkeley residents and the greater Bay Area must reclaim their position as challengers of the status quo and champions of civil rights. It is vital that we hold the university accountable for its failure to protect students and demand more from the institution considered to be among the most prestigious in the nation.
If the most recent investigation into the university's practices fail to produce substantial change for sexual assault survivors, I believe citizens should engaged in the tactics long employed by the university and perfected by its students -- protest.
Protest the university's lack of transparency and action, protest its attempts to silence survivors of sexual assault, and do everything possible to make it clear that sexual assault is an issue of human, civil and equal rights and will not be tolerated.
Gillian Simmons is a graduate student at Mills College studying public policy. She is a resident of Oakland.