On February 28, the University of California released systemwide records of Title IX investigations conducted between January 2013 and April 2016. Although names were generally redacted to protect the identities of complainants and witnesses, the full investigation reports were provided and are circulating online. Reading them is gut-wrenching — not only because sexual harassment and violence are always so — but also because they sometimes reflect an abuse of academic authority and a violation of trust so essential to our community. They offend our basic sense of decency.
I wish it were otherwise — the entire UCLA community wishes it were otherwise — but UCLA is not spared. Even a single instance of sexual harassment or sexual violence is too many. But wishes alone don’t change the reality that sexual harassment and violence occur throughout society, including on our campus.
Going forward, these investigative records will spawn news stories, conversations, critiques, and calls for action. Although there was discipline or corrective action in each case, people will legitimately ask why did we not do more? We should not dodge such questions. Even though these records highlight inconvenient or embarrassing truths, every Bruin should embrace their honest discussion. To make that dialogue useful, I want to share an accurate picture of where we are today, so that we can chart the path toward where we seek to be.
A timeline will be useful here. My office, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), is relatively new, created on July 1, 2015 by Chancellor Gene Block. The new Title IX Office, which sits within EDI, was created just a few months earlier. This means that we’ve been working hard for 1.5 years to change how equity, diversity, and inclusion is “done” at UCLA. An important part of that project has been changing how we investigate sexual harassment and sexual violence. I emphasize this inflection point because most (although not all) of the public records concern cases investigated and resolved before new systems came online. This is not to say that the old systems were toothless (in fact more than 70 percent of the respondents were either dismissed or forced to resign/retire) or that the new systems are perfect, but the differences are vast.
Here are some of the new developments in place:
New Structures: I’ve already pointed out the creation of the new EDI and Title IX offices. Before then, there were only two (2) people working on Title IX. Currently, we have seven (7) within the Title IX Office, with additional personnel and resources allocated as needed. The smarts, qualifications, experience, and hustle of the people currently working in the office are extraordinary. Their professionalism and care are remarkable.
New Policies: On January 1, 2016, the entire UC system adopted a new policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment (SVSH Policy). This 22-page document makes clear that all forms of gender discrimination, including sexual violence and sexual harassment, violate both law and University policy.
Mandatory Reporting: A critical, if controversial, requirement of the new SVSH Policy is that “responsible employees” have an obligation to notify the Title IX Office whenever they learn of potential “prohibited conduct.” Professors, supervisors, and administrators are no longer allowed to determine on their own whether some report of sexual harassment or sexual violence should be taken seriously. Instead, all such reports must be directed to the Title IX Office, which processes them professionally, consistently, and strictly according to policy. This means that complaints are much less likely to fall through cracks, be delayed, or be ignored even by well-meaning supervisors. It also means that we can better identify repeat offenders.
Support Systems: “Mandatory reporting” was considered controversial in part because people wanted to be able to have confidential conversations. That’s why UCLA expanded its confidential support services for those who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault. For students, faculty, and staff, these confidential resources include an expanded Campus Assault Resources & Education (CARE) Advocacy Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Misconduct, as well as the previously established and nationally renowned Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center, where staff are available for confidential consultations 24 hours a day.
New Procedures: In addition to the substantive SVSH Policy, we’ve also adopted various procedures that describe how an investigation unfolds from beginning to end. If a student is accused, these Student Conduct Procedures are used. If a faculty or staff member is accused, the recently adopted Procedures for Handling Allegations of Discrimination, Harassment, or Retaliation are used. These documents and their detailed procedures simply did not exist until 2016.
Greater Transparency: The new procedures offer much more transparency than ever before. For example, complainants are provided regular updates on the status of an investigation. Both complainants and respondents are given written notice of the outcome of the investigation and the discipline imposed. They also can receive a redacted copy of the full investigation report. We’re also trying to see the bigger picture. Without anyone asking, EDI voluntarily released a Public Accountability Report on July 1, 2016 to provide — for the first time ever — public statistics about investigations conducted in the past. More and better data will come each year. That I promise.
Greater Collaboration: I, the prior Title IX Coordinator Kathleen Salvaty, and the current Interim Title IX Coordinator Jessica Price have spent many hours meeting and talking with concerned students, elected student government officials, and student organizations such as the Bruin Consent Coalition (BCC). Those conversations haven’t all been easy, especially since confidentiality rules prevent entirely frank discussions about particular investigations. I admit that I’ve also been frustrated having to defend past decisions or outcomes that cannot be changed. That said, these hard conversations have provided me and the Title IX Office incredibly important insights on how to better solve the problems we have collectively inherited.
That is our fundamental challenge: to better solve problems through collaboration. Right now, the campus is struggling with hard questions on how to implement various high-level recommendations adopted systemwide. For example, we have been instructed to form a Peer Review Committee that advises the appropriateness of a proposed sanction, discipline, or settlement after a Title IX investigation has found a policy violation. If you believe that sanctions have been too light (or too heavy), you will care about how this Committee is designed. There is no easy consensus or obvious answer. But I want to highlight the value of identifying such critical choices in our near-future even as we process records of what happened in years past.
What we need most is a forward-looking approach that tackles concrete problems based on full and fair debate. Going forward, policies and procedures both locally and systemwide will have to be revised and improved. We need your input. Sign up for regular office hours in the Title IX Office. Contact your student organizations to participate in committees and task forces. Join us to make UCLA become more what it aims to be — an equal learning and working environment free of sexual harassment and violence.