Administration and OSAC clash over campus-wide alert system
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Reports in the media of an alleged sexual assault involving two Occidental students has renewed outrage about the college’s handling of sexual assault on campus. Many students were surprised that they were not notified of the alleged assault by the college before news media reported the story several days later. The Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) responded by renewing its demand for a campus-wide sexual assault alert system along with the other eleven demands the coalition claims that President Jonathan Veitch agreed to last semester. Veitch denies agreeing to the coalition’s demands.
The alleged assault occurred early Sunday morning. By last Wednesday, Feb. 27, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara Avery sent an email to the campus community alerting them of the alleged assault. In the email, Dean Avery stated that the college did not alert students to the alleged assault earlier because it was not deemed to be a continuing threat to students’ safety.
“Had this been a case where a student was assaulted by a person unknown, or a case where the College determined that there was a continuing threat, we would have immediately issued a campus alert, as we have in the past,” Avery wrote. The college has not historically alert the campus of alleged violations by students. It is only reported in Campus Safety crime statistics when and if the college’s judicial process finds the student responsible.
Immediately following the email’s circulation, status updates criticizing the college’s stance spread around Facebook stating: “I STRONGLY BELIEVE ANY RAPIST (WHETHER THE RAPIST IS AN OXY STUDENT OR NOT) POSES A CONTINUOUS THREAT TO OUR SAFETY. SHARE IF YOU’RE WITH ME!” Discussion among students, however, both on and offline represent a wide range of sentiments.
“I just thought there were so many people politicizing this rape, you know, using this case to get policital momentum going, which is a good thing to enact change, but I also felt that we don’t really know what’s going on in this situation,” ASOC Sophomore Class Senator Imran Chandoo said.
Members of OSAC organized a march on March 1 to protest what they perceived as the administration’s failure to report the alleged assault to students in a timely manner. The march, which was attended by 225 people, according to Campus Safety reports, began with speeches given outside of AGC. Speakers demanded that reports be emailed to students whenever a sexual assault is reported by a student. History and sociology major and OSAC member Hailey Jures (junior) explained the reasons for this demand.
“Right now rape is still a felony, sexual assault is still a crime, and it’s not being treated that way,” Jures said. “We’re not asking for names, we’re not asking for details. We just want an email that goes out that says, you know, ‘There was a sexual assault off-campus Sunday morning.’”
Jures stated that these reports could be used to collect data on the number of alleged assaults occurring on campus and also help to reduce stigma around the issue.
“We want to just make a better campus for people to feel safer. We think with having those alerts it will normalize how often this is happening and help survivors, so if this happens to someone they won’t feel quite as alone,” she said.
The request for a campus-wide alert system was one of OSAC’s 12 demands for sexual misconduct policy reform that they present to the college last spring. It was OSAC’s belief that President Veitch accepted these demands and was committed to putting them into action as soon as possible, according to politics major and OSAC member Alana Murphy (senior).
“The administration graciously accepted our demands in the fall of this school year–something we took as sign of mutual care and consideration for this serious topic,” Murphy said via email. “One of our demands (#7) was that the administration would notify the school when someone reports a rape. When the administration did not follow through with their promise to implement the 12 demands, we realized that organizing to demonstrate how important this issue is to students is the best way to tell the administration that this issue is important on campus.”
OSAC celebrated their perceived victory of the acceptance of its 12 demands with a march in November. They are now protesting the broken promises while the college denies ever committing to such changes in policy.
“What I committed to was a conversation with them, not an acceptance of their 12 demands,” President Veitch said. “[I told them that] I found nothing unreasonable in the demands, and that in principle I supported what motivated them and that I took them very seriously, but absence of conversation could not implement them.”
Veitch maintains that he has upheld this commitment to conversation with the formation of a task force and that any further expectations are due to misconception.
“I don’t know where [OSAC] would have gotten that impression, but I do know that it was announced at the rally – that I was not there for – that we had agreed, and it was hard to unwind that,” Veitch said. “I would never have agreed to notify the community every time a sexual assault occurred unless there was a threat of imminent danger; it’s not practical, it violates privacy, it makes it unlikely that people are going to come forward when these incidents occur again because of the publicity that they generate and because people end up knowing who’s involved and because you can’t determine yet who’s telling the truth.”
Not only does Veitch deny ever agreeing to implement OSAC’s demands, he upholds the reasoning behind the decision and stated that a move to a real-time notification system for all reported sexual assaults is not likely.
Regardless of his firm stance on the issue, Veitch and his colleagues still face a myriad of responses from students determined to see OSAC’s demands met.
Sophomores Hannah Kessel and Michaela Bosch recently created a Change.org petition to be delivered to President Veitch, Deans Avery and Howard, which automatically notifies these administrators with an email for each signature. Addressed to students, parents, faculty and alumni, the petition reads, “We reject the notion that rapists on our campus are not a continuous threat to our safety. The failure to alert the community of sexual assaults renders the experiences of survivors on our campus invisible and perpetuates the myth that stranger rape is more common than rape perpetrated by a non-stranger.” The petition has quickly reached almost 700 signatures.
Frustrated students also found means of expression on a Tumblr page that has gone viral since its creation on March 3. Composed of anonymous text and photo submissions, the blog boasts a banner across the top of the page reading, “We are fed up with Occidental’s failure to address the sexual assault epidemic on campus, and we are not alone.” A Facebook group titled “Divest From Oxy” goes as far as to ask members to withhold financial contributions to Occidental to put economic pressure on the college to meet the demands. According to Murphy, OSAC also plans to hold another protest on April 20 if the administration does not cooperate.
“This is an incredibly serious issue that we have dedicated countless hours to,” Murphy said. “If the administration cannot finish this important work in the relatively long time frame we have given them, then we must find other means to convey the weight and gravity of the situation.”