UC Sexual Harassment Cases Show Pattern Of Impunity

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Documents show that University of California officials often target vulnerable students and that powerful professors aren't always punished for their actions.

ucla studentPublic records have been recently released surrounding 113 cases of alleged sexual misconduct within the University of California system.

The records reveal that officials accused of sexually assaulting students aren't always held accountable and, in most cases, the victims are seriously harmed since they have a difficult time getting back to their studies and careers.

The release of public records follows a year of intense scrutiny after the higher ed school system was involved in a series of high-profile cases involving powerful faculty members. While they were able to avoid serious consequences, the investigations show they should have been penalized in many instances.

Upon reviewing these documents, The Guardian noticed similarities in how “faculty, advisers, and other academic officials appear to target vulnerable students they oversee.” And what's worse is that many who are guilty of these assaults are only given a slap on the wrist.

Between January 2013 and April 2016 records show that there were cases reported and investigated in 10 UC campuses. In 35 percent of these incidents, students were the victims while a quarter came from faculty.

Complaints involved lewd or misogynistic comments, inappropriate touching, unwanted propositions, and even sexual assault. “One-third of the accused still work for the university,” The Guardian reports.

In one case reviewed by the publication, the accused UC Los Angeles teacher eventually stepped down but the student who was the target struggled handling the harassment.

French and Francophone studies professor Eric Gans told his female graduate student that he loved her and in May of 2011, he wrote her a letter.

“I have never seen you more beautiful than the past two days,” the 69-year-old teacher said. “I can’t help feeling that … you are being beautiful for me, that I somehow inspire this beauty.”

Instead of feeling flattered by the educator's words, the student felt anxious and depressed as she was scheduled to take an exam under Gans in one week's time.

According to the school's investigation, this case is just one of many sexually harassing messages this student received from the French studies professor. Despite stating she wasn't interested in a romantic relationship, he wouldn't stop pursuing her.

At UCLA, six faculty members were investigated for sexual misconduct.

One case involved an unnamed associate professor who allegedly told a student she was “so beautiful” he was becoming “distracted by her charm.”

He wrote her in an email that she had inspired him to write poetry. But as the student skipped class because of how uncomfortable the teacher made her feel, he proceeded to reprimand her. In an email, he told her that missing classes “is disruptive to your education.”

In another UCLA case, an unnamed male faculty member sent flirtatious and sexual emails to a female student. After she rejected him, he wrote her he would “try and take a cold shower.”

After the exchanges, the student said she spent her days “not studying my research but agonizing over how I could possibly fix a situation that I had not created.” She told the school she was terrified of what would happen academically once she completely cut him from her life.

Both UCLA professors accused of misconduct remain employed.

Noreen Farrell, the executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, told The Guardian that “[o]ne single influential professor can make or break the entire career of a student.” Unfortunately for the countless students across the country, Farrell added that this behavior isn't exclusive to the University of California. And since schools give a “free pass to its own employees,” Farrell continued, it's going to be hard for colleges to shift the culture.

According to Kathleen Salvaty, UC's system-wide coordinator for Title IX, the university has reinforced its policies since the cases were taken to court. Now, the faculty is required to alert her office of harassment complaints. But opportunities for confidential reporting have also been improved, Salvaty says.

“The more we educate our students about their rights and their options, I think students can feel empowered,” she told The Guardian.

Will this shift truly help to change the culture of abuse many of these schools have simply tolerated over the years? If schools continue to avoid punishing faculty, the answer is no.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters / Brian Snyder/Reuters

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