Handling of Harassment Hearing Draws Complaints
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Category: News > University > Student Life
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 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."
Contact Rachel Banning-Lover at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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