A group of students headed by survivors of sexual assault Alejandra Melgoza, Lexi Weyrick and Melissa Vasquez staged a 13-hour sit-in of Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s office from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning to demand specific policies to improve the handling of sexual assault cases, concluding the night with a signature from Yang ensuring the enactment of 13 policies that favor survivors.
Yang, along with Acting Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Mary Jacob and Senior Associate Dean for Student Life Debbie Fleming, agreed to consider immediate suspension for perpetrators, implement a minimum sanction for sexual assault crimes and immediately remove perpetrators from university-owned housing. In addition, administrators decided to take steps to increase staff diversity and implement faculty training on cultural and identity sensitivity. Yang committed to cover full travel expenses for Melgoza, Weyrick and Vasquez to speak at the May 20 UC Regents meeting in San Francisco and approved eight additional demands. Melgoza, Weyrick and Vasquez will meet with Yang again on Monday to present a budget and discuss details and execution of the agreements.
Second-year Chican@ studies and history of public policy double major Melgoza said Yang and administrators met the demands with only a few changes to the wording.
“All the demands are going to be in print … and the whole school’s going to see them,” Melgoza said. “We made a few adjustments, but just on the wording and on the jargon of everything. They were pretty concrete demands, and they met them.”
Melgoza said she looks forward to attending UCSB as an ordinary student knowing there will now be policies to sanction sexual assault offenders and provide support to victims.
“It’s been such a part of my life throughout my college experience that I don’t remember what it’s like to be a normal college student,” Melgoza said. “I’m excited to see what that will look like, where I will be fighting for other students.”
It’s been such a part of my life throughout my college experience that I don’t remember what it’s like to be a normal college student. I’m excited to see what that will look like. – Alejandra Melgoza
Gaucho Consent Co-Chair and second-year sociology major Weyrick said the group will continue to organize and push their demands to the UC level to ensure system-wide sanctions for perpetrators of sexual misconduct.
“This is clearly the beginning — not the end — for us,” Weyrick said. “We have a meeting on Monday set up and the Regents-wide meeting will be big for some of these [demands] that we can implement on a UC-wide basis outside of just UCSB.”
Weyrick said the group communicated with various organizations to accomplish their goals, initiating conversations about gender representative safety programs with Isla Vista Foot Patrol and establishing a survivor fund for sexual assault victims.
According to Weyrick, one of the most important accomplishments of the sit-in was a mandate ensuring the removal of students from residence halls if they are found guilty of sexual assault.
“I think the biggest victory was understanding the power of student activism, there’s so much here that we accomplished.” Weyrick said. “If we were just three students sitting in an office … they wouldn’t have [been] taken as seriously, so I feel like the credit needs to go to the bodies that came here and chose to work with us and help us.”
Fourth-year sociology major Melissa Vasquez said the administrators met the initial demands the group had when they began the sit-in.
“We came here with something in mind and administration wasn’t trying to hear us out and stuff,” Vasquez said. “We were able to put our foot down and be able to get our demands met, and we had something in mind when we got here and we left with it, too, so it’s kind of really exciting.”
Yang said he was grateful students and administrators were ultimately able to work together.
“I appreciate the opportunity to hear the survivors speak and also that students have come up with proposals for solutions,” Yang said. “We will continue to refine these solutions.”
Associated Students President and fourth-year sociology major Ali Guthy said in addition to the approved demands, the university should develop a sexual assault policy specific to UCSB.
“UCSB doesn’t have our own sexual assault policies. We rely on the UC-wide policy, which I think is really problematic, given that every campus has our own unique circumstances and things that need to be considered,” Guthy said. “We really need to develop policies that are specific to UCSB, that are consistent, that we can all adhere to.”
Guthy also said while she cannot speak to the experiences of sexual assault survivors, their stories were compelling and demanded administrative attention.
“I am concerned for the survivors’ well-being and that everyone is being treated fairly in a consistent manner, and, to me, it seems that our university has failed to meet those basic standards for procedures … the cases we have been hearing today are very compelling,” Guthy said.
Third-year sociology and black studies double major Mohsin Mirza said he believes the university does not have appropriate measures in place to support survivors of sexual assault.
We were able to put our foot down and be able to get our demands met, and we had something in mind when we got here. -Melissa Vasquez
“What we saw, it’s the power of student action, student activism,” Mirza said. “We have a serious problem with how sexual assault is handled, with how survivors are treated by administration, by Judicial Affairs and by students on this campus.”
Mirza said the group will continue fighting to ensure the university enforces the sanctions against sexual misconduct offenders.
“When they come here and occupy this office and when the supporters of them join them for over 12 hours demanding the changes happen, we were able to make that difference,” Mirza said. “Hopefully, the school’s going to be much better off, and we’re going to keep pressuring the chancellor and administration that they honor the agreements they made tonight, but it’s a historic win.”
Mirza also said as next year’s A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs (EVPSA), he will ensure the office continues to work on long-term sexual assault policies.
“Next year, we will be working on making sure that these demands and more changes to make these policies much better will be put in place,” Mirza said. “But many of the changes should be coming very quickly.”
[Correction: This article originally stated Alejandra Melgoza is a second-year Chican@ studies and political science double major. However, Melgoza is a second year double majoring in Chican@ studies and history of public policy.]