UC Santa Barbara’s graduate student representative on the Title IX Student Advisory Board announced her resignation on Tuesday following disagreements with the University of California Office of the President, leaving UCSB without representation on the board.
Jennifer Selvidge, a materials engineering graduate student, was selected to serve on the board in February 2018 alongside UCSB undergraduate representative Mariah Tanaka soon after the board was established in November 2017.
Former Title IX Coordinator Kathleen Salvaty told the Nexus in November 2016 that the board would advise the Title IX office on how to implement Title IX policies and procedures.
The board contains one undergraduate student representative and one graduate student representative from each UC campus. Tanaka resigned over the past summer, and with Selvidge’s resignation on Tuesday, the board now has no UCSB representation.
Timeline of Events Leading Up To Selvidge’s Resignation:
On Oct. 11, the Nexus reported on proposed changes to the system-wide Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment (SVSH) policy currently under formal review that Selvidge presented at a Graduate Student Association meeting and at Associated Students Senate.
UCOP’s Director of Media Relations Claire Doan emailed the Nexus on Oct. 12 with a list of corrections to statements Selvidge presented.
In the email, Doan requested that the Nexus immediately remove the article due to the alleged inaccurate information. The Nexus responded that the reporter attributed all of the information in the article to an official Title IX representative, Selvidge.
According to Selvidge, UCSB Title IX Coordinator Ariana Alvarez met with Selvidge on Oct. 12 to discuss the Nexus article, where Selvidge explained reasoning behind her statements.
Selvidge said she “felt everything was resolved” at that point.
System-wide Title IX Program Coordinator Evelyn Cheng then emailed Selvidge on Oct. 15 requesting to have a conversation about the Nexus article, according to documents obtained by the Nexus. Selvidge responded that she was unavailable and it was unlikely she would find time to meet that week.
Cheng emailed again, asking to schedule a time to discuss the Nexus article. Selvidge did not respond.
On Oct. 18, Selvidge received an email from Interim Systemwide Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Taylor stating Selvidge’s participation on the Student Advisory Board was suspended.
“The article attributed several grossly inaccurate statements to you that harmfully misrepresent proposed revisions to UC’s Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Policy,” Taylor said in her email to Selvidge.
“Your unwillingness to correct the article is contrary to the purpose of the Student Advisory Board, and of great concern.”
On Nov. 5, Selvidge published the resignation letter on Now UCSB’s Facebook page, detailing her experiences with UCOP and the reasons behind her resignation.
“The sudden suspension of my position on the Board seemed to be a clear attempt to bully me into issuing the retraction UCOP could not obtain from the Nexus themselves,” Selvidge said in her resignation letter.
Taylor declined to comment on Selvidge’s suspension.
Taylor also told Selvidge not to attend the in-person board meeting that was scheduled for the next day, Oct. 19.
Selvidge decided to attend the board meeting regardless.
“I knew there was no undergraduate representative and therefore if I, or a proxy, did not go UCSB would not be represented at the meeting,” Selvidge said.
Selvidge’s experiences at the board meeting are detailed in her resignation letter.
“It is now my belief that this committee serves no purpose other than to soothe public pressures and stave off student activism,” Selvidge wrote. “In good conscience I cannot continue to serve on such a committee without significant structural reforms.”
In her letter, Selvidge also calls for the resignations of Taylor as well as Chris Carrubba-Katz, the Title IX principal investigator in the UCOP office.
She references Carrubba-Katz for his comments at the Oct. 19 meeting regarding a survey that students had proposed, in which Carrubba-Katz asked how they could reword the survey to put a “positive spin” on the results, said Selvidge.
“Talking about a study and saying you want to put a positive spin on it is in my mind akin to saying you want to publish false results,” she said.
“I understand that it’s very likely that I will disagree with them on policy issues,” Selvidge said. “I don’t think I should disagree with them on the scientific method.”
Where UCOP and Selvidge Disagree:
UCOP took issue with Selvidge’s statements in large part because she had included her own interpretations of the policies during her presentation on Oct. 10 at a Senate meeting.
In an interview with the Nexus, Selvidge said she had pulled directly from the policy itself for her presentations and then expressed her opinions about the implications of the policy changes.
“If students on university committees can be suspended for not giving the positive spin that UCOP wants, then really they have no ability to speak frankly, either in the committee or outside of it,” Selvidge said at a Graduate Student Association meeting on Nov. 6.
“These are statements that are factual in nature, that are not open to interpretation. It’s not opinion-based assertion that Jenny is making,” Doan said in an interview.
One of the corrections in Doan’s Oct. 12 email to the Nexus concerned the definition of consent.
The Nexus reported that Selvidge said “the committee now defines consent as ‘unable to understand the…nature of sexual activity due to…alcohol and drugs.’”
Doan said in the email that this is “misleading and discourages reporting by complainants.” In an interview with the Nexus, Selvidge said that she chose to make this interpretation due to the specific examples that the policy change provided.
Another correction Doan mentioned in the email was in regards to the sexual assault of minors.
On Oct. 10, Selvidge said UCSB does not consider statutory rape to be sexual assault. Doan said in the email that this was inaccurate.
In an interview with Nexus, Selvidge said that she chose to make this interpretation because the official policy states that “sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 would be considered statutory rape” under the subsection of “other prohibited behavior,” and not the subsection of “sexual assault.”
“It’s specifically in a different section, so it’s not sexual assault.”
Another correction concerned the board vacancies.
Doan added that “the Systemwide Title IX Office and UC Office of Student Affairs are in the process of deciding how to fill that vacancy,” even though Selvidge said in the Oct. 10 Senate meeting that interested students should contact the UCSB Title IX Officer.
“Ariana Alvarez told me that they should contact her,” Selvidge said. “If that’s wrong, then UCOP isn’t communicating with Ariana.”
Again, UCSB has no current representation on the Title IX Student Advisory Board.
UCOP has not yet put forth a plan for how the two vacancies can be filled, Taylor said.
“We don’t have a process in place at this point for filling a vacancy. There are formalities that we have as we move forward, we will be putting into place, but I’m sure you can understand not all of these things have been worked out,” Taylor said in an interview.
To Selvidge, the board’s voice has not been heard.
“At this point, I don’t feel that they value student input significantly enough that it really makes a difference, which is sad, but I would not encourage any undergraduates to take the time to apply,” she said.
A full copy of Selvidge’s letter can be viewed below:
Correction [Dec. 5]: Selvidge submitted a resignation letter, not a lawsuit, as stated in a previous version of this article.