UC Santa Barbara Students Against Sexual Assault held a town hall over Zoom on Feb. 24 where campus officials and community leaders discussed issues related to sexual violence on campus and in Isla Vista.
Panelists — including representatives from Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education (C.A.R.E.), the Title IX office, the Clery Act coordinator and UCSB officials — spoke out on methods of addressing sexual violence issues in the UCSB community and answered questions from students.
The panel was facilitated by the Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) co-chairs, alongside Executive Director of Associated Students Marisela Marquez and Assistant Director of Mental Health Initiatives and and Inclusion at UCSB’s Counseling & Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.) Dr. Meridith Merchant.
The panel first discussed UCSB’s timely warning system — mandated reporting by UCSB to the community following cases of sexual assault and crime.
SASA co-chair and second-year cell and developmental biology major Leila Loose presented the findings of a SASA-conducted survey on students’ opinions on the timely warning system and possible negative impacts it may have on students’ mental health — an issue which was discussed at the Fall Quarter 2021 SASA town hall.
During the last town hall, SASA members, panelists and attendees voiced concern around the lack of content warnings in timely warnings — emails sent to the campus community when a crime designated for mandatory reporting occurs on campus property.
Out of the survey’s 449 responses, 181 out of 442 students reported being negatively affected by the timely warning emails, and 222 out of 440 students reported that a content warning in the subject line of the emails would be effective in minimizing negative effects of the emails. Respondents also gave feedback statements, many of which called for greater accountability for fraternities where sexual assaults have occured, Loose noted.
“There is a recurring theme in these statements to hold fraternities accountable,” Loose said. “There were a couple of [timely warnings] that I pointed out [in the previous town hall] that say, ‘university-affiliated property in Isla Vista,’ which a lot of people assume — possibly incorrectly — means a fraternity.”
“Students really want to know which fraternities are responsible for these crimes and are frustrated with the university and UCPD [UC Police Department] for seemingly protecting these organizations through not giving their identity,” Loose continued.
Following the presentation, university officials addressed how they are responding to a UCSB student, fourth-year Justin Asinobi, charged with invasion of privacy and eavesdropping after allegedly placing cameras in an Isla Vista residence’s bathroom.
Clery Act Compliance Coordinator Jessica Fougere explained the intention behind the email the university sent on Feb. 17 regarding the incident.
“We sent an email out the first day that we had any information about the incident. I tried to follow some of the suggestions [SASA] made for timely warnings, so we gave a content warning and provided resources and gave as much information as we could at the time,” Fougere said.
Director and Title IX Officer Ariana Alvarez spoke about Asinobi’s alleged invasion of privacy in the context of the Title IX office.
“Some folks may not know that this type of conduct falls within the scope of the sexual violence [and] sexual harassment policy. It is captured under the other prohibited behavior section, and it’s something that we take just as seriously as any other claim under this policy,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said the office is receiving reports regarding the incident.
“We certainly are receiving reports and following up according to our response process,” Alvarez said. “Our first intention is to connect with the identified individual to offer them support resources in the provision of accommodations, if desired, and then certainly if they’re not already connected to C.A.R.E., we make that connection.”
“Once we have the information from the sources, we will move forward with an initial assessment of the conduct and every day, multiple times a day, we are assessing for any additional measures that need to be implemented and any actions that need to be taken immediately,” she continued.
C.A.R.E. Director Briana Conway emphasized the importance of not forcing survivors to come forward when reporting instances of sexual harassment and letting reporting incidents be an individual decision. She added that the C.A.R.E. office will provide an advocate for every student who does choose to report an incident.
“There can oftentimes be a very outspoken desire for reporting [incidents], and [that should be] an individualized decision for what is best for that individual.” Conway said. “There are a lot of real, legitimate barriers to trusting those systems and not wanting to engage, and [we will] support wherever that student is.”
“If a student does wish to report, we’ll make sure that they know that they have a right to an advocate to accompany them through every interview. Whether that’s law enforcement or an investigator or a district attorney, they don’t have to navigate those processes alone,” Conway continued.
The town hall then shifted to public comment, and Alvarez responded to a student who asked what preventative measures the university is employing in response to the situation.
“We’re still trying to get an understanding of everything that has occurred since last week. And right now, I think we have one student involved, but we want to make sure that we have a full understanding before we start addressing how to prevent this from occurring.”
Loose added that SASA is also looking for ways to address the issue of inadequate lighting on campus.
Spencer Brandt, president and director of the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD), was in attendance and spoke about the IVCSD’s interpersonal violence investigator — a position created in 2018 to work with survivors and investigate dating and sexual violence — as well as the issue of lighting in Isla Vista, where underlit areas make some residents feel unsafe.
Lighting is “something that so many in our community have been very passionate about for a long time,” Brandt said, and he encouraged participants to attend an upcoming UCPD campus lighting walk to help students identify areas on campus where they feel unsafe.
“I was also informed by someone from UCPD that they are planning to do a campus lighting walk very soon, and I wanted to share that as a great way to get involved to help identify areas on campus where we feel unsafe because I think that being able to feel safe in your community is such an important thing,” Brandt continued.