Governor Gavin Newsom recently approved legislation requiring California State Universities to report all sexual misconduct investigations to the state. The bill, S.B. 808, comes after a barrage of failures on the part of various CSUs to address and investigate misconduct properly. An audit found faulty data collection, which severely limited the scope of the audit, and ultimately discovered that the CSUs failed to investigate claims regarding repeat offenders while generally exercising inconsistency in their investigations if they went forward with one at all. S.B. 808 aims to create transparency within the CSUs, transparency that was non-existent before. However, this legislation does not go nearly far enough and still fails to address the safety of students and the campus community fully.
The need for this legislation speaks to a more significant moral defect at the heart of the nation’s most extensive public four-year university system. While S.B. 808 forces the issue, this kind of transparency should have been in place already. The CSUs have already said they would be improving the investigative process and hiring more staff to do so, but there should have already been an established system that ran the cases correctly. It’s beyond inhumane that this topic needs to be discussed and legislated when the university has an obligation to its student body, staff and surrounding community to prioritize their safety. S.B. 808 tells the campus community that their institutions cannot be trusted to prioritize or protect students.
This legislation still guarantees nothing. The consequences of violating this legislation might not be enough to prohibit the questionable behavior. If history has taught people anything, it indicates that this law will only motivate the CSUs to hide their failures and misconduct with more fervor. Furthermore, it’s unclear how this legislation would prevent sexual harassment and assault when the university has already shown a vested interest and capability in silencing survivors.
The answer lies in transforming campuses to prioritize the targets of sexual misconduct and reforming Title IX in prohibiting sex discrimination. Shifting an entire culture overnight is improbable but necessary and essential. It’s well past time to listen to survivors, ensure more frequent independent audits of sexual misconduct at universities, limit the entities that facilitate these behaviors, specifically Greek life, and create more resources with more power on campuses to offer students and employees the bare minimum: safety.
It is not wrong or harmful for students to ask for more of the universities they attend. In May of 2021, a survey was conducted at UCs systemwide about the UC’s ability to handle sexual misconduct, Title IX and student resources, among other related topics. Only 68% of students had knowledge of Campus Assault Resources & Education, CARE and there were fundamental misunderstandings about Title IX, such as to whom it applied. This survey was conducted by Survivor + Allies, a group made up of UC students who aim to advocate for and with survivors, after a meeting with the Systemwide Title IX office dismissed their very real and present concerns. The office stated that a feedback form for Title IX complaints for students to suggest improvements in how they handle complaints would be “demoralizing” for the staff. Though to take a guess, it would be pretty demoralizing for an office that is supposed to support survivors of sexual misconduct to dismiss the distress of the communities they serve.
Beyond addressing sexual misconduct through investigations, the UCs also neglect their responsibility for the mental health impacts students face. The UC system spends an average of $56 on mental health care per student. The study done by S + A reported that a greater amount of survivors go off-campus to access mental health services. Additionally, UCs do not provide identity-based care to its students, with UC Davis being the singular campus with a confidential LGBTQ+ resource center.
The UC system, as a premier educational institution, should be setting an example for other universities. With the CSUs floundering in their basic duties, other universities can’t continue to refuse change and improvement. Survivors deserve more. They deserve identity-based support, Title IX offices that are subject to feedback and investigation transparency. It’s truly dehumanizing to have to demand the right to safety, but it’s a violation of human rights to refuse to do anything about it.