Occidental College is a small school in northeastern Los Angeles. It’s got about 2,000 students at any one time. And it’s got a huge sexual assault problem: yesterday, 38 students and alumnae of Occidental filed a Title IX complaint with the Federal Department of Education claiming that the college violated civil rights law in its handling of reports of sexual assaults and rapes — which seem to happen on the Oxy campus with terrifying frequency.
Survivors of rape and sexual assault at Occidental report that administrators threatened them with unpleasant consequences when they enquired about the process of reporting a sexual assault. Survivors were warned that the hearings process was “long and arduous.” One survivor was told she’d be the one switching dorms rather than her assailant. When men were found in the course of college hearings to have indeed committed rapes of their fellow students, they were often merely suspended temporarily — and in at least two cases, those suspensions were lifted on appeal and the rapists “sentenced” to writing book reports instead.
Gloria Allred, who is providing the 38 plaintiffs with representation in their Title IX complaint, reports in the video embedded below that when Occidental President Jonathan Veitch was informed that an accused rapist was on the guest list for a social event at Veitch’s home, he responded by issuing a dis-invitation … to two members of the school’s sexual assault task force.
Here Allred speaks, along with several remarkably brave survivors and supportive faculty member Caroline Heldman, the school’s Politics Department chair.
What’s been the response of Occidental College president Jonathan Veitch to the issue? Browbeating sexual assault survivors in the campus press when they dare suggest he’s sitting with his thumbs up his ass:
I’m dismayed that having agreed to that conversation, a number of well-intentioned people have chosen to cast our motives into doubt; vilify dedicated, hard-working members of Student Affairs; question the sincerity of our response; and actively sought to embarrass the College on the evening news. That is their choice, and there is very little I can do about it. I can say that it reflects poorly on their commitment to this conversation and to the broader education that must take place if we are to change a culture we all find repugnant. The repugnance of sexual assault is not open to question; but the policies and procedures that guide our response to those incidents is something about which reasonable people can disagree. I’m sure there are those who feel that confrontation is necessary to exert pressure on the College to do the right thing. But there is a point where confrontation becomes an end in itself—satisfying, no doubt, but counter-productive with regard to our shared aims. When it crosses that threshold and descends into name-calling, vilification and misrepresentation, it undermines the trust and good will of everyone involved. And worst of all, it does not lead to progress on this important issue.
That letter to the campus paper was published March 5. Veitch has since walked it back some, saying that his letter may have “alienated people who care about sexual assault” and clarifying that his intent was to object to “the implication–reported in the media — that the College is not serious about the issue of sexual assault. We are very serious.”
Serious enough to have brought in, just this week, experienced sexual assault prosecutors as consultants to help the school assess and overhaul its enforcement policy. That’s a smart and sensible move.
It’s just too bad that Veitch waited until campus anti-rape activists lit a bonfire under his doubly enthumbed ass, complete with an appeal to the Department of Education to lift the school’s federal funding, before taking a step he should have taken on Day One. Veitch has been president at Occidental since 2009. That means all the students in the video linked above were raped on Veitch’s watch. All the administrative obstacles to survivors reporting assaults against them mentioned here happened on Veitch’s watch. All the stories relayed in the video above: On Veitch’s watch. All the assigned book reports and community service sentences for acts that should have brought jail time and sex offender registry? On Veitch’s watch.
Not that Veitch’s resigning would fix Occidental College’s rape problem: it sounds as though there are a few other administrators with serious culpability who ought to be examined as well.
But it would be a good start.