At 'Breaking Point,' Cal Poly Humboldt Academic Senate Passes Resolution Supporting Survivors, Criticizing President


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The Cal Poly Humboldt Academic Senate voted unanimously yesterday to pass a resolution in support of sexual assault survivors that noted recent statements by university President Tom Jackson Jr. “have led to additional harm and a feeling of distrust.”

The resolution is the latest fallout from Jackson’s remarks during his fall welcome address in August, when he talked about Title IX — the landmark federal law aimed at ending institutional discrimination that, in part, lays out the minimum requirements for educational institutions responding to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment — as though it was intended to silence survivors. Jackson apologized earlier this week in a personal message sent to staff and students, saying he’d meant to “illustrate the complexity” of confidentiality laws related to investigations but “failed in articulating (his) true message of support.”

But the Senate resolution takes aim at one of Jackson’s specific remarks during the welcome address that many felt prioritized protecting the university’s reputation over standing up for survivors or empowering them to own their stories, whether or not they choose to share them publicly.

“The [Title IX] process is designed to be behind the door so that we can resolve it for the individuals that are involved, not celebrate it or promote it for personal gain later on,” Jackson said in the address. “I hate being in the news because we have so many positive things happening on our campus. And each time we take a nip at our university, it is read by the very students and parents we want to come to this university. So we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

The resolution, which begins with a simple statement that the Senate “believes survivors when they report harm,” goes on to quote this passage of Jackson’s remarks.

“We believe that when survivors go public after feeling failed by the Title IX process, even in the face of potential negative personal outcomes from doing so, they are not doing so for personal gain or to take ‘nips’ at the university but instead, insisting that the university live up to its promise while navigating a situation where they may not feel empowered,” it states.

The resolution goes on to state the Senate will work to develop support and reporting structures for the campus community that are “survivor centered” and demands “that this campus do better.”

Jadence Clifton said accepting a basketball scholarship to play at Cal Poly Humboldt was a dream come true. - SUBMITTED
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  • Jadence Clifton said accepting a basketball scholarship to play at Cal Poly Humboldt was a dream come true.
The university took up the resolution on the heels of Jackson’s apology Monday, which came after the Journal’s Oct. 27 story “Jadence Clifton Comes Forward,” which juxtaposed Jackson’s welcome address comments with the story of a former Cal Poly student who transferred after reporting she had been sexually battered during a women’s basketball practice last year and growing to feel the university’s Title IX process was not doing enough to protect her. Clifton told the Journal when she heard Jackson’s Title IX comments, it felt as though he were talking directly to her, which is part of what caused her to share her story publicly.

“It was crazy,” she said. “I felt like he was speaking to me. … I mean, I stayed a whole year being silent. I played the season. I kept it quiet. And when I did come out to Title IX and the university police, nothing happened. So, of course I want to be heard. I don’t want this to happen to any other girl.”
The Academic Senate's resolution also acknowledges the "historical underresourcing of and inadequate attention" to Title IX structures and processes, coupled with Jackson's recent comments, has led to the feeling of distrust, "which may lead survivors to choose not to report harm out of concern for retaliation or a belief that nothing would come from reporting."

Before the Academic Senate took up the resolution at the end of its meeting yesterday, its “open forum” period was filled with members of the campus community responding to Jackson’s comments and the campus’ Title IX response generally, including one speaker who read an open letter to Clifton.

Janet Winston, the membership and organizing representative for the California Faculty Association’s Cal Poly Humboldt chapter, said she was helping to organize a meeting set for Friday for faculty, staff and students to discuss what is needed for the university to go beyond meeting the legal requirements of Title IX, Title VI and Title VII.

“Based on our own experiences, what can we do that is not going to be focused solely on risk management and not focused solely on meeting the letter of the law but providing survivor-centered care and support and advocacy and information and education, and mandating certain policies that will truly be safer for people who have bravely come forward in the press because they are not getting the kinds of protections to meet their concerns and their experiences on this campus?” Winston asked, describing the meeting as a “grass-roots organizing meeting” to identify obtainable goals.

Another faculty member said she’d been advised by colleagues not to speak at the meeting because they feared she’d face retaliation, saying she doesn’t have the benefit of “tenure or retreat rights,” a reference to former Dean John Lee, who was the subject of an USA Today investigative report earlier this year. Lee, USA Today found, had been fired from his administrative role after a campus investigation found he’d groped two colleagues but was allowed to return to his teaching position with an annual salary of $154,000 under a “retreat” clause in his contract. Despite fears of retaliation, the faculty member said she felt compelled to speak, calling Jackson’s comments “disturbing and completely out of line” and saying she “felt really harmed by what was being said.”

“These comments were not taken out of context and they were not misunderstood,” she said. “Addressing the culture of silence and harm should be this university’s No. 1 priority. The president’s remarks were shameful.”
Professor Maxwell Schnurer, who chairs the Department of Communication and co-chairs the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention Committee, then read from prepared remarks, saying he wanted to address the “three most common misunderstandings about sexualized violence.”

The first misconception, he said, is that it’s rare, noting approximately one in four students who attend university will be harmed by sexualized violence as students.

“The Safer Campus Surveys in 2012, 2015, 2020 all affirm that statistics are consistent for Humboldt,” he said. “In 2020, 66 students reported that someone had committed sex acts on them when they were drunk, drugged or passed out. Thirty-eight students reported that their partner made threats to physically harm them or someone they love. One-hundred students reported that someone made nonconsensual sexual contact with them. Literally hundreds of students are harmed every year at Humboldt and the current climate is icy cold for those people. The cases reported in the media are not the exception, but are the tip of an iceberg.”

The second misconception, Schnurer said, is that people make up false reports, saying the FBI statistic is that fewer than one in 100 reports are false, while scholars put the number at 2 to 8 percent of reports.

“The reason this is rare is that our culture blames victims, isolates survivors and smears people who are hurt,” he said, adding that at Humboldt only about 10 percent of people who report being harmed ever talk to a campus authority. “Anyone who lies about being harmed is a terrible person. Anyone who harms someone and then lies about it is a terrible person. In my opinion, it is 99 times as likely that people who do harm are lying.”

The third misunderstanding Schnurer identified is about Title IX itself, saying it prohibits gender-based discrimination and requires universities work to prevent and respond to sexualized violence.

“It is not a behind-the-scenes or closed door process intended to pit survivor against perpetrator or resolve stalking or rape amicably,” he said. “For most survivors, it is the only academic option available.”

Schnurer then asked everyone watching to put the Campus Advocate Team confidential phone number — (707) 445-2881 — in their phones so they’d have it if approached by a survivor, saying the hotline will provide support people ready to accompany survivors to the hospital, connect them with counseling or explain options while holding confidentiality.
“You may not need it, but be prepared to be a good friend and Humboldt community member by being ready to smoothly bridge a survivor to the resources they deserve,” he said. “We know that people are harmed, and they don’t make it up and we know that they need support. The painful lack of adequate response to high-profile cases has set our campus back by a decade in necessary work. Cal Poly Humboldt should be prepared to do better.”

Later in the open forum period, School of Education Department Chair Libbi Miller said in the coming spring semester Lee will be return to his teaching role in her department, teaching administrative credential, masters of art in education and liberal studies elementary education courses. Noting she “did not make these decisions,” Miller said she currently has students asking for alternative courses to take.

“I don’t have them,” Miler said, saying she’s scoured course catalogs looking for things that match the requirements and can be substitute but they don’t exist. She said she has students who are survivors and wants desperately to give them survivor-centered options.

“And I don’t have them,” Miller said.

Loren Cannon, an environmental studies lecturer, said he prepared comments to share at the meeting but threw them out “because they are not any good.”

“Is President Jackson with us today?” he asked, hearing in response that he was not there in person or attending virtually.

Cannon then said there are times when all of us don’t “obtain the kind of behavior” we strive for, when we fall short. What’s really relevant, he said, is how we respond afterward.

“Does that person seek to have a real dialogue? Does that person really and transparently show they care?” he asked, before saying he knows “probably a dozen people” who felt Jackson’s welcome address comments were directed at them. “This is a culture of fear.”

Trust, Cannon said, is a really important thing, noting he wants to trust his bosses.

“The stuff that is in USA Today and the North Coast Journal is the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s going on on our campus, but it’s also a symptom of not caring about the people who learn and work on this campus,” he said. “We need some real change here and the fact that he’s not here to listen to us — I would say it disappoints me but I didn’t really expect it. That’s all I have to say. We are at a breaking point.”

A short time later, the Academic Senate unanimously approved its resolution, which can be found here.

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