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Chancellor’s Letter: Listening to Women’s Voices

October 12, 2018
by Carol T. Christ

In the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement drew national headlines that focused the country’s attention on the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. The poignant narratives courageously shared as part of #MeToo make sexual harassment feel viscerally real, even to people who may think they have largely been spared from its effects. Such stories powerfully illustrate the depth and lasting nature of sexual harassment’s impact in our society.

Just as the #MeToo movement has created a sea change in workplace sexual violence awareness, efforts by students at Berkeley and across the country have brought national awareness to the impact of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. This activism has inspired change for the better. It is humbling to look back at where our campus was in 1983–84 when I served as Faculty Assistant to the Chancellor for the Status of Women and Title IX Compliance Coordinator. That lone half-time position was responsible for the investigation and resolution of all sexual harassment complaints on the campus, as well as for advising the Chancellor on all issues of gender equity and discrimination. The position has since evolved substantially, and rightfully so.

Today at Berkeley we have more resources devoted to the Title IX office, including more than half a dozen full-time professional employees. We also have a fully staffed care center whose confidential advocates offer support and assistance to survivors of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Administrators, staff, and student groups are dedicated to the effort to prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence through better education and other initiatives. The entire University of California system has adopted clear policies prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual violence and has established systematic procedures for investigating and responding to incidents that occur.

But despite all these gains, the work continues. The number of reports and visits to our Title IX and care offices is generally increasing, not decreasing. This appears to be a national trend. We hope it is a sign, not that the problems of harassment and violence are getting worse, but that society’s tolerance for them is declining. We hope that it is a reflection of better reporting procedures and more compassionate, trauma-informed care for survivors.

When I reflect on the gains that the #MeToo movement has brought to our society, I cannot help but wonder whether they are evenly distributed. #MeToo has derived huge impact from its basis in personal narrative. But this rooting in personal accounts also means the movement is not as broad and inclusive as it could be. Those who are not in a position to contribute public narratives are left out. The history of the #MeToo movement itself embodies this issue: Though the movement began in 2006, it did not become a household phrase or nationally recognized movement until many years later, when influential, well-known survivors began contributing their narratives on social media, leading to national headlines and a national conversation.

We know, based on national surveys and the experiences of campus professionals here who work with survivors every day, that individuals from some marginalized communities may experience sexual harassment and violence more often, yet report it to authorities less frequently. That’s why the My Voice survey, launched by the Berkeley campus earlier this year, sought to hear from all students, staff, and faculty. We wanted to hear of their individual experiences, attitudes, and awareness regarding sexual harassment, sexual violence, and more. We called the survey My Voice to make it clear that all voices matter. Yet we know that all voices may not be equally audible in terms of broad influence. We want to change that on our campus, and this survey is a first step.

Sexual harassment is hard to measure. We may never know its full extent, given the private nature of its impact. What we do know is that it can be reduced and, one day, prevented. My mission as Chancellor is to create an enduring culture of respect in which sexual harassment and violence are not tolerated in any corner of our campus. I am committed to supporting educational efforts, including new initiatives that will emerge as a result of the My Voice survey, to this end. Solutions to the problem of sexual harassment and violence are in large part the same solutions that work to create a general climate of inclusivity and respect. That is what our community deserves and needs in order to thrive.

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