How to Protect Students from Sexual Violence? Pepper Spray Them!

Categories: Discussion, Reflections

Last week, the UC Davis “Pepper Spray Incident Task Force,” dubbed the “Reynoso Task Force” for its chair, Law School Professor Emeritus and former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, released its report. The conclusion was that the pepper spraying of studentsseated in the Quad on November 18, 2011 “should and could have been prevented.” Well it’s a relief that the task force’s three-and-a-half-month investigation proved what pretty much all of us who watched the red spray come out of that hose over and over again on our television screens surmised.

The task force was specifically not charged with recommending discipline against any individuals, though it does find that Chancellor Linda Katehi and police chief police Annette Spicuzza showed “lack of leadership” (no doubt some right-wing pundits will use this as evidence that women should not be chancellors or police chiefs – I might agree but for different reasons). The task force criticized Lt. John Pike for using the spray at closer range than recommended by the manufacturer, though in fact, the report also notes that campus police are not authorized to carry that high-powered spray device at all.

Most disturbing to me was the section called “Background,” which explained that the context for the administration’s decision to break up the encampment on campus violently nearly as soon as it began was based on reports – false, as it turned out – that there were “non-affiliates” from Occupy Oakland participating.

Such “outside agitator” claims have been leveled at campus movements since – well probably since Harvard, the first college in the thirteen British colonies on American soil, opened its doors in 1636. Writes Jo Freeman, in “What Happened at Berkeley: How the Cold War Culture of Anti-Communism Shaped Protest in the Sixties”:

“The pivotal event in California was the San Francisco general strike of 1934, which badly scared the Regents of the University of California. To appease the Regents and reassure the legislature that the University was in safe hands, President Robert Gordon Sproul issued some new regulations. These regulations limited on-campus speakers to persons approved by the administration, and prohibited “exploitation” of the University’s prestige by unqualified persons.”

In the early sixties, the presence of non-student activists from the Congress On Racial Equality at a literature table touched off U.C. Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement. When I was at Oberlin in the late seventies, a forum on divestment from South Africa was nearly cancelled by the administration because of the threat that one actual Black South African, who was not a student, might try to speak.

In fact, the fears expressed by the UC Davis administration hearken back to those halcyon days.

… the Chancellor explained her concerns about the involvement of “non-affiliates” with the UC Davis Occupy movement and encampment. Chancellor Katehi stated, “We were worried at the time about that [nonaffiliates] because the issues from Oakland were in the news and the use of drugs andsex and other things, and you know here we have very young students . . . we were worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record….”

Vice Chancellor Meyer expressed similar concerns in an interview conducted on Dec. 7. He explained, “our context at the time was seeing what’s happening in the City of Oakland, seeing what’s happening in other municipalities across the country, and not being able to see a scenario where [a UC Davis Occupation] ends well . . . Do we lose control and have non-affiliates become part of an encampment? So my fear is a longterm occupation with a number of tents where we have an undergraduate student and a non-affiliate and there’s an incident. And then I’m reporting to a parent that a nonaffiliated has done this unthinkable act with your daughter, and how could we let that happen?”

It’s good to know that university administrators are so concerned about protecting women on their campuses from rapists. One assumes that we are going to see police wielding pepper spray canisters at the doors to every fraternity party at Davis from now on.

The website of UC Davis’s Men Acting Against Rape provides these statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice-Violence Against Women Office.

  • In a survey of college women, 38% reported sexual victimization which met the legal definition of a rape or attempted rape, yet only 1 out of every 25 reported their assault to the police.
  • In a study of college students, 35% of men indicated some likelihood that they would commit a violent rape of a woman who had fended off an advance if they were assured of getting away with it.
  • 1 in 12 male students surveyed had committed acts that met the legal definition of rape. Furthermore, 84% of the men who had committed such acts said what they had done was definitely not rape.

So how does the University of California deal with “affiliates” who actually victimize their women students, as opposed to theoretical nonaffiliates who might?

According to a 2000 report, “Reports of rapes and sexual assaults at University of California campuses are seldom included in the campus security report.” Speaking specifically about the Davis campus, the Sacramento Bee charged that “Students and parents have not been provided with adequate safety information.”

At UC Irvine last year, the student regent was found guilty of “unwanted touching”– i.e., sexual assault – by a college disciplinary board and placed on academic probation, but not removed from his position representing the student body on the powerful Board of Regents. By contrast, 30 students who participated in civil disobedience actions at the college were criminally prosecuted for misdemeanors, and given suspensions and community service by the college disciplinary committee.

Besides being racist fear-mongering, the claim that the encampment at Davis was full of “nonaffiliates” from Occupy Oakland also turned out to be completely fictitious. According to the Task Force report:

“One UC Davis police officer who spent the night at a Mrak Hall protest on Nov. 15 wrote that “the majority (of protesters) were NOT affiliated with the University [but were] part of the ‘Occupy’ movement.” UC Davis Police Chief Spicuzza informed the Leadership Team that her officers suggested that 80% of the protesters participating in the encampment on the Quad were not students….

Assistant Vice Chancellor Castro informed the Leadership Team that based on her observations of the Occupy encampment on the quad on Nov. 17, “the only non-affiliates I saw were people from the interfaith communities providing food … and they were not spending the night.”


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