Silenced Victims of Sexual Assault at Soka University Demand Reform
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The purpose of this petition is to create a healthy and safe environment in which students can exist on the campus of Soka University of America, without the fear of sexual harassment or assault. This petition also addresses the misconduct of certain administrators, as well as the silent acceptance of a professor who prostituted his students in the past. This petition is based on established facts and first-hand testimonies by students, as well as general observations.
Over several years multiple students have voiced their concerns and come forth testifying the inefficiencies of the administration's handling of sexual assault cases on this campus. Recently, a number of students across classes recurred to the director of student conduct for justice after enduring multiple counts of sexual assaults and harassment but were retraumatized by investigatory misconduct. A number of students were encouraged to mediate with their assailant, asked what they were wearing, had their previous sexual histories interrogated, and even told that sexual assault was a part of becoming a woman. These incidents are a gross violation of TITLE IX directives and in contradiction with Federal Law. Under TITLE IX, “[people] in the United States shall not, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Prior to being employed at Soka University of America as a literature professor, James Williams was found to be prostituting a female college student at his former university, the University of North Carolina. He also admitted to having multiple student mistresses, and stole money from school funds at UNC to support an extramarital affair with a student. Despite the circulation of news articles publicizing Williams's actions, Soka University administrators not only hired him, but installed him as Director of the Writing Center and as a member of a board that reviews appeals for sexual assault and harassment cases: both positions were not changed until late. He was given the power to dictate whether or not students would be punished for sexual assault or harassment. He has been reported to make lewd comments and objectify his female students at Soka, including instances in which he told his students that it is natural for older men to prey on young women. He has also been reported to be emotionally abusive and degrading towards students based not only on their academic performances but also on his personal biases towards them. James Williams is an alleged pimp, and his presence on campus is a clear violation of the values that this university claims to hold. (read more: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1w4Tt2kpBGYHom0fWd49w7lrTwd4yDOgMnXs4N9no89k/edit?usp=sharing )
Another individual who has contributed to the corrosion of students faith in the administration is Jennifer Cunningham, the Assistant Director of Student Conduct and Resolution. As an administrator, she fails to properly cross-examine perpetrators, examine evidence, provide justice and equality, and communicate with members of the Soka community. She has been reported for telling a student that she should consider sexual harassment to be a “phase” in being a woman, and for interrogating students when they report cases with such questions as:
“Have you been sexually assaulted before?”
“What were you wearing when he touched you?”
“What is your relationship with your family like?”
“Sexual assault is a very vague term.”
“It’s his word against yours”
“He’s creepy, but it’s not wrong.”
Her incompetence has inflicted irreconcilable harm to multiple complainants of sexual harassment and assault and therefore we demand she be removed from the responsibility of handling sexual assault and harassment cases.
Hyon Moon, the Dean of Students and Soka’s Deputy Title IX coordinator, is another authoritative figure whose behavior is complicit in a culture of distrust within the campus and therefore we demand that she be removed as an officer in the Title IX Coordinator position. Hyon Moon has been known to fish for confidential information from students who report sexual assault or harassment. Hyon Moon also has sent a student an inappropriate email suggesting for her to “see a therapist” after she reported misconduct in her sexual harassment investigation. There is compelling first hand evidence that proves a conflict of interest and overall lack of expertise in Title IX deeming her unqualified to this position.
Hyon Moon has demonstrated a lack of expertise in the field of Title IX not just as it pertains to sexual violence, but other title ix protected categories. A notable case is when she refused to change a transgender students name on soka documents to reflect his gender identity. Hyon turned down this students request on the grounds that he had to legally change his name, which is factually untrue and in violation of Title IX, for school records are not actual legal records. Had this student not recurred to faculty who then called the Department of Education on his behalf and settled the dispute in his favor, he would be reminded every day of a name that no longer represents who he truly is. This refusal to accommodate this student is also a violation of FERPA, as a person’s decision to disclose their gender identity is protected by privacy laws. Having to correct faculty on pronouns and reveal to them their gender identity is a form of discrimination. Although now Hyon accommodates transgender students who wish to change their name on records, the fact that a student had to advocate for his needs and go so far as to call the department of education to demand his rights be respected, is a pressing concern and compelling enough evidence to demand her dismissal from her Title IX position.
Hyon Moon was also complicit in a problematic administration that denied multiple accommodations for a single parent with a dependent child who was living on campus. This single parent was forced to create multiple petitions to assert her needs. Hyon Moon, who was head of student services at the time, helped create an environment where this student felt she was punished for having a child on campus. First, Hyon refused to let this students child ride on the Soka sponsored shuttle service under claims that no other non student is allowed to use the shuttle, disregarding that this was a dependent child. After submitting various complaints, petitions, and referencing other university sponsored accommodations for single parents and pregnant students, she was allowed to use the shuttle with her child, but only until she passed her driving test and got a car, which she had to save money to buy on her own, and under a time limit of six months! She also had to submit petitions to have family housing. Three years later, we still have no concrete accommodations installed for single parents or pregnant students, another protected Title IX category. The responsibility of Title IX coordinator is a hefty one and that is why we demand someone less busy and with vast experience with Title IX replace Hyon in her position. We cannot continue to resort to the Department of Education to compel the administration to accommodate every Title IX mandated need! The mental duress resulting in every single battle is unnecessary to the students and interfering with our ability to equally access educational resources on our campus.
The problem extends beyond these individuals, as students have found that the preventative workshops on consent and bystander intervention, our student conduct policy, and other sexual health awareness trainings are insufficient, culturally inaccessible, and therefore do not contribute to a sex positive and safe campus environment.
In addition to the violations of Title IX laws of this university, we fear that Soka University officials have violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law dictates that discrimination in federally assisted programs is illegal, and Soka University is federally funded. Students have generally observed, and also witnessed first-hand that students of color who are victims of sexual assault or harassment more often than not have their cases found not guilty, or the Officer of Student Misconduct cannot identify those accused. The language and tone used with all victims is overall disgraceful, however, it is generally observed and witnessed first-hand that victims of color also face more disreputable and sustained comments. Additionally, when justice is served, the perpetrators punished are almost always people of color.
We ask that the President of this University, Mr. Danny Habuki, make a public statement condemning any misaddressment of Title IX policies and Civil Rights Act policies, including a statement reinforcing the rights of all students. Any silence on the matter has and will continue to be perceived by students as complicity. In this statement, students request an explanation for why James Williams was allowed to teach at Soka University for almost two decades.
We ask that the university conduct mandatory periodic sexual assault and harassment awareness training for the whole SUA community, including domestic and international students, staff, administrators, faculty, and guidance counselors, and a separate training tailored towards student-athletes. The training can include information on the types of conduct that will be considered sexual harassment and the range of possible consequences, the damage that results from harassment, where students can find help, what to do when a friend needs support from you, ways to oppose harassment, and what to do about it. Because of the diverse makeup of SUA students and community, it is necessary that the training address cross-cultural communication and norms, so that no matter a person’s background knowledge they will leave with the same understanding of sexual assault and harassment. The administration should hire the rape crisis center to lead these workshops as their experience educating spans decades. We would like to see change in the sexual assault and harassment orientation that first year students go through prior to Core 1 to ensure that students are properly informed of the topic before starting their first semester.
Ultimately, we demand that Soka University:
- Immediately dismiss James Williams
- Remove Jennifer Cunningham from her position as a Title IX coordinator (but allow for her to continue as the Assistant Director of Student Conduct and Resolution in dealing with non-sexual cases).
- Remove Hyon Moon from her position as Deputy Title IX coordinator and instead create a committee of Title IX officials with extensive background on gender studies, power, and/or culture, such as Dr. Aneil Rallin, Dr. Ryan Caldwell, Dr. Darin Ciccotelli, Dr. James Spady, among other professors, who students trust and are more likely to approach. Together this committee will oversee that sexual assault investigations are conducted ethically and in a timely fashion.
- Establish Rape Crisis Center of Orange County led sexual assault and harassment prevention programs at least once per school year for the whole campus community, including students, faculty, and staff.
- Allow a Rape Crisis Center representative as a permanent member of the appeals board.
- Allow students who report harassment or assault, regardless of whether or not the administration rules in their favor, should have the right not to participate in classes with the accused. We also ask that students be placed in dorms as far away from perpetrators as possible, and given the chance to make arrangements for cafeteria eating, which may include forcing perpetrators to eat sitting outside the cafeteria.
- Review, if the victim's consent, past cases which may have been overlooked by the administration.
- Students also ask that the university engage with the campus community in creating a mural in an open space dedicated to uplifting and empowering survivors of all sexual orientations, races, and creeds.
- Establish transparency and communication between administration and students. In accordance with the Title IX Clery Act, we demand that when a case of assault or harassment is reported, Craig Lee of Campus Security, without revealing identities, notify the community so that students are made aware and take necessary safety precautions and come forward should they have knowledge to provide on a case. Failure to notify the community of the occurrence of sex or gender based crimes is a failure to comply with Title IX and puts student safety at risk.
- Once a student reports a case of harassment or assault, the student should be notified via email from Craig Lee of Campus Security that a report has been documented and will be kept as a public record, as legally required by the Clery Act.
- Adopt the Frequently Asked Questions section of the UC sexual violence and sexual harassment policy into the Soka University policy to provide well-rounded information to both complainant and respondent.
- Provide a comprehensive overview of the resolution and investigation process in its policy as well as alternative resolution options, such as mediation (not in cases of sexual assault) settlement, separation, educational programs, etc.
- Provide resources for hotline, crisis centers, and counselors available 24 hours a day
- Students who are found guilty of rape should not be given a gap year, but rather be banned permanently from this campus.
- We demand Soka University release annual demographics on the ethnicities of victims, witnesses, and perpetrators, and the correlation to guilt in cases to increase transparency and ensure fairness.
A reform of the appeals process by:
- If an appeal is incomplete the appealer should have the right to fix said mistakes and re-submit the appeal.
- The appealer should also have the right to dismiss a member of the board of appeals should there be a perceived conflict of interest.
- All members of the board of appeal should be amply trained in Title IX and understanding of state and federal laws that intersect with Title IX upon their appointment to the board. If respondent (s) are found guilty, disciplinary action against them should remain throughout the appeals process until their innocence can be proven.
- Students who confess to sexual assault or harassment under their own free will should not have the opportunity to appeal their decision as there can be no new evidence to support their cause. The ability to submit an appeal will only result in further trauma for the victim. In one instance, a student who confessed to sexual assault appealed his case because he knew that he would graduate before the case would be decided and therefore it would not affect him. This student has since graduated and left Soka, with no repercussions, and his case has not been resolved, to the detriment of the victim.
It is imperative that the administration abide by all of these demands and restore a sense of trust among faculty, students, and staff.
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