The Trouble With Oxy by Mona Gable- Feb 10, 2015

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The Trouble With Oxy by Mona Gable- Feb 10, 2015


Project SAFE


This article follows activists, administration, and faculty during and after the investigations of Occidental College in regards to its compliance to Title IX and the Clergy Act.


Los Ageles Magazine





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The Trouble with Oxy
When the news hit that Occidental, the small liberal arts college in Eagle Rock, was the subject of two federal complaints over the way it handled sexual assault cases involving students, it set the campus reeling. Three years later the school has taken steps to improve, but it has yet to salve the bitter rancor between activists, administrators, and faculty

February 10, 2015 Mona Gable Crime 5 Comments

Not so long ago, a young woman raped in her dorm room or a bathroom at a fraternity party wouldn’t have said a word. She certainly wouldn’t have told a dean or her roommate, knowing they probably wouldn’t believe her. She might have told herself that it wasn’t really rape, that she’d misunderstood. She might have reasoned that it was no big deal, just part of the normal college “experience.” Or that it was her fault. Sexual assault, after all, didn’t happen to smart girls.

In reality at least 6 in every 1,000 women will be sexually assaulted during college, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, yet only 20 percent of victims ever report it. And those who do speak up have often seen their efforts amount to nothing, failed by the schools they trusted to protect them.

Over the past three years, campuses from Brown and Harvard to UC Berkeley and USC have been thrown into tumult as students have demanded change and used federal laws to compel schools to act. As I write this, 91 colleges and universities across the country are being investigated under Title IX, the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in schools, for mishandling cases of rape and sexual assault. Many institutions are also being scrutinized under the Clery Act, which requires schools to disclose crimes on or near campus. The 1991 law is named after Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered by a sophomore in the spring of her freshman year.

At Columbia University Emma Sulkowicz, a senior, galvanized the movement in September 2014 when she began lugging around campus the dorm mattress on which a male student allegedly raped her. Sulkowicz didn’t get justice—in the vernacular of campus sexual assault, administrators found her attacker “not responsible.” He remains in school. So to protest, she has pledged to carry her mattress until he’s expelled. On October 29, inspired by Sulkowicz, students at 130 campuses around the world, including UCLA, marched in #CarryThatWeight, holding aloft their own bedding to support survivors of sexual assault.

Just days before, at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, nearly 150 students walked out of classes over the treatment of a freshman who’d reported being raped. During the investigation, school officials asked her a barrage of questions: How short was her dress? How frequently did she party? How was it possible the perpetrator, a male student, had raped her orally?

One school that attracted the earliest national attention, though, was the small campus of Occidental College in the northeast L.A. neighborhood of Eagle Rock. In April 2013, Oxy was hit with two federal complaints: One accused the school of mishandling 37 incidents of sexual violence under Title IX (the number would climb to 52); the other, of failing to report sexual assaults under the Clery Act. Until then, many Angelenos knew of the campus only because President Obama had been a student there for two years.

In the months that followed, the private liberal arts college descended into turmoil, with students, faculty, and alumni assailing Oxy president Jonathan Veitch for his administration’s apathy and incompetence. But eventually the movement itself began to fray, with tensions tearing at the faculty. Since the initial story broke two years ago, Veitch has indeed tried to reform the school’s handling of sexual assault claims, but with alienated faculty and distrustful students, Oxy’s troubles aren’t over yet.


On the morning of April 18, 2013, Danielle Dirks gathered with a group of Occidental College students in her Highland Park bungalow. A 35-year-old assistant professor, Dirks has been teaching sociology at the campus since 2011; she’d invited the students over for breakfast and a pep talk before driving to the Mid City offices of attorney Gloria Allred. Five of the young women were being represented by Allred as she sought redress from the school; they were also part of the Title IX complaint that had been filed that morning. Soon they’d be in a press conference, disclosing their stories of being sexually assaulted. A few sat at Dirks’s kitchen table, having their makeup done, as another student painted their nails with the Title IX symbol. Three of the young women had brought their mothers.
Gloria Allred with Oxy claimants; activists and professors
Gloria Allred with Oxy claimants; activists and professors

Photograph by Nick UT/AP Photo

Caroline Heldman, a 42-year-old associate professor of politics, was there as well. “We filed at 2 a.m.!” she said, referring to the Title IX complaint she and Dirks had lodged against Oxy, high-fiving the students around her. Heldman writes about campus rape culture along with topics like sexual objectification for Ms. magazine and on her blog, Coffee at Midnight. A leader in the battle to reform the school’s policies, she’s been working on the issue at Occidental since 2009 and helped found the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, or OSAC, in 2012. She’s also a frequent guest on Fox News, where the striking blond was once called “Dr. McHottie” by a pundit.

Dirks emerged from the hallway. “I love you all! Thank you so much for being here and supporting each other!” she said in her high voice. Tall with long red hair and freckles, she became involved in the sexual assault issue when a student named Carly Mee confided in her. Other students would follow, bearing their stories of rape.

Fighting Back
Caroline HeldmanCaroline Heldman. Photograph by Ted Soqui
Danielle DirksDanielle Dirks. Photograph by Patrick Fallon/Getty Images
president Jonathan VeltchOxy president Jonathan Veltch.

Shortly after noon, several of those students stood behind Allred as the 73-year-old media virtuoso sat at her conference table before a mass of cameras and reporters. Armored in her signature red jacket with gold buttons, Allred described the Title IX complaint against Oxy, ticking off the alleged violations, from rape to retaliation against those who’d spoken out. Then Allred delivered some more disturbing news. “The last reported rape occurred this last Friday night and was reported to police on Saturday and to Occidental College this past Sunday,” she said. The students learned about the alleged rape that night when a CBS2 news van rolled up on campus and a reporter began interviewing students. The incident had ignited a protest after Oxy failed to issue a campus alert because, Allred said, “according to Jonathan Veitch, ‘there was no ongoing danger of an unknown repeat offense because the student involved was immediately identified and interviewed by the police and by Student Affairs.’ ”

One by one, the young women read their statements. Some looked frightened. A few held hands. A freshman with freckles and wavy brown hair was on the verge of tears as she recalled her story. Once the media left, the students and Heldman sat around the conference table and ate lunch while their attorney told a story about a sex discrimination case she’d won. “Can you be our commencement speaker?” a senior asked. Allred wanted to know how they felt about the event.

“It’s been a really surreal day,” said one student.

“This is very empowering for me,” said another.

The talk continued along those lines until Allred realized I was still in the room. “This is just for the moms and students,” she said, frowning from across the table before asking me to leave.

Occidental College defines rape as the act of any kind of sexual penetration without a person’s consent. If a person is incapacitated—from alcohol or anything else—then the sex is not consensual. If students are reluctant to file reports with administrators, they’re even more unlikely to go to the police. One reason is because many colleges fail to tell them they have the option. Another is because they’re afraid the police won’t believe them, especially if they don’t report the attack right away. Others don’t want to go to the police because of the social consequences they face if their case becomes public.

The weekend after she began her freshman year at Occidental in 2010, Carly Mee was raped twice in her dorm room by the same student. A player on Oxy’s football team, he showed up at her room a week later and tried to force her to have sex again. After she repeatedly refused, he asked why, since they’d had sex before. But Mee had been drinking that first night and had no memory of it. When she insisted he was wrong, he laughed and relayed the details, continuing to try to rape her so she could “remember.” He stopped when she started crying and said she couldn’t breathe.

“I told someone right away,” Mee recalled, referring to a friend. “He told me I was stupid for letting this person in my room.” I met with her on a weekday morning in April 2013, shortly after she joined the Title IX complaint. We sat in a Starbucks in Highland Park. A senior nearing graduation, she was applying to law school and looked more like a job applicant than a student with her dress, makeup, and neatly brushed auburn hair. Initially Mee didn’t tell Oxy officials about her attack because she’d heard the judicial process was extremely “alienating” and “victim blaming.” As the months passed, she kept seeing her rapist everywhere—in the dining hall, in the dorm, at dances and parties. “He’d try to talk to me and follow me from room to room,” she said. But she still didn’t report him.

Then one night in the fall of her sophomore year, Mee was hanging out in a dorm room with other students when the name of her attacker came up in the conversation. Startled, she found herself looking across the room into the eyes of a student named Leah. Even before they spoke to each other in private, they already knew.

Leah Capranica was a 19-year-old political science major from a small town in Illinois. When she was trying to decide whether to report her rape, in January 2011, she talked to Emily Harris, director of student advocacy and accountability, and was troubled to hear that her attacker, if found responsible, would face only probation. He’d be allowed to remain in the dorm she lived in, too. What’s more, she says she was told that her attack “wasn’t that serious.” Capranica had been sexually assaulted after her assailant—the same as Mee’s—allegedly spiked her drink at a party and she blacked out. (Research has shown that most college sexual assaults are committed by a small number of serial rapists who often use alcohol in their assaults.) Meeting with Harris, Capranica felt so defeated that she didn’t end up reporting the incident until the next semester. Although her attacker admitted to the assault, he received only probation, as Harris said he would.

In the fall of 2011, Mee followed Capranica’s lead and reported her rape. By then she was working with Heldman and Dirks. The two feminist professors recorded the stories of assault survivors and taught them about their rights under Title IX and how to navigate Oxy’s murky reporting process. Like activists at other schools, they thought their administration wasn’t nearly transparent enough, particularly regarding sanctions, which ranged in severity from an apology letter to victims and/or community service to suspension or expulsion. Nobody on campus seemed to know how the sanctions were applied or on what criteria they were based. The professors also advocated for students in judicial hearings, another source of controversy. Campus judicial boards were never meant to try serious crimes like rape. That changed in 2011, when the Department of Education sent schools a letter warning that if they didn’t curb sexual violence, they were in danger of violating Title IX. Colleges scurried to establish panels to adjudicate and punish sex crimes. Like many schools, Oxy used a panel of faculty and staff to decide cases, including Mee’s.

Mee was told her case would take three weeks to a month to investigate. Instead it took seven weeks, and her hearing occurred just before finals. Mee’s schoolwork suffered, and she had to take two incompletes. “Every day I felt I was barely hanging on,” she told me. “I’d call my mom, hysterical.” During the process, schools are required to help victims with any housing or academic issues. Mee asked that her attacker be moved to another dorm because she felt threatened. But an administrator told her not to worry, “that she had met with my rapist,” Mee said, “and that he didn’t seem like the type of person who would do something like that.” She was terrified that he would go after her.

A few days after Mee’s hearing, she received an e-mail from the dean of students, Barbara Avery, according to a confidential copy of the federal complaint that a source provided me. Her attacker had been found responsible for two counts of rape and sexual assault; he’d be expelled. A couple of weeks later, however, Avery wrote to say she had accepted the assailant’s appeal. When the hearing panel met again, it reached the same verdict—but overturned his expulsion. Instead he’d be suspended until Mee graduated. As to why, Avery said that it was because of “extraordinary circumstances.” In January 2013, after being hit with criticism from activists about similar cases, Oxy stopped allowing victims and perpetrators to appeal sanctions.

If Mee was distraught by the news, Capranica was shattered by it. She experienced anxiety attacks, often during class. She stopped going out and hid in her room. During Capranica’s judicial process, her assailant had repeatedly harassed her—as he later did Mee, according to the complaint. At one point he allegedly told Capranica: “I like to get confident girls drunk, watch them cry, and have sex with them.” But because her case had already been decided, his ban from Occidental applied only to Mee’s time there, which meant he would be returning to campus before Capranica graduated. Rather than have to face him, she worked so she could graduate six months early. What Mee and Capranica didn’t realize then was that the man who’d raped them had raped a third woman twice. They soon would. The news that a serial rapist had been roaming Oxy shocked the campus. But it was only a hint of the uproar to come.

When Jonathan Veitch became the 15th president of Occidental College on July 1, 2009, one big goal was to steady the campus. It had gone through three leaders in four years, a remarkably short period, considering many college presidents serve a decade. Asked about his proudest accomplishments a year and a half into the job, he said, “just calming the waters a little bit, being accessible, building morale is an important part of what needed to be done.”

Fifty-six years old, with brown hair ringing his crown, Veitch grew up on the Westside, the son of a Hollywood mogul. His father, John, worked at Columbia Pictures for more than a quarter century, rising to president of worldwide film production and overseeing films like Taxi Driver, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Tootsie. A historian with degrees from Stanford and Harvard, Veitch went on to become dean of the New School’s Eugene Lang College in New York City, where he gained a reputation as a prodigious fund-raiser. At Occidental Veitch has focused on campus-building projects, raising money for the college’s endowment, and recruiting more international students.
The Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition leads a camp out in April 2013, after the lawsuit and federal complaints against the school were announced
The Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition leads a camp out in April 2013, after the lawsuit and federal complaints against the school were announced

Photograph by Patrick Fallon/Getty Images

If you were to pinpoint when faculty began to mistrust their president, it would be in late 2012. In November of that year, OSAC gave the president a list of 12 demands, describing changes it wanted made in the way Oxy handled sexual violence—from delivering a detailed annual sexual misconduct report to restoring its previous verbal consent policy, which required students to get consent before engaging in sexual activity. He promised to adopt ten of the demands. But in March 2013, when the activists complained that Veitch had done nothing, he said he had agreed only to hear the demands, not act on them. His response roiled the campus. That same month Veitch alienated students and faculty further when he criticized activists for talking to the media about Oxy’s failure to alert the campus about a rape in February—well before Allred blasted Veitch for not alerting the campus about a subsequent rape in April. “I’m dismayed that…a number of well-intentioned people have…actively sought to embarrass the College on the evening news,” he wrote in a letter in The Occidental Weekly.

By the time of Allred’s April press conference, the 127-year-old campus was a national media story, with faculty and students fighting for justice and an administration fighting to stem the bad publicity.

“He wasn’t prepared, and you know he made mistakes,” Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology, said of Veitch. “He didn’t figure out fast enough that he should listen to the people who were experts on this issue and respect them. Caroline was walking in with all this documentation, not only what was going on at Oxy, but the ways in which our policies were not in compliance with the law, let alone best practices. This was long before the protests. She had been going in there for years.”

Things got worse for Veitch in May 2013. That’s when the faculty gave votes of “no confidence” to Avery and campus counsel Carl Botterud over their poor handling of survivors and their sexual assault complaints. More than being symbolic, the move was unprecedented, with 65 out of 74 professors weighing in against the dean and even more against Botterud. While Botterud quietly resigned (for unspecified reasons), Avery remains on staff.

Veitch’s initial reaction to the crisis back in 2011 had also dismayed professors. Presented with cases of alleged rape, “he didn’t respond with ‘Oh, my God! The women on my campus are being assaulted. That’s something we need to fix in the best possible way immediately,’ ” recalled Wade. “He made promises that weren’t kept. We increasingly lost faith that he would do the right thing.”

Vowing to “make things right,” Veitch had hired Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez of the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton in April to review what went wrong and to draft a new sexual misconduct policy. That summer he created the Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board, a small group composed of faculty, students, and staff, to examine Oxy’s mistakes and offer recommendations based on research of campus sexual assault. He hired a survivor advocate to counsel students about their reporting options and a new Title IX coordinator to ensure the school complied with federal guidelines. He had the school’s Web pages on sexual assault revamped, launched a 24-hour hot line, and established a mandatory online course about sexual assault for students. Then, in September 2013, Occidental announced a confidential financial settlement with at least ten of Allred’s clients (several more had retained her after the press conference). That same month, in a story by Jason Felch and Jason Song in the Los Angeles Times, Veitch acknowledged the school’s problems, but he believed Occidental had some of the strongest sexual assault policies in the country.


If Veitch thought the administration’s problems were over, he was quickly disabused of that notion. The faculty was still reeling from the revelations that dozens of their students were being sexually attacked by their classmates. Professors were seething over how Avery had kept her job. To add to that, several faculty members had been asked to surrender their phones and laptops to O’Melveny & Myers, another law firm working for the school, in response to the federal complaints and the prospect of a suit from Allred (she never filed). Although the practice is common in lawsuits, professors viewed it as a chilling intrusion into their academic rights.

When the faculty gathered in Johnson Hall for its monthly meeting in September 2013, members assumed that Veitch would answer their questions about the Allred settlement. Instead the president spoke for nearly 30 minutes, declaring his administration to be “shell-shocked” by the acrimony directed toward it. He begged for empathy, asserting that the sexual assault battle had damaged his “health and my soul.”

About a month later reporter Jason Felch detailed in the Los Angeles Times how Oxy had failed to include 19 anonymously reported incidents of sexual violence in its 2010 Clery report. They’d been discovered by another consulting firm hired by Oxy. In the L.A. Times story the college acknowledged the mistake to Felch, who followed with a second article on December 7. This one accused Occidental of underreporting another 27 cases of sexual assault in 2012—reinforcing the impression that Oxy was deliberately hiding rapes and assaults.

For almost three months after Felch’s story ran, the administration said nothing publicly about the 27 cases. Then in late January 2014, Occidental hired G.F. Bunting + Co., a PR crisis communications firm run by Glenn Bunting, a former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Ralph Frammolino, another ex-L.A. Times reporter, works for Bunting. A few years earlier Frammolino and Felch, who were writing partners at the paper, had a bitter fight over a book they coauthored about the Getty Museum. Frammolino had been lobbying Oxy as a client since October, according to an anonymous source, boasting that he knew Felch’s methods of reporting and could turn around the negative press. After Felch’s December 7 story, Bunting’s firm was hired.

In early March Bunting met with L.A. Times editors to dispute Felch’s account in a PowerPoint presentation. Shortly after, Felch was fired and the newspaper published a letter on its Web site retracting the reporter’s December 7 story. The 27 cases of sexual assault, it said, didn’t qualify under the reporting guidelines for the Clery Act. For instance, some involved sexual harassment while others occurred off campus. Finally the paper revealed this: Felch had also been having an “inappropriate relationship” with a source for this and other stories he had written. Whether that was the reason he had been fired wasn’t explicitly clear.

So began another national media frenzy. When journalists asked Oxy for the PowerPoint material about the cases, they were told it was confidential. Why then had editors at the L.A. Times gotten to see it? “We agreed to share certain information with the Times to prove that the newspaper got it wrong when it reported that Occidental failed to disclose 27 reports of sexual assault,” Occidental spokesman James Tranquada wrote in a statement to me. As for showing the PowerPoint material to me, too, he wrote, “Consistent with our response to other media outlets, we respectfully decline to share the presentation with L.A. magazine.”

Following his termination, Felch wrote that he was “dismissed for creating the appearance of a conflict of interest” and that he had voluntarily told his editors about the affair after learning that he was being investigated. He noted that he wasn’t shown the new information, so he never got the chance to defend his reporting. He also said that he repeatedly tried to get Oxy to verify or dispute the number of cases and was stonewalled. Oxy contended that Felch never mentioned a specific figure and waited until right before the story ran to ask to interview administrators, giving them insufficient time to respond.

On March 18 Veitch addressed the scandal at a faculty meeting. Many there were outraged that they hadn’t been told about the involvement of Bunting’s firm. One professor accused Oxy of “dirty tactics.” Heldman and Veitch argued over the disputed—and endlessly confusing—assault numbers. “Why wasn’t it cleared up for us last year?” Heldman asked and went on to out herself as a source for Felch’s story. Veitch tried to appease her. “There is so much misinformation, which is why we need an opportunity to talk together,” he said.

At that point Heldman got angry. “You have brought me into your office, you have asked my opinions, then you have told me I don’t know what I am talking about,” she said. “If you think there’s a snowball’s chance that I would sit in a room with you again while you insult me, while you have lied to us, while you have promised things and not delivered—your statement today is the absolute best evidence that any of us have of what you’ve been doing behind the scenes.”

It seemed nobody was talking about Oxy’s sexual assault problems anymore.


Like all liberal arts colleges, Occidental treasures academic freedom, the ability of faculty and students to say, argue, or publish almost whatever they like no matter how conservative or contrary. To that end, just days after the rancorous meeting with Veitch, Oxy’s faculty received a letter signed by several professors. “We write to you today out of concern for the well-being of the college,” it began. Without naming them, the letter seemed to blame Heldman and Dirks for the “polarization” of the faculty and the administration. “I signed it because I feared we had a no-end strategy,” an early OSAC member told me.

What most faculty didn’t know was that OSAC was fracturing, too. Dirks had quietly dropped out. Some of the seniors felt that Heldman was trying to exert too much control over the group. She wanted OSAC to stage a “Scarlet Letter” protest against Veitch, where they’d all show up on campus wearing scarlet A’s. It was Veitch and his consultants for the L.A. Times, she charged, who were to blame for the public admission that a professor had been sleeping with its reporter. When the students questioned the idea, Heldman lashed out at them. “She wrote us an extremely long text message how she never trusted any of us,” recalled one of the students, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. “All of us were very upset. All of us were crying.” In April the students deleted their hero from OSAC’s Facebook page and announced that from then on, OSAC would be a student-run organization.

Things were also getting tense between professors who’d been involved in the movement. One early OSAC member said that in June 2013, Heldman kicked her out of the organization. “She didn’t like how I was handling things,” the professor recalled. “She decided I wasn’t in the inner circle anymore.”

In August 2014, Heldman e-mailed me, warning of this person’s credibility after I mentioned speaking with her. “However she may be presenting to you, she is working against the struggle as we see it on campus.” From then on Heldman didn’t respond to my e-mails, texts, or phone calls. That same month I learned that Heldman and Dirks had split. For the movement’s sake they were trying to keep it quiet to maintain a united front, but those who knew found the news unthinkable. Since late 2012, the women had seemed inseparable. The two had been writing a book on campus rape. Any time activists and students referred to them, it was in tandem: Danielle and Caroline, Caroline and Danielle. As late as January 2014, a month before they stopped talking, Heldman had even tweeted a photo of the two leaning together, with the word “wifeys.”

Dirks met me one afternoon in August at an Eagle Rock diner, where she dashed in wearing workout clothes, her hair plopped in a bun atop her head. She had a Pilates appointment across the street, part of an effort to take better care of herself. “I am really so scared,” she said as she discussed the falling-out.

Her relationship with Heldman had been strained for months, a casualty of the incessant media attention on and power struggles in the movement. After they launched the national student-faculty advocacy group End Rape on Campus, in July 2013, the pressure only intensified. That November Kirby Dick, the Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, came to Oxy to work on his film about the college sexual assault epidemic. The crew was shooting Heldman and Dirks when the director interrupted. He wanted Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, cofounders of EROC, in the scene—not the professors. Dirks figured the students made for a more compelling story, but she said that Heldman felt snubbed. Hadn’t the professors handed this documentary to Dick? Why were the media focusing so much on Clark and Pino?

When Dirks defended the students, she said, Heldman grew furious. “She accused me of not being in the trenches with her and turning against her,” Dirks added. In February 2014, she told Heldman she was going to resign from EROC. She was stressed. “I didn’t realize the extent of how much of that stress was her,” Dirks told me. But when Dirks decided to remain in EROC, Heldman resigned instead. She cofounded the national group Faculty Against Rape, whose mission is to enlist more professors in fighting sexual assault and to protect them against retaliation from their schools.

Then came the revelation from the L.A. Times that a professor had been sleeping with Felch; some on campus assumed it was to influence the paper’s sexual assault coverage. At first Heldman pretended to many people—including me—to be the source, but several faculty members knew it was someone else, who wished to remain anonymous.


Studies show that only 2 to 8 percent of rape and sexual assault cases involve false claims. But in the push to end sexual violence on college campuses, there’s a growing refrain coming from men found guilty of rape: that the system is now stacked against them. At Harvard this past fall, 28 law school professors deemed the school’s new sexual assault policy “overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.” And, of course, there is the Rolling Stone debacle from last fall, in which the magazine backed away from a woman’s claims of being gang raped at a fraternity house at the University of Virginia. First the magazine said its trust in the source was “misplaced.” Then, changing course, it said its reporter had failed by not contacting the alleged attackers, confirming the worst suspicions of campus rape deniers.

“I still remember when I did my first interview and outed myself as a survivor, and that was so scary,” Mee, who’s studying law now, said to me about the story. “So it’s hard to see the reactions to her, and the assumptions because there were errors in the journalism, that people are doubting her.”

Students accused of sexual assault at schools including Brown, the University of Michigan, and Swarthmore College have filed charges of their own, some of them citing Title IX violations themselves. At Oxy there’s been one such suit: In December 2013, a freshman identified as John Doe was expelled after he was found responsible for raping a 17-year-old female student, and he ranted about the case on social media. That same month a post on Reddit and 4chan about an online form enabling Oxy students to anonymously report sexual assault led to men’s rights activists swamping the Web site with more than 550 fake complaints.

Photograph by Patrick Fallon/GettyImages

In February 2014, after losing his appeal, John Doe sued Occidental, alleging sex discrimination. Under Oxy’s sexual consent policy, his lawyers argued Jane Doe had actually assaulted him. Both were drunk, and she’d given him oral sex while he was “intoxicated” and therefore couldn’t consent. She also texted a friend that she was going to have sex. Oxy, which had long been criticized for not punishing rapists enough, was suddenly being accused of going too far.

Making things worse, John Doe’s lawyers released about 200 pages of confidential documents. The young woman had never wanted to go public, and now the excruciating details of her experience were splashed online. When Oxy later went to court to have the material sealed or redacted, the judge declined. Then a civil liberties group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education rallied in defense of John Doe, unleashing a torrent of online harassment from trolls aimed at female witnesses.

Dirks was one of them. On June 6 she received an e-mail from a man in Missouri: “What kind of a radical fucking man hating dyke are you?” it read. “Please, slice your goddamn wrists, nail your pussy shut and go wait tables before you harm someone else.”


I’m making sure we’re dotting our I  ’s and crossing our T  ’s,” said Veronika Barsegyan from behind her desk at the Campus Safety office. It was early September, and Barsegyan was a month into her job as Oxy’s Clery coordinator, managing the daily crime log and recording every incident. The 28-year-old was scrambling to pull together the annual Clery report. Due October 1, it was supposed to contain Occidental’s crime numbers for the previous three calendar years, 2011 through 2013. “I’m auditing and auditing and auditing to make sure we are completely compliant,” said Barsegyan.

She was being helped by Victor Clay, the new campus safety chief, who came on the job three days before. A burly 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Clay replaced Holly Nieto, who retired in August. For years it was Nieto’s job to ensure that Oxy’s rape and sexual assault numbers were correct. Although she relied on departments to pass along sex crime statistics to her, sometimes the reports fell into a black hole. Other times key information was missing. When Oxy’s Clery Report came out on October 1, it revealed that the number of reported sex offenses surged from 12 incidents in 2011 to 64 incidents in 2013. Although 34 of those occurred in previous years and even more had been reported anonymously, this meant that students were finally coming out of the shadows to report.

Another person who’ll strongly influence Oxy’s ability to improve the way it handles sexual assaults is Ruth Jones, Occidental’s new Title IX coordinator. In September California became the first state in the country to adopt what’s regarded as the best policy to help students navigate sex. Part of Jones’s job is to make sure everyone understands the state’s affirmative sexual consent policy for colleges and universities—commonly known as “yes means yes.” (Unless someone says yes to having sex, there should be no assumption that it’s consensual.) A lawyer in her sixties, Jones has a patchwork of recent federal laws—the White House “Not Alone” report, the Senator Claire McCaskill legislation to reduce the prevalence of college sexual assault—to consider. People want to get this right,” she said, “and there’s not a common view of how to do that.”

While colleges like Dartmouth have moved to mandatory expulsion for students who commit certain kinds of sexual assault, Occidental has yet to adopt such a stiff or uniform approach. At Oxy a student found responsible for rape or sexual assault does face suspension or possible expulsion; however, the policy still doesn’t make clear how punishments are decided. Is one form of sexual assault worse than another? What does it take to warrant expulsion? But Jones’s hardest job may be restoring confidence in the reporting process. She’s already made mistakes. At the faculty meeting last May, she announced that from now on, professors would have to tell the college if a student privately came to them about a rape or sexual assault. The room erupted in anger and disbelief. Just minutes before, SMAB, the faculty-student committee, had advised that because of trust issues at Oxy, faculty should not be mandatory reporters. If students knew their information wouldn’t be confidential, they wouldn’t come to their professors. In fact, a month later a student I’ll call Mary contacted me. Mary claimed she knew two students—one male, one female—who’d been sexually assaulted by the same male student but hadn’t reported because they were leery of the process.

In late October, after repeated delays for more than a year, the Pepper Hamilton report finally landed. It was supposed to illuminate how Occidental had found itself in this mess. Instead the 130-page document absolved the administration of almost any blame and singled out just about everyone else, especially activists—presumably OSAC—writing that their tactics were standing “in the way of candid and collaborative communication between activists and administrators.”

In a prepared statement his spokesperson provided me, Veitch, who declined to speak to me, characterized the report as being “a frank and productive discussion.” But in an e-mail to me, Nalsey Tinberg, the head of Oxy’s faculty council, chastised Smith and Gomez’s account of Oxy’s troubled history. “Unfortunately, the President and the Board of Trustees have missed another valuable opportunity to bring the campus together,” wrote Tinberg, a professor of mathematics at Occidental since 1980. While some faculty members disapproved of OSAC’s methods, she went on, “we all have stood together to make sure our students are safe, protected, and defended. And their fire and passion alone helped to ignite a nationwide movement that we should be proud of.”

If anyone had helped create the toxic culture on campus, Tinberg wrote to me, it was Veitch. “It is his lack of understanding, his lack of empathy, and his sheer stubbornness that has impeded him,” she wrote. The report was just “another public relations effort that blames faculty and staff, OSAC, the press, and even the White House for the inability of our college leaders to do the right thing.”

In his statement Veitch focused on the positive: “We now have a deeper, more nuanced understanding of this issue. I know that I do…. Rebuilding trust takes time. Ultimately actions, not words are what we need.”

As far as students are concerned, the actions of the recent past seem to say plenty. When I checked Oxy’s daily crime log leading up to December 21, there were two rapes and one sexual assault reported for the entire year of 2014. None of them occurred in 2014 but were reported retroactively. By that measure, not a single sexual assault occurred in 2014. Either Occidental has completely solved its rape problem, or students have retreated, concluding the process isn’t worth it.

Mona Gable wrote about Pasadena City College professor Hugo Schwyzer in the April 2014 issue. This feature originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Los Angeles magazine.



“The Trouble With Oxy by Mona Gable- Feb 10, 2015,” History of Equity and Diversity at Occidental: Roots of Programs, accessed October 3, 2023,