KPFA’s program Women at Risk with Carmen Reed March 8, 2011 covers Racial Harassment and Rape at SSU.

Students tell their personal stories of racism and gang rape and the continuing lack of support on the Sonoma State University campus.

The interviews can be heard in the archives of KPFA—link below. Interviews start at 1:17:22 into the two hour music program and last 30 minutes. Janet Hess Opening



It has been my great joy and privilege at the Hutchins School at Sonoma State to teach very small classes in which I have come to know the joys, and the creative dreams, and the struggles of young women here. Sonoma State University is the birthplace of Women’s History Month. In 1987 Sonoma State’s Women’s Resource Center was established to support the predominantly female campus, so many special women whom I have come to love over the years so much.

Unfortunately, the Women’s Center is no longer. In 2006, it was absorbed into what was renamed the Center for Culture, Gender, and Sexuality (now called the Multicultural Center). The number of professional staff addressing issues related to women was reduced. When the incumbent resigned recently, the number of staff was reduced to zero, and since then women’s issues have been coordinated by a confused and overlapping series of efforts of volunteers and employees on part-time release, and student interns from the Multicultural Center, ASP, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Queer Straight Alliance, as well as the overstretched and hardworking staff of Counseling and Psychological Services, all struggling valiantly to help. The collapsing of services within the Center compromised Sonoma State’s commitment to diversity, despite its appointment of a Director of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence, by compressing into one single service women’s, African American, Latino, Asian American, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and disability programs, with reduced space and minimal funding and staffing, all in one tiny, confused space. All this, at the place where Women’s History Month was born.

Listeners should know that when funding for the Women’s Center was reduced in 1992, a student worker successfully filed a case with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights complaining that Sonoma State was deficient in responding to complaints about sexual assault and harassment. And today there is no funding for a Women’s Center. While there are resources for the Multicultural Center this year, which enabled us to assemble some programming, there is no permanent staff in place or plans to recruit a permanent director, nor is there any structural commitment to providing programming or support services based on gender or sexual orientation. There are also ongoing concerns related to sexual violence. At most universities, basic services related to trauma or disturbing life events is provided by a Student Advocate. Sonoma State has no Victim’s Assistance Office, nor does it currently have a Student Advocate, or a specialist in Counseling and Psychological Services, or a Women’s Center space, or a person coordinating programming or providing advocacy, support, and information to womensubject to disturbing events, particularly harassment and sexual violence. Students who file discrimination complaints are extremely vulnerable and have in the past sought support from the Director of the Women’s Resource Center and the Sexual Assault Education Coordinator.

Now these people are gone. The current plan to hire a Student Advocate appears to depend on passage of a student fee, creating another delay of at least a year for vulnerable students. There is no guarantee of funding for the Multicultural Center, for any of its functions. What we see, then, at Sonoma State, is a dysfunctional pattern of provisional gestures and occasional neglect as a consequence of prioritizing administrative salaries and huge structures like the Green Music building, and the consequences for individual students can be devastating, as I have personally witnessed.

The Faculty Senate at Sonoma State recently passed a resolution to examine issues related to women, a resolution I supported and members of the Faculty Senate Diversity Subcommittee carried forward. All of this effort, however, is presently eclipsed by the current determination—in the face of an overwhelming lack of funding for teachers, and classes, and classrooms, and a lack of funding for diversity and programming for women—to construct a new, $65 million dollar building for enhanced dining facilities, a corporate meeting area, and a ballroom. Not only will this building impose a $300 per year financial burden on already struggling students for the next thirty years; it seems to me to solidify Sonoma State as an institution that does not place priority on supporting vulnerable students, students at the margin, students who are diverse. To construct a ballroom and corporate meeting and dining rooms at the center of campus—in a facility that contains rooms for a Multicultural Center that does not even have funding to exist—seems to me to frustrate the efforts of so many over the years to reach out, to hear the voices of the vulnerable, and to help students, particularly women, manage their struggle to feel safe and to learn in peace, and to live their lives.

Last year I was told there was not even enough money for ONE SINGLE ROOM for a Women’s Center or ONE SINGLE COURSE RELEASE for a faculty member to help these women. Now, this week, another female student has been sexuaIly assaulted. Meanwhile, many minority students find themselves harassed and marginalized on this campus, and many of those students are women. All this at Sonoma State. I share this because these students are close to my heart, because I believe we have a responsibility to help them, because people should know their stories, and because it is not too late to make Sonoma State the safe, supportive, and diverse environment it truly should be. On this anniversary of Women’s History Month, I hope you will listen to the following stories told by students, keeping in mind the words of one resident of District Six I encountered while teaching in South Africa: “I’m not talking about something I read about. It happened to me.”