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Cori Redstone’s work installed for the exhibition opening tonight (all images courtesy Cori Redstone)

Students at the California Institute of the Arts — CalArts, as it’s more popularly known — are staging a walkout at 3 o’clock this afternoon in protest of the school’s handling of sexual assault cases. The action, organized by a group of about 20 students, will be followed by a student-led community meeting in the school’s Main Gallery to discuss the issue.

“We expect probably 200–300 students to walk out,” organizer and second-year MFA student Cori Redstone told Hyperallergic. The school has around 1,400 students. “We need the administration to understand that we’re really serious about this — a committee is not going to make us go away.”

Letter posted by the Title IX complainant at CalArts (click to enlarge)

The committee Redstone refers to was formed by the CalArts administration in response to mounting scrutiny over its handling of sexual assault cases. The school is one of 85 institutions of higher education currently under investigation by the US Department of Education for its policies. (Also among them is Columbia University, where an art student and rape victim has garnered widespread attention with her performance protest project.) The CalArts federal complaint was filed by a student named Regina, whose story was detailed in an article on Al Jazeera last week.

“This is standard operating procedure,” said Redstone. “Whenever enough of us make enough noise, they just form a committee and then eventually it gets dropped. We’re students, so we graduate and move on.”

In her conversation with Hyperallergic, Redstone painted an unsettling picture of the atmosphere surrounding sexual abuse on campus: “I was assaulted at a party last year, and campus security refused to take a statement. I went to them multiple times with complaints and they refused. From the beginning, a very first step is often going to security, and we know at the very least that is not being handled properly,” she said. Hostility or ignorance from campus security may lead to a lack of reporting of crimes, which could in turn account for the startling statistic claimed by CalArts: that only one forcible sex offense has taken place at the school in the last three years.

“We spoke to a rape victim whose perpetrator is still on campus, and is still in her program, and is in one of her classes,” Redstone said. “The person who assaulted the Title IX complainant is also going to be allowed back on campus after one-year suspension.”

The Al Jazeera piece recounts the continued harassment and retaliation that Regina faced from her alleged rapist and his friends after bringing her case through the school’s adjudication process (he was found guilty and suspended for one year, but allowed to finish the semester). According to Redstone, this type of subtly menacing harassment is pervasive throughout the school, not just for victims who step forward but even for those who organize and speak out about the issue. “We have a huge problem with hostility around here. I’ve had my work defaced, graffitied on; I was threatened,” said Redstone. She gave the example of a banner she painted with the words “They don’t give a damn about us” in front of a teal ribbon (a symbol for sexual assault awareness), which someone defaced with the words, “You’re raping my eyes.”

Redstone’s work, with vandalism at bottom

“There’s a real aversion to organizing and being political on campus,” she said.

Redstone would like to see structural changes at CalArts — everything from the implementation of a victim advocate program to a new model of shared governance between students, faculty, staff, administrators, and board members. “Within the institution students have no power; the administration and the board do not want to speak us — we have no way to address problems.”

For now, she and many of her fellow second-year MFA students have made work about the sexual assault crisis for their mid-residency exhibition, which opens at the school tonight. “A lot of us voted to do some sort of public statement or intervention on behalf of rape victims on campus,” she said. “It’s a very interesting and powerful display of what can happen in a committed unit.”

Work by Dina Abdulkarim

Work by Redstone, with harassing comments (click to enlarge)

Work by Redstone

Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

10 replies on “CalArts Students Stage Walkout Over Sexual Assault”

  1. You know, I am really happy to see this happening. I once sought help from my school’s counseling services for a situation with my former partner. The counselor told me, “Oh, men from that country are just aggressive like that, they don’t know any better. What are you doing to provoke him? Are you sure you don’t really like it?” I am so glad this widespread issue is getting the attention it deserves.

  2. When will President Steven Levine leave?? He’s only part of the larger problem of money-grubbing apathy and “private school syndrome”(i.e we’re a private school, we make our own rules), but it might change the standard of putting finances before students. …and I’m speaking as an alumna from 20 yrs ago….

  3. “It’s one of those moments when you see someone do it all wrong and you’re like, oh god, don’t ever wanna be that person. It helped me clarify my relationship to working in digitally and socially engaged spaces. What that looks like, why I do it, what my value system is in that space. And that is always a good thing.”

  4. We are living in post sexual revolutionary times. We threw the baby out with the bath water.
    What we gained in sexual liberation we lost in the precious value of our bodies. The handling of this highly inappropriate action by this unnamed male by the Cal Arts Administration is the product of a cultural shift that has underestimated the depth of our sexual psyches.

  5. I was guest of a student and was assaulted at Calarts about three years ago. Campus security didn’t take it seriously. They told me to call the police once I arrived at the hospital (which really doesn’t do much after you leave the scene of the crime) and even when I took meetings with the administration — they did nothing to show me that they cared about protecting me or their student body from someone who had proven to be aggressive and attack students and visitors (this was not the attackers first offense).

    They put on some bullshit “investigation”, put the student on a temporary expulsion…and dragged the whole thing out till they came to the conclusion that stitches and staples to the head (albeit caused by a non-provoked attack) wasn’t a big enough deal to warrant any disciplinary action of any kind. The student was back on-campus as usual 1 week later.

    This was not a case of sexual assault, but it was a case of assault. And I believe it is reflective of the school’s inability to handle on-campus. But the fact– this is a non-negotiable — when assaults (sexual or otherwise) occur on a school-campus, as an institution they must protect and advocate for victims of violence. Calarts needs to stop trying to sell itself to future classes and alumni over a fraudulent candy-coated exterior. It just isn’t right when this kinda stuff continues…

    1. Put the names (everyone involved) and dates, police reports are public info, here with so others know. Shine a fucking bright light on it.

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