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.”
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.”
“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.”