Response from UC Davis Regarding Mandatory Violence and Intervention Program

By November 7, 2014

From: “Michael F. Sweeney” <mfsweeney@ucdavis.edu>
Date: November 7, 2014 at 8:08:00 PM EST
To: “‘Samantha@thefire.org‘” <Samantha@thefire.org>
Cc: Chancellor Katehi <chancellor@ucdavis.edu>, Sarah A Meredith <sameredith@ucdavis.edu>
Subject: UC Davis Violence Intervention & Prevention program

Dear Ms. Harris;

Thank you for your letter of October 31, 2014 letter to UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi regarding the online Violence Intervention & Prevention (“VIP”) program at UC Davis.  Please accept this response on behalf of Chancellor Katehi and UC Davis.

Let me begin by stating that UC Davis is committed to ensuring freedom of expression of all of the members of our campus community, and that we take seriously all concerns we receive that a University employee, program, or policy is or has infringed on First Amendment rights.  The University’s commitment to the First Amendment is expressed in our Freedom of Expression policy, UC Davis Policy and Procedure Manual 400-01, which is intended to ensure the highest standards of freedom of expression and independent thought for the members of the University community.

The VIP program identified in your letter is designed to comply with recent amendments in the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), 42 U.S.C. §3701 et seq., which requires that all new students and employees are offered prevention and awareness programs that promote awareness of rape, acquaintance rape, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  The University takes its obligations under VAWA, and all other state and federal laws, seriously and is committed to providing our students with a healthy and safe learning environment, while being consistent with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Sections 2 and 3, of the California Constitution.  The online VIP program was therefore intended to meet the University’s obligations under VAWA and to help foster a healthy and safe learning environment for our students.

The five training modules within the VIP program follow a basic format. First, students are asked to view a short video depicting a common scenario where issues of rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking arise. A discussion video follows where students and a university counselor talk about the issues the video depicts and explains why the behavior in the video is problematic, e.g., explaining that just because a woman dresses in a certain way, it does not mean that the woman is “asking for” anything.  The training program then goes on to provide additional information through slides and audio, and short activities and quizzes follow to provide students an opportunity to practice what they just learned.  It is important to note that even if a student gets every question wrong in the activities and the quizzes, the student will still be given credit for completing the training, and at no time is a student required to adopt certain viewpoints or affirm that particular types of constitutionally protected speech are objectionable as a condition of their ability to register for classes at the University.

The portion of the VIP program identified in your letter includes a slide labeled “Harmful Language” and an activity labeled “Words that Hurt.”  The “Harmful Language” slide identifies language such as “I raped that exam,” “That’s so gay,” etc.  Neither the slide nor the accompanying audio requires that students refrain from using that language or that there will be any repercussions if students do choose to use such language. The slide merely explains the effect that such language may have on society and why it may contribute to certain views on sexual assault and violence.   Additionally, the activity labeled “Words that Hurt” does not require students to take a stance on any issue.  The activity simply asks that students match up words/phrases with reasons for why the language is problematic, not that the student must agree that the language may be problematic.  Students are therefore not required to take a stance on any issue.  Again, at no time is a student required to adopt certain viewpoints or affirm that particular types of constitutionally protected speech are objectionable as a condition of their ability to register for classes at the University.  Students are merely urged to consider the broader social implications of their speech.

We will continue to review the VIP program to determine the overall effectiveness of the program, and to consider whether any portion of the program infringes on the First Amendment rights of our students.  We will inform you of the results of our review once it has been completed.  Thank you once again for bringing this to our attention.  If you should have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

Sincerely,

Michael Sweeney

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Michael F. Sweeney
Senior Campus Counsel
University of California, Davis
Direct: 530-754-7111

Cell:  530-219-2951

THIS MESSAGE IS INTENDED TO BE A CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION, subject to attorney-client privilege, attorney work-product privilege, and is intended only for the use of the individual(s) to whom it is addressed. It should not be shown to anyone not employed by the University and should be shown to University employees on a need-to-know basis.

Schools: University of California, Davis Cases: University of California, Davis: Mandatory Violence Prevention Program Violates Students’ Freedom of Conscience