[UPDATED] Jesse Cheng, UC Student Regent Accused of Sexual Battery, Draws 'Serious' Board Review
After the group's representatives addressed the UC Board of Regents, Chairman Russell Gould acknowledged that "there has been a very serious issue relative to student Regent Jesse Cheng. We take this very seriously." No action will be taken until a campus review of the situation ends, however.
The San Francisco Chronicle has the scoop on the board meeting.
"In this time of deep budget cuts, let me use the language we are familiar with," Annalisa Enrile, board president for the feminist-rights group Mariposa Center for Change in Los Angeles and a USC professor, had earlier told regents. "We cannot afford to lose more of our students, more of our women to violence. We cannot afford 150,000 college women being assaulted every year. We cannot afford to have a sexual batterer represent the needs of one of the most prestigious university systems in the country. We cannot afford Cheng . . . and that is the most important CUT that you can make today."
Her center and the LA-based Association of Filipinas, Feminists Fighting Imperialism, Re-feudalization and Marginalization (AF3IRM) claim the Justice for Laya Coalition was formed on five UC campuses. It is named after the young woman identified as Laya, a former UCI student and current UCLA graduate student who says Cheng tried to rape her last October. Cheng counters she is his former girlfriend of a year and denies any sexual attack occurred.
Following Laya's complaint to the Irvine Police Department in November, detectives investigated and forwarded a case of misdemeanor sexual battery against Cheng to the Orange County district attorney's office, which concluded there was not enough evidence to support charges. Laya also filed a complaint with UCI's student dean, who recently found Cheng responsible for "unwanted touching." Cheng has said he is contemplating an appeal.
Besides Cheng's ouster and affirmation of the UCI Office of Student Conduct decision "as a step in restoring legal justice for Laya," the coalition is demanding the regents fund women's centers on UC campuses.
"Laya had to go outside the university system to find help and support because women's centers are underfunded," Vanita Mistry, a UC Berkeley student who identified herself as a personal friend of the woman, told regents. "She has had to tell her story over and over to police and school officials without any indication that they believe or support her."
The coalition cited stats showing sexual assault remains the second-highest reported crime on UC campuses. To combat this, they have put the focus on Laya's claims. After confronting the regents, they held a vigil outside the hearing room. Women with purple tape over their mouths and wearing purple T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "I am Laya" held signs calling for the student regent's immediate removal. (His term ends in July.) The motto is meant to "signify that all women are victimized by Cheng's actions," according to a Mariposa rep.
"There is nothing that Jesse would like more than for us to shut up and go away," said Katrina Socco, AF3IRM's Bay Area coordinator. "We aren't going anywhere until justice is served."
UPDATE/CLARIFICATION, MARCH 11, 4:54 P.M.: As the UCI Office of Student Conduct is not a court of law, it could not find UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng guilty or innocent of sexual battery, despite the statements in posts below this one from supporters of his former girlfriend.
Instead, it is accurate to say the student dean's office found in favor of the young woman identified as "Laya" and that her former boyfriend was responsible for "unwanted touching" of her in October 2010.
UPDATE, MARCH 11, 12:21 P.M.: A Los Angeles feminist-rights group is calling for Jesse Cheng's removal as the UC Student Regent in light of UC Irvine's dean of students finding the fifth-year senior responsible for touching his former girlfriend inappropriately.
"A sexual batterer should not continue to represent the student voice," Annalisa Enrile, president of the board of the Mariposa Center for Change, says in statement sent to the Weekly. "The UC Regents said they would take the lead from the UCI Office of Student Conduct. By not removing him from his office, the UC Regents are publicly condoning sexual battery and assault on their campuses."
The full statement follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 9, 2011
Ivy Quicho, Mariposa Center for Change Executive Director
Jollene Levid, AF3IRM National Chairperson
UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct Finds Jesse Cheng Guilty of Sexual Battery,
Justice for Laya Coalition Heightens Its Call for His Resignation
March 9: The UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct found UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng responsible for sexual battery of Laya, a UC Irvine alum and current UCLA graduate student. Laya filed the case with the office in October 2010, shortly after the incident took place.
Director Edgar Dormitorio of the UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct informed Laya via telephone yesterday that a decision had been reached. Laya was also informed that Cheng had seven days to appeal the case. Director Dormitorio stated that his office must wait those seven days before providing Laya with the actual sanctions leveled against Cheng. The Justice for Laya Coalition urges Director Dormitorio and the Dean of Students of UC Irvine to uphold their just and original decision against Cheng should an appeal be made. Coalition member and AF3IRM National Coordinator Amanda Martin said, "Let us not backtrack. This is just the first step of Justice for Laya."
Since the Laya case reached the public, various students, community members, youth, and women's organizations across California have created the Justice for Laya Coalition to demand that: 1) Jesse Cheng be removed from his post, 2) Laya receive full, legal justice and 2) Women's Resources and Centers in the University of California school system be funded so that other women will never have to face situations such as Laya's alone.
In light of the recent findings of the UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct, the Justice for Laya Coalition heightens its call for its first demand: that Jesse Cheng to be removed from his position as the UC Student Regent! Mariposa Center for Change Board President, Dr. Annalisa Enrile stated, "A sexual batterer should not continue to represent the student voice. The UC Regents said they would take the lead from the UCI Office of Student Conduct. By not removing him from his office, the UC Regents are publicly condoning sexual battery and assault on their campuses."
The fact that a thorough investigation by the UCI Office of Student Conduct was conducted and found Cheng guilty only validates what the Justice for Laya Coalition has known all along - that Laya is deserving of swift, legal justice, and that Cheng is not a representative of the UC student population.
Join the Justice for Laya Coalition's actions:
ACTION AT THE UC BOARD OF REGENTS MEETING:
Wednesday, March 16
UC San Francisco - Mission Bay Community Center
675 Owens Street, San Francisco
PRESS CONFERENCE IN LOS ANGELES
Wednesday, March 16
Feminist Majority Press Room
433 South Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90212-4401
After the Weekly received an anonymous e-mail revealing the campus office's decision, Cheng confirmed by phone that the ruling against him came down this week.
The university declined to comment, citing student confidentiality.
Cheng tells the Weekly he was "a little bit surprised" the student-conduct office ruled against him. He says a university representative went over a letter with him outlining the decision.
Our tipster says Edgar Dormitorio, the UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct director, called Cheng's former girlfriend, a UCI alum and current UCLA graduate student identified only as "Laya," to let her know the decision had been reached. She had sought the student-conduct investigation after filing a report with the Irvine Police Department. The Orange County district attorney's office eventually declined to file a misdemeanor sexual-battery charge against Cheng for lack of evidence.
The representative of 200,000 UC students on the Board of Regents wanted to make it clear the campus office's bar for finding guilt is much lower than it is in a criminal case, where the threshold is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The DA's office had said it could not build a case of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence presented.
Cheng adds that the student-conduct office "explicitly said I was not guilty of rape" or any sexual misconduct by force. Instead, he says, he was technically found responsible for "unwanted touching of a physical nature."
His punishment is neither expulsion nor suspension, but probation, says Cheng. That would mean he could continue the studies he is wrapping up at UCI so long as he gets into no more trouble. But, Cheng says, he is contemplating an appeal if only to clear his name.
"I'm still working through the ideas," he says. "I still maintain my innocence."