[BREAKING:] Jesse Cheng, UC Student Regent, Resigns
It's in "an open letter to students of the University of California," and in it, the Asian Studies major concedes the controversy swirling around him had become "a distraction." Resigning, he said, "is part of my obligation and what I owe to the students who have supported me, to ensure that students have a full and powerful voice at the Board of Regents, and do what is best for the student community."
The full letter follows after the jump . . .
An Open Letter to the Students of the University of CaliforniaPosted on May 16, 2011
Dear Fellow Students,
It is with great regret that I write this letter to announce that I have tendered my resignation as the Student Regent of the University of California. My regret partially stems from my choice to resign before the May Regents meeting, which would have been my last Regent meeting; and also the inability to finish my service to a student body and UC community which has given me so much. But I make this decision today because I believe it is part of my obligation and what I owe to the students who have supported me, to ensure that students have a full and powerful voice at the Board of Regents, and do what is best for the student community.
I respect the decision of the Student Conduct Process, no matter how much I disagree with the findings. It is a much lower standard of evidence than a criminal court, but I also recognize that the process nevertheless applies to me as a student. My main focus and motivation has always been for students to feel that they have a full and powerful voice on the Board of Regents. Seeing how it will be my last meeting as a Student Regent, and how much of a distraction from other serious student issues that this issue has continued to cause, I think it would be best for the students and the University of California if I step down at this time. Along the same lines of pushing for students to have a powerful voice at the table, I have confirmed that Alfredo Mireles, the Student Regent-designate, will be able to utilize my vote on the Board of Regents next week. I feel confident that with Alfredo speaking as the full Student Regent, students will continue to have a full voice and vote at the table. Whether or not I continue as a Student Regent, I think that will always be the most important issue.
I would like to take the liberty to thank all the leaders and activists who have taken their time to work with me and fight for an affordable, accessible, and quality UC. They have been students, staff, faculty, and UC administration, and I owe them all a great debt of gratitude. As students, we faced extremely difficult challenges these last two years, including one of the largest fee increases in the university's history and one of the largest fiscal crises in the state's. However, we also launched one of the largest grassroots mobilizations in the country, with well over ten thousand students, staff, faculty, and workers walking out to send a clear message to decision-makers and legislators about the importance of a college education. I am proud to have been there to witness such a powerful moment for higher education. In this past year, through difficult challenges, we've been able to win small victories. Student activists worked hard to urge the university to look at diversity models to improve campus climate, and recently gained two student representatives on the UC's Investment Advisory Group, allowing students to gain a wider perspective and voice. Perhaps most importantly, this year the Board of Regents approved a resolution pushing for all campuses to adopt a holistic admissions model, a model that will produce a more fair and balanced admissions process for future UC students. It is a victory that students have been seeking for years, and it was an honor to see the University take such a strong stance on balanced admissions practices. It has been an honor to support the leadership of students who have advocated across the system these past two years.
I have tried to serve the students and the University of California to the best of my ability for the last two years, and I thank the students for giving me this opportunity and privilege. At the end of the day, I want to recognize it is a privilege to serve, not a right. I am stepping down now because I think it is the right decision, and the best way for the students to have a powerful voice at the table, for the student movement to move forward without distraction, and for the University of California to face the challenges we have before us.Respectfully Yours in Service and Friendship,
UPDATE, MAY 16, 4:43 P.M.: Citing "personal reasons," Jesse Cheng has resigned as the UC Student Regent.
The fifth year senior at UC Irvine, where he has been embroiled in controversy over an "unwanted touching" incident with an ex-girlfriend, submitted his resignation to UC Board of Regents Chairman Russell Gould on Friday, according to the UC President's office.
Cheng tells the Daily Bruin, UCLA's student newspaper, that he reached his decision more in response to the distraction of the controversy than his recent loss of a UCI Office of Student Conduct appeal.
The student dean's office faulted Cheng for the incident and ordered him to stay away from his former girlfriend (identified only as "Laya," a UCLA graduate student and former UCI undergrad), put him on probation for the rest of the school year and strongly suggested he take an anger management class.
But Cheng says, "People have been really supportive of me," so that made it easier for him to deal with the unsuccessful attempt to clear his name. He claims he held off on resigning until Student-Regent Designate Alfredo Mireles was up to speed to attend the remaining Board of Regents meetings this year.
The incident at the center of the case happened in his Irvine campus apartment in October 2010. Laya reported to Irvine police the next month that Cheng had tried to rape her. Police investigators forwarded the case to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) as a misdemeanor sexual battery case. The OCDA later declined to file charges against Cheng, citing lack of evidence.
But Laya also contacted the UCI student dean, and with the support of feminist groups on five UC campuses that called themselves the Justice for Laya Coalition, they applied pressure on the Board of Regents, the UC President's office and UCI officials to seriously deal with the incident--and to remove Cheng from the board.
"This is a victory for my case," Laya says in a statement issued today by the coalition, "but also for other victims of sexual assault, battery, and rape. We are one step closer for creating a place where women can step forward, demand, and actually receive genuine justice."
While also applauding the "victory," the coalition noted two other demands prompted by the case remain still remain:
"1) that Laya receives full legal justice, and;
"2) that Women's Centers be funded in the UC system to avoid future incidents similar to Laya's."
"About 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted and 65% of rapes go unreported," explained Annalisa Enrile, president of the Mariposa Center for Change board. "In some universities, expulsion of rapists may even be appealed. It's our duty to continue to demand that women's centers be fully-funded, so as to provide necessary resources to victims and education to avoid future incidents such as Laya's."
"I am feeling relieved," begins the UCLA graduate student, who has been working with the nonprofit Mariposa Center for Change in Los Angeles and feminist rights groups from five UC campuses that formed the Justice for Laya Coalition shortly after she reported the incident to police and campus officials.
"I couldn't, and can't do this alone," Laya continued. "Without the support of the MCC, and of the Coalition, my experience would have been ignored."
The former UCI student-turned-UCLA graduate student then explained her motives for reporting what the coalition still refers to as "the attempted rape," although police and prosecutors, who declined to file charges, called it a misdemeanor sexual battery case:
"I came forward not just for my own healing and sense of peace," Laya said, "but for other survivors of sexual violence on college campuses who have been silenced."
Since news of the incident broke, members of the Justice for Laya Coalition have demanded that Cheng face stiff sanctions, including removal from his Student Regent position. The punishment meted out by the UCI student dean's office includes probation for the duration of the fifth year senior's academic enrollment, a no-contact order and suggestions that he educate himself on anger management and sexual violence.
The battle is not over, according to Ivy Quicho, executive director of the Mariposa Center for Change in LA.
"We have a lot more work to do," Quicho says in the statement that includes Laya's words. "Cheng needs to be removed from his office as UC Student Regent. We will continue to work towards that goal."
The coalition has also demanded the UC Board of Regents fully fund Women's Resource Centers and increase education on rapes and sexual assaults on UC campuses.
Cheng was unable to comment when contacted by the Weekly this afternoon. Once that comes, this post will be updated again.
Cheng's ex-, a former UCI student and current UCLA graduate student identified only as Laya, told Irvine police in November that he tried to rape her last October in his university apartment. Cheng denied any sexual attack occurred, but Irvine detectives forwarded a case of misdemeanor sexual battery to the Orange County district attorney's office. The OCDA later concluded there was not enough evidence to support charges against Cheng.
But Laya had also filed a complaint with UCI's student dean, which in March found Cheng responsible for "unwanted touching," a finding he appealed. By losing the appeal, the fifth year senior faces the original punishment: probation for the remainder of his time as a UC student. He's also been instructed to take educational and anger management courses.
Also in March, the LA-based Mariposa Center for Change and Association of Filipinas, Feminists Fighting Imperialism, Re-feudalization and Marginalization (AF3IRM), which are part of a Justice for Laya Coalition formed on five UC campuses, stormed the UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco to call for Cheng's removal from his board post. He was not present.
Chairman Russell Gould assured the women the board was taking the matter seriously but that it would have to await the end of the appeal process before taking any action. Now, the groups are accusing the UC and UCI of delaying the appeal denial because Cheng is only scheduled to attend one more Board of Regents meeting before his term ends.
UPDATE, MARCH 17, 11:41 A.M.: The "Justice for Laya Coalition" held a press conference closer to home in Beverly Hills Wednesday afternoon, but the campaign formed to oust UC Irvine senior Jesse Cheng as the UC student regent over "unwanted touching" allegations made an even bigger splash hours earlier in San Francisco.
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.
"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."