Student and faculty call on Los Rios Board to change how sexual harassment is handled in district

A Cosumnes River College student and members of the faculty addressed the Los Rios Community College District Board of Trustees Wednesday to demand the district changes the way it handles complaints of sexual harassment.

The calls came following a documented case of sexual harassment on campus experienced by the student, 19-year-old psychology major Iris Perez.

“I felt like I needed to speak up and enact more change and achieve justice for my case as well as other students’ cases and possibly encourage other students to speak up and for them not to be afraid and to have them know that they’re not alone,” Perez said during the meeting.

During an emotional statement, Perez spoke of a meeting she had on Jan. 2 with Hoyt Fong, a counselor who worked at CRC for more than 30 years. During the Jan. 2 meeting, Fong made an uninvited sexual advance towards Perez.

Perez filed a complaint to Human Resources who then investigated the allegations of sexual harassment.

Perez was informed in a Jan. 11 email from Ryan Cox, vice chancellor of human resources, that Fong had resigned effective immediately, and she was also asked if she then wanted to drop her complaint, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Connection.

Director of Human Resources Susan Slager concluded that the allegation was proven true based on Perez’s credible testimony and no rebuttal evidence from Fong, according to Slager’s Jan. 18 letter to Perez, a copy of which was obtained by The Connection.

“It is the fault of the district for handling this incident poorly who asked me to drop my complaint and letting a predator get away with a clean record,” Perez said during the meeting.

College President Edward Bush attended the meeting and said that their response has to be quick and swift to ensure that students are safe on campus.

“We need to make sure that all our students are safe and protected in any environment that they’re in; counseling sessions, inside of classrooms, interactions with other students,” Bush said.

English Professor David Weinshilboum has been Perez’s advocate throughout the investigation.

“Iris is here because she does not want others to experience what she endured,” Weinshilboum said. “This months-long process she has withstood has left her unconvinced that she or other members of the community are properly protected from acts of sexual misconduct.”

While Fong was employed on campus, he was part of the college’s Safe Spaces program.

The Safe Spaces program was established in 2009 to create an inclusive campus where faculty and students respect each other’s views and may seek assistance during difficult times.

Sociology Professor Donnisha Lugo said during the meeting that the incident “came as a shock” to members of the Safe Spaces program.

“Although the district may be legally bound to protect the privacy and records of personnel, there is no excuse for allowing an individual with a record of harassment claims to continue to serve our students,” Lugo said.

Jason Newman, campus president of the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, said there are reasons for keeping complaints confidential.

“When a faculty member faces any kind of disciplinary action that is private information that is kept with the faculty member and management as they work it out and is not released to other faculty members or students,” Newman said.

Cox said the district’s processes and practices are not perfect. He added that they will take the input from the meeting and continue to improve.

“I think it’s important for everyone to understand we take these matters absolutely seriously, we have for years and any recent complaint was taken with just as much seriousness as any other complaint,” said Cox.

Former Academic Senate President and Biology Professor Julie Oliver said she’s known of numerous cases where someone has been accused of wrong-doing, an investigation takes place and nothing ever happens. She, along with other faculty at the meeting, called for change in the way the district handles sexual harassment claims.

“You are complicit in allowing this person to have access to our students and the process has to change,” Oliver said, and later added that the college district was being “called out.”

Chancellor Brian King briefly addressed the issue during the meeting.

“I don’t want any student to leave this thinking that we don’t care very deeply about your safety and well-being,” King said.

Weinshilboum said he’d like a sea change to occur in the way complaints are handled in district.

“I want sexual misconduct to be discussed openly and honestly,” said Weinshilboum. “I want leaders who have the fortitude to speak Hoyt Fong’s name and tell the community that he is no longer welcome on campus.”

Victoria Blanco can be reached at [email protected]