Senior Power : ‘A Writing Project’ Through Tri-Focals

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday August 24, 2011 - 09:13:00 AM

Each year, August 26th is designated as Women's Equality Day. Established in 1971, it commemorates passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. 


I left a faculty seminar early that morning in 1983 and headed for Wheeler Hall. I taught a class in this large building, one of several with a history of problems for women. Ten o'clock classes were still in session. 

Inside the vestibule a man stared down at me from the top of the staircase. His fly was open, which does not constitute indecent exposure (California Penal Code Section 314), in many states an indictable offense at common law. I could see his penis, and I was aware of movement as he masturbated.  

He may have pre-judged this not-young, Caucasian female as one who had “made it” at the University. In reality, I was one of the few women involved in civil rights class action with whom he was likely ever to encounter. Passing him meant getting around him on the marble stairs. I pushed myself up from one knee and skirted out of the stairwell into the building’s first floor.  

The nearest telephone was in the Chicano Studies library-room. I said something about phoning security. A young woman fluttered out from behind the desk, headed for a man who was reading a newspaper. He dialed around, chancing upon security. Campus police had been reached. I stated what had happened and where. Suddenly, "They've got him."  

I was impressed. Although I was not asked my name or that I return to the area where the crime had taken place. I did so. One of the uniforms stated that they had picked him up but could not hold him… was I willing to make a citizen’s arrest? She put it to me as if it was doubtful that I would. Finally, she said “it would be good” if I identified him then and there . . . they had him “right outside.” I responded that I would identify him as well as make a citizen’s arrest, but “wouldn’t it be better if I described him before I identify him?” duh  


The Sergeant asked me to come to headquarters to provide a statement. I explained that I would come directly after class, at 12 o'clock. Still, no one asked my name. I was a few minutes late to class and made a brief announcement—today (uniquely) I would have to leave right after class. Someone wrote in her/his anonymous "Course Evaluation" (a misnomer for rating instructors) that “once she came to class in disarray." 

At noon, I went to police reception. The Sergeant took me to a cubicle the size and shape of a telephone booth. I was backed into it and seated. She went away, returned with "the arresting officer." He stuck out his hand. I attempted to get up but was expected to stay down. He zapped out a form "I need for you to sign" and belabored a series of boxes, "and you p-r-i-n-t" this and that. Sitting there in a poorly-lit, unventilated, upended coffin, I wanted to read what I was expected to sign. Parts had already been filled out. Looking down at me, "Oh you don’t need to read that; it don’t have anything to do with you… it’s not revalent.” [Sic]  

The Sergeant responded minimally to my questions. Had he been checked in the computer touted by the campus newspaper? Two computers, one was down, the other not checked. Was he a student? No, nowhere; carrying a registration card reported stolen by a University student. They had concluded it was a first offense and a misdemeanor.  

They stepped a few feet away and conferred. He tossed several more questions at me including "Are you sure you know what a penis looks like when you see one?” They examined me along two lines— where his hands were, and wasn't it strange that nobody else had seen him on a campus this size? I was placed on the defensive.  

Finally, she said they needed a statement. "The district attorney would be relying on it." Although he considered me so inexperienced or stupid that I might not recognize male anatomy, I was expected to provide a statement that would be legally adequate and to prepare it on the spot. She stated that, "as a first offense,” he would likely be let off. Indecent exposure and carrying stolen ID apparently were not offensive. 

I asked to use a typewriter and followed her to an area seemingly their staff room: battered couch, dilapidated table holding feet and bag lunches, typewriter on a rickety stand. She stood over me while chatting with colleagues. Everyone was talking loudly, several eating. I was hungry and thirsty. Uniformed men and one woman came and went, discussing things they shouldn't have in front of a stranger.  

I was told I would hear about appearing in court, and I should be "ready.” The University police pre-judged on the bases of my sex/gender, age, and attire allied with their personal stereotypes. I was not dressed the right way (jeans, no makeup), I did not toss my doctorate around or act the way they expected a not-young lady teaching at a prestigious university to act . . . And I was quite willing to write a complaint report despite little provision for doing so.  

Subsequently, I ascertained that: (1) the arresting officer did not complete the fingerprinting process, because the perpetrator resisted; (2) possibly one of at least two computer data bases may have been checked; (3) the address that perpetrator provided and was accepted as his residence was not a residence; and (4) his name was unknown to persons at that address. 


Months passed. I was preparing for a trip to Japan. I sent the police chief a note regarding how I could be reached and when I would return. He telephoned and casually informed me that he had "told the girl" to let me know that "it had been dismissed." 

Initially, I had naïve confidence in policy boastfully issued by the Chancellor banning indecent exposure, public nudity and lewd or sexually offensive conduct on campus. 

I discovered that the police construct their own version and merely staple it to the victim's hasty, restricted-to-one-side-of-the-page statement. There was disparity between the two versions. The arresting officer in his rendition but made no reference to suspect's carrying stolen identification. The police failed to process the suspect thoroughly — described as a Haitian citizen — because he intimidated them.  




By 1990, the University ranked high in USA Today's Campus Crime Index. The media reported other sex/gender-related incidents. One was headlined "Feds probe UC sex harassment; Campus complaint process assailed." A complaint had been filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). I wrote OCR, asking that my letter be considered nonconfidential citizen input and shared with the woman student, who was about to graduate and attempting to find employment— two of the reasons typically offered for not responding to discrimination.  

K.R. had been loyal to the University and confident of its processes. Unable to get anywhere within the patriarchal family, she filed her complaint with OCR: she had been sexually harassed by a campus police officer while in custody, and she accused the University police department of failing to provide adequate grievance procedures for such cases. Her charges stemmed from an incident when police arrested several persons during an attempted sleep-in commemorating Gulf War casualties. During the booking and while in custody, the arresting officer repeatedly asked her suggestive questions "of a sexual nature."  

K.R. was misdirected and misinformed about her rights by campus officials. She met with both the University Title IX sexual harassment compliance officer and the police chief in an attempt to file a complaint. When she finally found the appropriate office, she was told the campus police could not formally investigate because she had missed their 30-day deadline for filing a complaint! A month later, a police lieutenant informed her that, because her charges were considered unofficial, she would not receive a report of what had been concluded. So she turned to the feds. 

Shortly after K.R.’s experience, two other women filed complaints against the University police department, accusing an officer of sexual assault and brutality, abusing his authority, and taking advantage of women held in custody. Almost a year after the K.R. incident, OCR issued its report, conceding that the University and its police department procedures differed in terms of coverage and filing deadlines. OCR's director of program review concluded that, "while the police officer in question might have acted in an inappropriate or unprofessional manner, his actions did not constitute harassment under the law." It found no merit in K.R.'s accusations. 

In order to learn anything about OCR’s investigation, an attempt to invoke the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was necessary. President Bill Clinton’s appointee, former Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock headed the OCR office. She denied my FOIA request becauseit "is made not for a general public purpose relating to OCR's own conduct, but appears to be related to your desire to utilize information for a writing project." 

By 2008, Hancock represented California Assembly District 14, which encompasses much of Alameda County, including the University of California (the City’s largest employer,) the City of Berkeley, and part of Oakland. She is the spouse of UC, B graduate, former District 14 California State Assemblymember, and Berkeley current Mayor Thomas H. “Tom” Bates. She ran a well-funded campaign for the state Senate, to which she was elected by a considerable majority. Hancock is currently serving as the representative of California State Senate District 9.  

K.R. left California.  

x x x x 

Mark Your Calendar will return next week.  

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at Please, no phone calls.