Image by Laura Jue
Despite a federal lawsuit, Title IX investigation, demonstrations, and petitions from students and faculty, UCLA history professor and serial sexual harasser Gabriel Piterberg has returned to teaching on campus after a short suspension. Protests sprung up around campus as a result of Piterberg’s reinstatement.
The protests, organized by the Bruin Consent Coalition (BCC) and Bruins Against Sexual Harassment (BASH), began on Monday and Wednesday of Week 1 outside Piterberg’s 8 a.m. class.
The first protest began around 7:30 a.m. in Royce Hall, room 160, outside of where Piterberg was teaching his first class of the quarter. Students, some affiliated with BCC and BASH, held large printouts of a Los Angeles Times headline addressing Piterberg’s return and chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, PIterberg has got to go.” Some students also held hand-drawn signs demanding justice and showing support for the survivors of Piterberg’s harassment using hashtags like #fightsexualassault and #firepiterberg. This protest resulted in Piterberg’s class being canceled at about 8:20 a.m., and several students enrolled in his class walked out. One student who walked out early said he had not known “the extent of the circumstances,” but would now be dropping the class.
UCLA’s administration has shown repeatedly that it prioritizes the school’s reputation over the safety of its students. For years, Piterberg harassed two of his graduate students by “making sexual comments, pressing himself against their bodies and forcing his tongue into their mouths.” In response to this gross abuse of power, UCLA fined him $3,000 and suspended him for 11 weeks. This suspension was conveniently postponed for two years after the settlement, and he took the suspension while doing his 2016 fellowship at the European University Institute in Italy.
College campuses are notoriously bad at dealing with sexual harassment and assault and UCLA is no exception. The consequences Piterberg faced for sexually harassing his own students, actions which potentially harm those students’ future careers, were lenient and kept quiet.
The administration seems more interested in suppressing student protest than addressing the fact that several students have accused a professor of sexual harassment. Before Piterberg’s class on Wednesday of Week 1, the Interim Dean of Social Sciences, Laura E. Gómez, met with the students enrolled in his classes to assure them the protests would not disrupt class. Gómez, along with several other UCLA administrators and a handful of UCPD officers, were also outside of his Wednesday morning class, filming the protesters and threatening them with suspension if they violated the UC Student Code of Conduct.
For more information about upcoming protests, visit BASH’s Facebook page.