By Aaron Mackey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Reports say president harassed two officials
Student Government President Cade Bernsen has continuously sexually harassed two female officials within ASUA during the past eight months, creating an unsafe working environment for both women, according to complaints filed with the Dean of Students Office recently.
The complaints state that Bernsen made repeated unwelcome sexual comments such as "nice rack" and inappropriately touched the women while in the office of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, a violation of the UA Student Code of Conduct and the university's sexual harassment policy.
Both women, one of whom holds an elected office, said they have been repeatedly threatened by Bernsen to remain quiet and are fearful for their safety.
The Arizona Daily Wildcat is not identifying either woman because they are victims of sexual harassment.
The harassment is not limited to the pair, as Bernsen has sexually harassed other women within the office, according to the complaint filed Nov. 21 by a 20-year-old elected official. The Wildcat was unable to confirm whether there were other complaints of sexual harassment.
Bernsen would not comment on the complaints last night.
The harassing comments began during ASUA elections in March, the elected official said. At the time, Bernsen made comments that he was going to sleep with her, with or without consent, said the business economics junior in an interview last week.
"I tried to avoid him," she said. "I told him that his advances were unwanted and they needed to stop."
The Wildcat obtained copies of the complaints from both women, who said they were afraid to come forward because Bernsen had threatened and intimidated them. They also said they believed their individual complaints were isolated events.
"I just thought it was affecting me," said the 19-year-old political science sophomore making the second complaint. She works within Bernsen's cabinet.
Veda Kowalski, associate dean of students, would not comment, citing the Federal Education Right to Privacy Act.
The Dean of Students Office handles sexual harassment allegations when both parties are students, according to the university's sexual harassment policy.
The 19-year-old woman's complaint, filed Nov. 17, states that once the school year started, Bernsen began making comments toward her such as "Nice package," "Nice rack" and "You have a very nice ass" within his private office and in the area where presidential Cabinet officials work.
Bernsen later began slapping and attempting to grab the woman's buttocks, and the woman asked Bernsen to stop, the complaint states.
Bernsen never apologized and didn't seem remorseful, the 19-year-old said.
According to the complaint, Bernsen also made sexual advances to the 19-year-old official on two different occasions when they were alone at Bernsen's home. Both times, Bernsen had his pants down and asked the woman to look at his penis, the complaint states.
In the most recent incident at Bernsen's house, he asked the woman to masturbate him, according to the complaint.
The woman refused and then left Bernsen's house, the complaint states.
Both women said they can't concentrate on their work within student government, and said they're uncomfortable in the office when Bernsen is around.
"No one feels comfortable with him," said the 20-year-old woman. "People aren't able to do their jobs to the best of their ability."
Attempts to reach Jim Drnek, ASUA's adviser, and Claudia Davila, ASUA coordinator, were unsuccessful yesterday.
The Dean of Students Office will confront Bernsen with the complaints and will begin to investigate whether code of conduct violations or criminal action occurred, the elected official said.
Any complaint made against a student to the Dean of Students Office is considered an academic record and is protected by privacy laws, Kowalski said.
The Student Code of Conduct prohibits "Engaging in harassment or repeated unwanted contact, including, but not limited to, stalking," as well as "engaging in any sexual offense, including, but not limited to, sexual assault, public sexual indecency or indecent exposure."
UA policy defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, and other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature."