[BREAKING:] Jesse Cheng, UC Student Regent, Resigns
UPDATE, MAY 16, 4:56 P.M.: Moments after the Weekly posted the news that Jesse Cheng resigned as the UC Student Regent, he contacted us about a full statement he made about his decision.
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."
UPDATE, MAY 13, 4:02 P.M.: Via her volunteer support network, "Laya" issued a statement on her ex-boyfriend, University of California Student Regent Jesse Cheng, losing his appeal of a UC Irvine misconduct ruling over an October 2010 "unwanted touching" incident involving the couple in his campus apartment.
"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.
UPDATE, MAY 10, 5:46 P.M.: University of California Student Regent Jesse Cheng lost his appeal of a UC Irvine misconduct ruling over an October 2010 "unwanted touching" incident involving his ex-girlfriend, according to feminist groups tracking the case against the Asian Studies major.
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.
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 seniorJesse 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
BREAKING, MARCH 10, 5:16 P.M.: The UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct Office found Jesse Cheng responsible for "unwanted touching"--essentially a misdemeanor sexual-battery infraction--of his former girlfriend in October 2010.
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."
UPDATE, FEB. 21, 12:07 P.M.: As promised, UC student regent and UC Irvine campus leader Jesse Cheng has issued a statement regarding his sexual-battery arrest, the lack of criminal charges filed against him and the motivations of his accuser going public with the case.
In the statement, Cheng provides more detail than anyone else has publicly about what happened the night of Oct. 3, 2010; reiterates he does not know why his "former partner" chose to speak to the media now; and ends by saying, "I loved her very much, and I really wish for her the best in the future."
His full statement follows after the jump. . . .
I'm writing this statement to respond to a number of accusations made about me in various media outlets in the last week. Initially, I did not feel it was appropriate to comment because I was trying to defend the interests and privacy of all the students involved, including my former partner. I now feel like I have no choice but to explain fully what occurred.
I am innocent of all accusations made. These accusations have been extremely painful for me, especially because I have tried to acknowledge the privileges that I have as a man and support gender equality issues throughout my college career. It is work that is essential to my identity, and I would never engage in behavior that would compromise those values.
My former partner and I were in a committed relationship for almost a year. Near the end of the year, it was clear that the relationship was not working out, and I initiated the break up.
Afterward, we agreed to remain friends. We saw each other three times after the relationship ended, all three times we engaged in varying levels of consensual physical contact, none of which was forced or coerced, none of which was intercourse. The first time she invited me to be her date to a UCLA graduate school event. The next week, on Oct. 3, the night that would become the source of the accusations against me, I invited her over for dinner at my apartment in Irvine. That night, although we we engaged in kissing, all contact was consensual and we did not have sex. Afterward, we ate dinner at my apartment and watched a movie.
A week after this visit, she called me, and accused me of sexually assaulting her the week before. The phone conversation lasted for hours. My reaction during the phone call was that her description of events did not happen. In the following weeks, I would get as many as 50 calls a day from her. The amount of phone calls became extremely stressful and disruptive.
During the time of these phone calls, she requested I meet her personally at her apartment. I visited her apartment two weeks after Oct. 3. During that visit, she initiated and engaged physical intimacy. It was the third time we met after the break up, and a few weeks after the night she had claimed I behaved inappropriately.
The phone calls continued, and began to have a serious toll on my well-being. She demanded that I write e-mail apologies to her, and specifying exact language that she wanted to see in those e-mails. Exhausted, I sent out those e-mails. What I said in those e-mails are not true and did not reflect my behavior, but I thought that by adopting her language and meeting the standards she set out, we could both move forward. I regret lying to her in those e-mails, and it was a mistake to capitulate just so she would stop calling me incessantly.
On Nov. 4, the police arrested me on campus and took me back to the police department for questioning. We spoke about the relationship, that particular night and the entire situation. Three hours later, the police released me, and the DA declined to press any charges.
I know this last week has been extremely difficult for the campus community. It has been difficult for me and my friends. I would ask people to please thoughtfully consider both sides of a story and the entire context of a relationship before jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. I do not know why my former partner has chosen to make these accusations or make them at this time. I loved her very much, and I really wish for her the best in the future.
A Los Angeles-based nonprofit center "dedicated to investigating, codifying and implementing the theory and practice of an activist feminism for immigrant-based, transnational communities" has issued a statement condemning UC student regent Jesse Cheng and the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA).
The Mariposa Center for Change is also standing up for "Laya," the female UCLA graduate student who accused her ex-boyfriend Cheng of sexual battery last year. The center's statement, which includes a new quote from the alleged victim, follows.
The Mariposa Center for Change stands with Laya as she bravely speaks out against her attacker, Jesse Cheng, UC student regent, who was charged on Nov. 4, 2010, for sexual battery. Cheng, who was recently lauded as a "leader of student activists" by the Huffington Post, admitted to sexually assaulting Laya in his off-campus apartment on Oct. 3. The Mariposa Center for Change condemns Cheng's actions and the actions of the Orange County district attorney's office who have not taken any action at this time. In fact, the DA's office reports they have no records of any case under Cheng's name (according to the New University Newspaper).
About 1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Sixty-five percent of rapes go unreported, and 90 percent of those who are raped know the perpetrator. In most of these cases, even when the university prosecutes, rapists are able to appeal and get reduced penalties. For example, in some universities, expulsion may be appealed. In some cases of expulsion, students might even be able to re-enroll. More disturbing is that universities go out of their way to suppress reports of sexual assaults and rape.
Each year, about 4,000 U.S. college students report to their university that they have been sexually assaulted. The Center for Public Integrity and NPR's investigative unit teamed up to examine how universities respond to reports of sexual assault on campus. They found that months, sometimes years pass before universities respond, even though universities are responsible, according to the Jeanne Clery Act, to investigate and punish these crimes. A similar Dateline NBC investigation found that women were discouraged by university officials to move forward with their claims.
The fact that Cheng is a UC student regent raises even greater doubts as to whether the UC system will punish one of their own. Executive Director of the Mariposa Center for Change, Ivy Quicho, said, "We are concerned that there has been no response from the DA's office or no decision from the University of California, Irvine's Student Conduct Office. These actions point to a lack of urgency to address the attack of a student, at best, and a blatant cover-up to protect a UC student regent, at worst."
Despite Laya's fear and anxiety to talk about what happened to her, she is unwavering in her commitment to the truth. "I knew I had to say something," she said to the Mariposa Center for Change. "What if he did this to someone else? He has to be held accountable." Laya continues to tell her story even as she faces intimidation and victim blaming. The Mariposa Center for Change demands Justice for Laya and invites others to attend a community meeting on Feb. 17, 2011, at the UCI Campus Cross Cultural Center at 6 p.m. Those interested should contact email@example.com.
The Mariposa Center for Change is a nonprofit center dedicated to investigating, codifying and implementing the theory and practice of an activist feminism for immigrant-based, transnational communities. We work with women and children and aim to improve social, political and economic conditions and end inequality through an empowered sisterhood, transformative programming, grassroots organizing and strategic alliances.
Actually . . .
- Cheng was arrested on suspicion of sexual battery of Nov. 4, 2010. The case was submitted by the Irvine Police Department to the OCDA as a misdemeanor sexual battery. The OCDA declined to file charges due to insufficient evidence to win a conviction on the misdemeanor. Thus, Cheng was never charged with the crime.
- The OCDA does have records of the case.
- The UCI Office of Student Conduct says its investigation is ongoing, and an administrator with the Oakland-based UC has been appointed to ensure the campus probe is fair.
- According to the statement, the community meeting was on campus last night. The Weekly was not e-mailed the statement until just after 12:30 this morning.
Meanwhile, there are rumors swirling around campus that Cheng tried to kill the New University story that exposed his arrest and threatened to sue the student newspaper. Managing editor Traci Garling Lee, who wrote the piece with editor David Gao, would not confirm or deny that for the Weekly because all conversations they had with Cheng before publication were off the record.
Before we get to the meat of this post--an interview with UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng about his arrest for allegedly trying to rape a UCLA graduate student in his apartment near UC Irvine and the reaction to that news--we pause for a brief word from the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA).
Readers of our original post know that the reason the OCDA declined to press charges against Cheng were murky Tuesday. Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff at the OCDA, cleared that up this afternoon.
"The evidence we had is the victim and the man had a prior relationship, that she did not report this for two weeks, and that she had seen him after the alleged incident," Schroeder explained. "Based on all those facts, at this time, there is not sufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt."
She continued, "Should, at any point, further evidence be submitted that can get this beyond a reasonable doubt, we are always willing to review the case for a misdemeanor sexual-battery charge."
That's how Irvine Police submitted the case to the OCDA, as a misdemeanor sexual battery, Schroeder said.
To the idea expressed by Cheng's accuser and some who have commented to online coverage that he wields power as the UC student regent to quash criminal charges, Schroeder replied, "That's kinda silly."
For one thing, the OCDA files charges against police officers and other powerful people all the time, she noted. For another, the prosecutor handed the case did not know Cheng was the UC student regent.
Cheng was on the UCI campus when I called him today. After he ducked into a quiet corner so we could speak, I asked for his comment on Tuesday'sNew University
article with a woman's explosive allegations against the UC student regent and Asian American studies major.
"Well, first of all, I'm innocent," Cheng wanted to make clear. "It was a messy relationship. It was a really bad breakup."
Of the attempted rape allegation, Cheng said, "Nothing of the sort" happened.
But the New U reported e-mails exist between Cheng and his alleged victim, identified as "Laya," in which he is said to have apologized for attacking his former girlfriend of a year.
"The police have all that," Cheng explained, "and they said there was no evidence, nothing to push forward a case. There were no charges because nothing happened."
For now, Cheng has no plans to step down as student regent before his term ends in July.
"That would be an admission of guilt," he said. "People have mentioned that students need to trust their student regent. If it's true, if it's not true, students still have to believe the person serving them. It's a fair question to ask."
For now, the University of California is trusting Cheng, at least until the results from a UCI Office of Student Conduct investigation are in. "This is a student matter that is being handled by the campus in accord with standard processes covered by student privacy laws," Steve Montiel, UC President Mark Yudof's president, told the Bay Area's Bay Citizen. "While there is no indication that any of this has anything to do with Jesse Cheng's position as a regent, this matter also is being reviewed by UC's senior vice president-chief compliance and audit officer." That officer's job will be to ensure the campus investigation was fair, not whether the allegations against Cheng were true, Montiel added.
When I mentioned to Cheng that nothing I read about him before his arrest had painted him as the type of "player" one could see caught in middle of attempted rape allegations, Cheng broke out in a laugh before responding, "No. Not at all. Not even close."
He quickly shifted to a more serious tone. "I'm a man, and I recognize in this society, men have a lot of privileges. Violence against women is a serious issue. Throughout my college career, I have stood up against violence against women."
Given his stands, did it ever occur to him he would find himself in his current situation?
"No. It's mind-blowing," he said. "I mean, really, I was suddenly taken by surprise. I'm a very straight-edge kind of dude. I don't drink, I don't smoke. I have constantly been shocked by this. . . . I also want to say that while I'm innocent, I don't want this case to be reflective of other cases of violence against women, which does exist."
Because it exists, he understood why he was arrested before his accuser's allegations could be fully investigated.
"She came to police," he said. "They did their due diligence. They also released me without charges. . . . I'm not holding anything against anyone. I totally understand."
Since the allegations got out Tuesday, Cheng said the reaction to him on the UCI campus has been "a heavily mixed bag."
"There's been a good amount of support," he said. "I'm grateful for that. A lot has come from people I've worked with in the past. . . . But a good many people are confused by it. I don't hold that against them--how could I?"
When asked if anyone whispers to another as he walks by, Cheng replied, "There have been a number of people looking at me. It's very scary at times. Actually, I'm kind of scared shitless."
To the claims of Laya and some who have commented to the online coverage that Cheng wields power that has silenced his enemies and kept the incident out of the media for months, Cheng asked, "Do you want to be super-real?"
Go for it, Mr. Student Regent.
"Trust me, this post doesn't have power to do anything," he said. "I don't know why they waited so long [to release news of his arrest], but I have no power to stop it. I can't even stop a fee increase from happening. . . . Politically, no one's protecting my ass. . . . Last year, people were graffiting on my door over the fee increase. I couldn't even stop that. . . . I have no influence over that case; I do not even have enough power to defend my innocence."
Cheng said he has had no contact with Laya since last October. While he claims he had no direct knowledge she would go public with the allegations at this time, he did admit to having a nagging sense something bad "was coming down the line."
"When the New U contacted me, I was scared shitless to say anything. I knew a student conduct investigation was going on, so I didn't think I could comment," he said. "Plus, I might say something stupid."
Once the news did hit, Cheng had no idea things would get this "crazy."
He said he does not blame the newspaper for reporting the allegations; he even credited the student journalists for "doing their due diligence." But to fill in some of the blanks from the news coverage, he plans to issue a full statement--once he has time to wrap his head around it all.
"I wish people heard the whole story before jumping to judgment," Cheng said. "It was a bad breakup. This is not even the result of a miscommunication. Nothing of the sort happened."
He did not want to speculate why Laya chose to go public, saying, "I don't want to villainize her. I don't think that would be fair to her."
He said he has no current plans to take legal action against the messengers.
"You know, a lot of people have talked about it," Cheng said. "I'm going to be real: It's a campus newspaper. I support the work they do. I might not like it, I might think this was a harsh article, but I support the work they do."
He did add one caveat. "If they go ahead and do something else . . . maybe."
Not that he has time to think about that right now.
Jesse Cheng, the 10-school University of California Governing Board's student regent and a fifth-year Asian American studies major at UC Irvine, was arrested last November for sexual battery.
The Orange County district attorney's office apparently declined to file charges.
The alleged victim--a female graduate student from UCLA--has now brought the case to the attention of UC Irvine's student newspaper, which posted her explosive allegations today.
The New University report by managing editor Traci Garling Lee and editor David Gao states Irvine Police Department's adult arrest roster for the month of November shows Cheng was arrested on suspicion of sexual battery Nov. 4, 2010, at his off-campus apartment at 4771 Campus Dr., Irvine. His alleged victim, identified as "Laya," first reported the incident to cops on Oct. 26, claiming Cheng tried to rape her in his apartment on Oct. 3.
Reached via phone today by theWeekly
, Irvine Police spokeswoman LieutenantJulia Engen
confirmed the dates for the alleged assault, initial report to police and sexual-battery arrest. Engen did not have the exact date the case was submitted to the OCDA for charges, but she surmised it was the same week as the arrest.
The New U reports that Laya was told by Irvine Police Detective Tom Goodbrand that the OCDA decided to not press charges against Cheng. That's followed by an unidentified OCDA spokesperson saying the agency has "no record of the case under Cheng's name at the time."
Susan Schroeder, the OCDA chief of staff, today gave a possible explanation to the Weekly: The employee keyed into a computer search the wrong spelling of the suspect's name, and without a date of birth, the Cheng file could not be found at the time the New U called.
Engen says she told Lee to contact the OCDA again to find out what happened to the case. It was Schroeder's understanding the reporter did not do that. But Lee tells the Weekly she spoke with the OCDA's office several times throughout last week and gave several spellings of Cheng's name, including his birth date, and nothing came up.
Lee concedes she was encouraged to call the OCDA back if she could get any more arrest information out of Irvine Police but that no additional details were released to her.
"I can assure you we did our due diligence," Lee tells me.
Jesse Cheng was highlighted in USA Today last year for his role in protesting education cuts.
Schroeder, meanwhile, vowed to report back to the Weekly with the reason charges were not filed. Once that comes, this post will be updated.
Laya also reportedly alerted UCI's Office of Student Conduct in November, after Cheng's arrest. Lee writes that police, New University and the Office of Student Conduct have acquired copies of several e-mails from October in which Cheng apologizes repeatedly to his alleged victim.
The Office of Student Conduct investigation apparently remains open, but with the criminal case dead--or at least in limbo pending more evidence--Laya decided to open up now to New University.
'"I hesitated to talk to the New U for a long time because I was scared Jesse would retaliate, and as someone in his position, he has people around him who can and who have gone out of their way to silence me and convince me not to report the assault," Laya reportedly said. "I don't want to let him silence me anymore."
Speaking of silence, Cheng declined to comment on the record, according to New University. The Weekly has yet to hear back from him.
As the UC student regent, Cheng represents more than 200,000 students throughout California, attending meetings of the regents and their committees. His one-year term began on July 1, 2010. This has been a critical time for the 22-year-old because of budget cuts, fee increases and unrest throughout the UC system.
"Staff on this campus have it really hard," he told the Daily Bruin, whose interviewer obviously did not know Cheng had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a UCLA student just days earlier. "All campuses have it really hard. I know students, we're struggling . . . You're barely making it by, I feel you. I got duct tape holding my shoes together. . . . Then (staff) take furloughs, then they take staff cuts. . . . You're cutting off thousands of staff. And those people have livelihoods, and they're not going into a good job market. And that goes back down to students--the quality of care that you get, how long will your financial aid last?"
At UCI, the Cupertino native is active in the associated student union, the Student Fee Advisory Committee and the Asian Pacific Student Association, whose newsletter stated upon his appointment as student regent, "Jesse Cheng is one of the most amazing student advocates of this decade. His passion for justice gets stronger every day, and there is no doubt he will be up in the forefront of leadership in the years to come."
Dan Tsang, UCI's Asian American Studies librarian and a former contributor to OC Weekly, blogged days before Laya reported the alleged rape attempt to cops that Cheng had courageously come out as a
bisexual man in the wake of the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi in October.
The University Communications office at UCI posted a feature on Cheng shortly after he was appointed student regent. He told his interviewer everything he'd done at UCI he'd done to make his mother proud. Later in the same piece, Cheng expressed hopes of someday becoming a politician.
With the arrest disclosure, he's well on his way to becoming a Kennedy.
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