ASUCR: Chief of staff nominee accused of sexual misconduct

0
3523

Sammie Ayoub, a third-year political science and international affairs major, was at the center of a highly contentious discussion at the ASUCR senate meeting last Wednesday evening, when two students used public forum to make the senate aware of Ayoub’s alleged sexual misconduct during his time at Riverside City College (RCC).

Ayoub, who enrolled in UC Riverside this winter 2018 quarter, was set to be appointed as chief of staff under the office of ASUCR Vice President of Internal Affairs (VPIA) Semi Cole, if the senate voted in his favor. Though, prior to the vote, students Hawie Mekbib and Jose Venegas used public forum to denounce Ayoub’s candidacy due to what the two later described as repeated sexual misconduct during his time at RCC. Ayoub’s appointment, which was presented by CHASS Senator Carolyn Chang in Cole’s absence due to a class conflict, was not approved with a vote of 5-6-1.

“I know two friends who he hurt very badly,” said Mekbib in his statement to the senate, “I do not think Sammie is someone who should represent student government or students in general.”

Venegas, a fourth-year anthropology major who transferred from RCC in fall of 2016, seconded Mekbib’s sentiment, saying, “I don’t feel like someone like (this) should be in office … it shows a lot about his character and I don’t think that is someone who should represent anyone (sitting) here.”

“I don’t know how Semi could be so foolish as to appoint someone who he knows nothing about … without asking anything about his history (or) without asking anybody that may have known Sammie,” added Mekbib, a fourth-year political science major who transferred to UCR from RCC in fall of 2016.

In his statement, Venegas suggested that formal charges of sexual misconduct levied against Ayoub at RCC spurred a Title IX investigation, but did not elaborate on account of uncertainty about Title IX policy.

Cole, who was notified of the ongoing discussion surrounding Ayoub by a senator who he declined to name, arrived shortly after Mekbib and Venegas spoke.

In a statement to the senate, Cole defended his appointment. “Did anyone present proof today?” asked Cole. “We vote off proof and evidence, right? We’re student government, we’re here to make the best decisions for the public and to evaluate what the public gives us.”

Ayoub (above) was adamant about his innocence in response to the allegations raised during Wednesday’s meeting. “I cannot sit here and let someone tarnish my name who doesn’t even know me,” he told the senate. Jordan Hom/HIGHLANDER

“I hope that when you make a decision like this, you’re making it based off of facts,” continued Cole. “I hope you’re basing it off of what is true and what is purely slander.”

In a later interview, Mekbib and Venegas expanded on the Title IX investigation, which began in September of 2016 and, they say, stemmed from a fall 2016 incident in which Ayoub was speaking with a girl on the balcony of RCC’s Honors lounge and asked her out on a date. The girl declined and “kept refusing his advances,” claimed Venegas. This led Ayoub to forcibly grab her by the arms and ask why she wouldn’t go out with him, according to Venegas and another source close to the situation.

Following the incident, the girl filed a misconduct case against Ayoub with RCC’s Title IX office and Mekbib and Venegas allege that this led up to seven women to bring forward accusations of sexual misconduct against Ayoub as well.

On the afternoon of Jan. 12, Ayoub and Venegas were engaged in a verbal altercation outside of Costo Hall’s Middle Eastern Student Center. In the days following, Ayoub filed a  case against Venegas with UCR Student Conduct and, on Friday, Feb. 9, Venegas received a notice to appear for an administrative meeting to address the incident. “I cannot sit here and let someone tarnish my name who doesn’t even know me,” said Ayoub in response to Mekbib and Venegas’ statements made Wednesday evening.

Though, Mekbib and Venegas attest that they were close friends with Ayoub during his time at RCC. The three met through their respective involvement in RCC’s Model United Nations (MUN), of which Ayoub became a member in fall of 2015. In an interview Friday, Venegas claimed he and Ayoub developed a close friendship starting in winter quarter of 2016, when, as Mekbib recalls, the club members would spend up to six hours a day together over six weeks in preparation for an upcoming trip to New York in the spring.

It was the summer following that trip, sources say, that many in the club became vocally concerned about Ayoub’s behavior with women. That September, Venegas hosted a party at his house for all of the club members. According to Mekbib, Venegas and an email recounting the night sent from MUN Head Delegate Matthew Craig to the club adviser on Jan. 3, 2017, after about three hours into the party a girl rushed out of one of the bedrooms crying, telling her friend that Ayoub cornered and forced himself on her. This, according to the email, led her friend to “break down hysterically” and reveal that Ayoub also “forced himself on her when she first joined” MUN.

Download File (1)
(1) Request for a witness information from title IX to Matthew Craig. (2-3) A letter sent from Craig to the club adviser one day prior to Ayoub’s removal from the United Nations. (4-5) A letter sent from a  witness to Title IX investigators.

 

That friend, according to Craig, experienced an incident with Ayoub a couple semesters prior. After giving Ayoub a ride home, the two were sitting in the car out front of his house when, says Craig, Ayoub groped and made advances on her. The girl allegedly rejected the advances and no sexual contact was made.

According to the email, Ayoub denied these allegations when confronted about them by the club members shortly after the party. “He denied and lied. He started mixing up his stories and said nothing happened. Then he said they mutually fell on each other,” it reads. “Eventually he got mixed up enough to say he did do it but then he didn’t do it.”

Ayoub was removed from the club on Jan. 4, 2017 and Mekbib and Venegas allege that he was also banned from the RCC campus for a year starting in spring of 2017 after numerous accusations were levied against him while the investigation was still ongoing. However, Ayoub denies that he was suspended, and academic transcripts provided to the Highlander show that he completed classes at RCC through the summer of 2017.

Ayoub was adamant on Wednesday that the investigation found him not guilty and suggested in an interview Saturday that the allegations made by Mekbib and Venegas were an effort to slander his name.

“The claims were false … I believe personally it’s because of my political beliefs,” said Ayoub, who identifies as a conservative and is a member of UCR’s College Republicans. “… I just really feel like they’re going after me because of what I believe in as a conservative person.”

Ayoub denied wrongdoing in these cases, and expressed trust “in the due process of the school.” When asked specifically about why he believes women would make false claims against him, Ayoub declined comment on account of “not trying to go into those details of my life … I’m moving on and moving forward.”

In an interview, Craig suggested that Ayoub’s misconduct was well-known both within the club and the Associated Students of RCC. As Ayoub became increasingly involved in student government, earning the appointment of the Riverside Community College District student trustee for the 2016-17 academic year, Ayoub often made sexually suggestive comments about female student representatives, according to a source close to the situation.

“It was one of those things you would always hear rumors about but nobody would ever tell you about it,” said Craig.

In Ayoub’s five weeks of attending UCR thus far, female workers in ASUCR have spoken privately about their discomfort around him, according to sources within the office, with many referring to him as “touchy.” This sentiment is reflected in an email sent from a witness to investigators on May 11, 2016, which said Ayoub’s “natural setting was to hit on people. That’s carried over, and he’s remained a very touchy person.” The sender, whose identity was not disclosed due to fear of retaliation, went on to acknowledge a change in Ayoub’s behavior. “I’ve been by him as he expressed that he wanted to settle down and stop,” it reads. “ … I like to think that people can change, and I think that Sammie has.”

Though, in an interview Friday, Cole noted that, since Wednesday’s meeting, “People in the (ASUCR) office have said that he’s (Ayoub’s) been a little bit aggressive as well as said remarks that they don’t appreciate.”

Cole is insistent that he had no knowledge of the alleged incidents at RCC prior to Wednesday’s meeting. “There was nothing that was found online, there was nothing that was found on Facebook or anything like that,” said Cole, acknowledging that a background check on Ayoub would not have revealed these allegations, considering that misconduct cases are sealed by the university for sake of the victims’ privacy.

Cole said that he initially nominated Ayoub for chief of staff due to his political involvement both at RCC and during his short time at UCR thus far. “He was someone who would go to a lot of meetings, who would ask a lot of questions, he would take the extra step to find out information,” said Cole.

Ayoub also became directly involved in the internal affairs office at an informal capacity this quarter, helping Cole oversee other officers and stepping in “when my chief of staff was neglecting her duties,” according to Cole. Cole’s former chief of staff stepped down early last week, which spurred his decision to appoint Ayoub on Wednesday. Still, Cole said that he would not have put Ayoub up for nomination if he had known of the allegations prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

“I want to thank the senators for putting down the decision because it gave us more time to reflect about the truth,” said Cole in an interview Friday.

Currently, it is unclear who will assume the chief of staff position under the vice president of internal affairs office, though Cole says he is actively looking elsewhere. In an interview, Ayoub acknowledged he no longer plans to be involved in ASUCR. “I was interested just because I wanted to help and see what it was like,” he said, “but at this current moment, no, I’m not interested in wanting to do anything with ASUCR.”

Mekbib and Venegas remain adamant in their belief that Ayoub should not be representing students and added that he has not shown remorse for his alleged behavior. “I don’t think he’s even close to understanding what he has done,” said Mekbib. “He has called the victims liars, he doesn’t acknowledge that he has done it, he is in complete denial.”

ASRCC and RCC’s Title IX office could not be reached for comment.

 

Highlights:

  • CHASS Senator Marco Ornelas is working on getting feminine hygiene products inside the HUB bathrooms. This past week, Ornelas followed up with HUB Director Brendan O’Brien who previously told the senator that the campus provides these products in HUB bathrooms. Though, after speaking with multiple students who use the women’s bathrooms in the HUB, Ornelas attested that no such products exist. When reporting this to O’Brien, Ornelas claimed the director got frustrated that girls were not telling him this directly. Ornelas is still working to provide these products before his term is completed.
  • CHASS Senator Valeria Orosco announced that things are being finalized for the second annual CNAS Research Expo, and announced the date as set for Monday, Apr. 9.
  • President Aram Ayra informed the senate that the campus was holding a vigil at 8 p.m. that evening in front of the Bell Tower in memory of Lucille Lu, a UCR student who passed away the weekend prior in a fatal car accident. A few student representatives, including CHASS Senator Nakaoka and VPIA Cole as well as administrators such as interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Smith, joined around 50 other students who were in attendance at Wednesday’s vigil.

 

ASUCR will be holding their next meeting this Wednesday, Feb. 14 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the senate chambers (HUB 221). The meeting is open to the public.

 

Update (2/14/18 – 7:06 p.m.): The article has been updated to reveal the name of a formerly anonymous source, Matthew Craig. Pages 2 through 3 of the documents provided were also updated to be less redacted.

Facebook Comments