Monday, February 21, 2011

Jesse Cheng Proclaims His Innocence

Updated 21 February 2011: To listen to the podcast of this program, click

Jesse Cheng in his Student Regent office Friday, 18 February 2011. Photograph © Daniel C. Tsang 2011.

Under seige by fellow activists seeking his resignation as Student Regent of the UC system, Jesse Cheng, a fifth-year Asian American studies major, finally issued a a statement today clarifying his take on his self-described "messy breakup" with his ex girlfriend, a UCLA law student. After the breakup, his former partner, a former UCI Filipina American student, went to the Irvine police, which arrested him last November for attempted sexual battery and attempted rape, but the Orange County District Attorney's Office ultimately decided there was insufficient evidence to justify prosecuting him on misdemeanor charges.

Last Tuesday, the day the New University published a front-page article containing his ex-lover's accusations, Jesse Cheng told me, "I am innocent... this is just so crazy." Last Friday, I met up with the embattled student leader and found him to be still characteristically forthcoming, admitting that he was "stupid" to have agreed to send back to his ex girlfriend words he now regrets agreeing with, in an email now touted by his partner's supporters as a "confession."

Given how activists (including Jesse Cheng) tend to act politically correct on the issue of violence against women, it is not surprising to see the former partner's supporters demanding retribution, while even their target would feel he had to use the same politically correct language. As he expressed in his statement today, "I thought that by adopting her language and meeting the standards she set out, we could both move forward." As he indicated to me on Friday, her former partner had drafted the language while insisting he agree to the wording. As he added in his statement, "I regret lying to her in those e-mails, and it was a mistake to capitulate just so she would stop calling me incessantly." Despite the email, he did not feel he needed to resign as Student Regent.

On today's edition of Subversity, a KUCI public affairs show, we look back at the controversy that has shaken the campus and indeed the activist communities, as well as hear from Jesse Cheng himself during his earlier appearances on this show.

The show airs from 5-6 p.m. on KUCI, 88.9 fm in Orange County, and is simulcast via Podcast audio will be available later.

His public statement follows this earlier photograph of Jesse Cheng.

Jesse Cheng at a happier time in 1999. Photograph © Daniel C. Tsang 1999.

Statement released today by Jesse Cheng:

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.

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