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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Students call for termination of employment of UC Davis orchestra conductor

Previously, Christian Baldini was temporarily removed without pay after substantiated allegations of sexual harassment toward an undergraduate student

By JENNIFER MA — campus@theaggie.org 

Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual harassment which some readers may find disturbing.

In September 2017, a university investigation was conducted and found that Christian Baldini, the UC Davis symphony orchestra conductor, sexually harassed a female undergraduate student. Baldini was temporarily removed without pay for four months before returning to campus, and the undergraduate student left the university after the incident, according to an article in The California Aggie from 2018. 

In December 2021, a petition was created calling for Baldini’s removal. The petition states that the university should not wait for future misconduct to pursue dismissal. As of Jan. 21, 5,888 people have signed. 

“Baldini creates an unsafe and uncomfortable environment for UC Davis students, causing many to avoid joining orchestra,” the petition states.

Alumna Alana Joldersma shared her experience as a member of the orchestra prior to the allegations and the university investigation in 2017. 

“I joined the UC Davis symphony orchestra my freshman year,” Joldersma said. “After I competed [in the concerto competition] and then before a concert in spring quarter, we had a few hours of downtime from rehearsal until performance. Baldini came up to me and was like ‘Hey, you did a great job performing at the concerto competition, and I just want to commend you on doing that as a freshman. Would you like to talk about your results, would you like any feedback?’” 

Instead of talking backstage, Baldini took her to his dressing room and closed the door but did not lock it.

“During the 20 minutes I was there, we didn’t talk about my performance,” Joldersma said. “He was just asking me a bunch of weird, personal questions that didn’t pertain to my performance at all. Like where I’m from, what ethnicity I am, do I have a boyfriend, what does this tattoo on my arm mean. Definitely made me feel uncomfortable. I do remember him taking my arm to point at a tattoo.”

Joldersma ended up not joining the symphony orchestra the following year; she attributes it to multiple factors, including a busy schedule and this experience. 

“Maybe what he did was not intentional, maybe he can blame it on whatever he wants to blame it on, but, at the end of the day, him being here, if it creates an environment where students are uncomfortable and don’t want to join the orchestra or drop out of UC Davis, that’s not fair,” she said. 

A first-year undeclared major, who was granted anonymity to protect her identity, also shared her experience, which occurred after the university investigation. She previously auditioned for orchestra but afterward decided not to join because of time and money constraints.

“I told [Baldini] that I didn’t want to do [orchestra] and my reasons,” she said. “I found it really strange that he still came to me after and said ‘Even though you’re not playing proficiently yet at a college level, we can take you in and develop yourself later on.’ I told him no on that, but I gave him my musical background information, just basically said my mom’s already put in so much money and effort into musical education. And he started to say, ‘You’re so talented, I don’t want to lose you.’”

According to the student, she found it odd that he said she was talented, as he had previously told her she was not playing proficiently. 

“That’s when he told me he would sponsor my lessons, like pay $100 out of the $300 required for 10 half-hour lessons,” she said. “I also told my family and friends. There was this one girl who I knew, she was in the school orchestra and she felt scared for me. She said it was like he was trying to get a handle on me, so I didn’t [accept the offer]. I just didn’t want anything else to do with him; I didn’t reply to his emails after that.”

  The student said she signed the petition because many music majors are required to take classes that he teaches, and she does not want other students to feel uncomfortable like she did.

While Baldini declined The Aggie’s interview request, he directed The Aggie to Melissa Lutz Blouin, the director of news and media relations, who emailed a letter written by the university to ASUCD on Jan. 3.

“Reopening the investigation without new information would not result in a changed outcome, nor were there any deficiencies in the original investigation that would merit reopening it,” the letter states. “Moreover, as a public institution, we are not legally permitted to discipline an employee twice for the same conduct. However, we are firmly committed to ensuring an environment free of sexual harassment and will promptly address new allegations of sexual harassment involving Professor Baldini, including commencing an investigation if appropriate.”

Dana Topousis, the chief marketing and communications officer at UC Davis, shared the same letter with The Aggie when approached for comment.

Written by: Jennifer Ma — campus@theaggie.org

Students can contact the UC Davis Harassment & Discrimination Assistance and Prevention Program (HDAPP) to report incidents of sexual harrassment and sexual violence.

Additionally, the Center for Advocacy, Resources, and Education (CARE) provides free, confidential crisis intervention, advocacy and accompaniment services for all UC Davis student, staff, faculty and others who experience sexual violence in the context of a university program.

Other off-campus resources include empoweryolo.org for local resources and rainn.org, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

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