Campus

Bollinger sends email update on sexual assault policy reforms

University President Lee Bollinger sent an email Thursday evening updating the Columbia community on reforming sexual assault adjudication processes and policies. The email comes after lists of alleged sexual assault violators on campus drew national media attention in recent days, and after activism surrounding the issue has steadily increased all year.

A few of the key points in the email:

  • The Office of Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct will now report directly to the associate provost for equal opportunity and affirmative action, Title IX coordinator.
  • The Office of Sexual Violence Response will be expanded to allow for 24-hour on-call access to professional staff.
  • There will be an additional location for the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center in Lerner Hall, providing an alternative location for the current location in Hewitt.

Barnard President Debora Spar also sent an email to Barnard students earlier this evening, with Bollinger's email attached. Spar said in her email that Barnard has still not received a copy of the federal complaints filed two weeks ago, which is why it cannot formally respond.

Read both emails after the jump:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

Before the academic year comes to a close, I want to provide one more brief update on our ongoing efforts to improve our capacity within the University to prevent and address issues of sexual assault and misconduct.  Many people on the campus—students, faculty, and administrators—have worked diligently on this critically important matter.  The work will continue.  Here, then, are some additional changes.

Since my last update, I have charged the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault (PACSA) with developing an ongoing, multi-year, comprehensive plan to address sexual assault within our community.  There are, of course, many elements already identified and being developed—an annual campus climate survey, enhanced training both during orientation and on an ongoing basis, the release of annual aggregate data after the completion of the academic year, and stronger bystander training.

Over the last several weeks, we have authorized the addition of Title IX investigators and have consolidated the investigative offices to improve the adjudicatory process.  The Office of Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct will now report directly to the Associate Provost for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Title IX Coordinator.  We also have facilitated the expansion of the professional staff in the Office of Sexual Violence Response to ensure 24-hour on-call access to professional staff, while keeping fully intact existing access to peer advocates.  Furthermore, we have identified an additional location for the Rape Crisis Center in Lerner Hall, which will provide an alternative to the current location in Hewitt Hall.  These and other resources are detailed and will be regularly updated on the new website, Sexual Respect, launched earlier this year.

A critical component of reform is the creation of the new office of Executive Vice President for Student Affairs, which, among other things, will help centralize overall responsibility and facilitate better coordination.  The search for the person to take up this position is underway.  I have retained the services of an executive search firm and very soon will announce the members of an advisory committee of students and other key individuals to assist in the process of identifying candidates.  The EVP will then work closely with PACSA to help ensure that our campus culture does not tolerate sexual assault and that our adjudicatory process is responsive, sensitive, efficient, and fair.

Columbia is rightly known as the place of strong and deeply held core academic and community values.  We have to deal with the issues of sexual assault and related misconduct consistent with those values.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger

And below is the email from Spar to Barnard students:

Dear members of the Barnard community,

I am sure you are aware from recent media reports that complaints have been filed against Columbia and Barnard for mishandling incidents of gender-based misconduct. Similar complaints have been filed against a number of other colleges and universities, and the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has released a list of 55 colleges and universities that are currently under investigation. As of yet, we have not received a copy of any complaint, so have been unable to comment publicly or take any specific action in response to these complaints.

What I can say at this stage is that our policy is, and always will be, zero tolerance for violence or discrimination of any kind. Together with deans and senior administrators, I am fully prepared to do whatever we can to protect the health, rights and safety of our students. Any allegation against Barnard will be fully investigated and responded to in accordance with federal law, and in a manner consistent with our own core values as an institution. No member of the Barnard community should have to experience anything of the nature that has been alleged in the reports. In consultation with College leadership, I am thinking very seriously about appropriate next steps to improve what we already have in place and prevent these issues from further permeating our culture.

Below is a message from President Bollinger updating the Columbia community on efforts at the University level. You should know that we are working closely with University colleagues to address concerns related to our shared resources. In addition, as an independent college, we have our own processes and initiatives that are separate and designed to meet the needs of Barnard students. For example, Amy Zavadil, our Associate Dean for Equity and Title IX Coordinator, has been conducting bystander intervention workshops and other training sessions to help our faculty, staff, and students identify and respond to dangerous or unwelcome situations. For the past three years, we've conducted an annual student Campus Climate Survey—an initiative aligned with the recent White House Task Force guidelines, and one that is helping us better understand what is needed to make our students feel safe and supported. A subcommittee of the Student Government Association has also been working wit
h Amy Zavadil to explore opportunities to expand and improve Barnard's policies and resources, both on and off campus. You can find more detailed information about our policies and resources at www.barnard.edu/doc/titleix.

In addition, we have a number of support services in place for survivors and others affected by sexual assault. Barnard's Furman Counseling Center is a confidential resource, staffed by a team of mental health professionals whose top priority is ensuring the well-being of our students. We are also fortunate to have dedicated peer advocates at the Columbia-Barnard Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center, who offer confidential emotional support, accompaniment and referrals to survivors and their supporters. Additionally, Barnard students can seek out information and guidance for all matters related to health and well-being from the staff and peer educators at Well Woman.

I would like to extend my appreciation to those of you who are already involved with these and other efforts to address and raise awareness about sexual assault.  Your work truly is benefiting the entire community and shining a light on an important issue.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful, relaxing summer.

Sincerely,
President Spar

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