Bystanders on Low Plaza stopped and stared on Tuesday afternoon as student activists stood in silence holding signs with phrases like “rape happens here” and “being in a relationship is not consent” to draw attention to sexual assault at Columbia.
The protest was organized by a new student group that calls itself the Title IX Team, referring to Title IX of the 1972 Federal Education Amendments, which protects members of educational institutions from sexual discrimination or violence.
Smita Sen, CC ’16 and head of the team, is working to “raise awareness about the fact that sexual assault does happen, and it happens here.”
“We’re trying to reach out to survivors to hear their stories and see how their experiences were handled by the administration,” Sen said. Sexual assault “is a legal issue popping up at a lot of different campuses, and we want to make sure Columbia is doing its job.”
Although the Title IX Team is politically independent, it is working in conjunction with the Columbia University College Democrats, who already have a petition in motion asking Columbia to release data on how it adjudicates sexual assaults and other Title IX violations.
The Dems held their own separate event Tuesday evening in Lerner’s East Ramp Lounge with Rosalie Siler, assistant director of the University’s Office for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, and Melissa Rooker, Columbia’s official Title IX coordinator. Siler and Rooker gave a presentation outlining the process of reporting a Title IX complaint before answering questions from an assembled audience.
Several questions focused on clarifying the University’s ability to put “interim measures” in place while complaints are followed through—students can ask that they or their alleged attacker transfer housing assignments or class sections. Rooker said the process is “slightly confusing,” and that the students themselves must initiate the adjudication process to receive the accommodations.
Since the process often requires students to offer some identifying information about their attacker, the process can be difficult.
“Ideally, we’d like every student to be comfortable going through the [adjudication] process, but we know that’s not realistic,” Siler said.
Students also mentioned a general lack of awareness about the process of reporting sexual misconduct, citing low turnout to consent education workshops during NSOP week.
“We’re legally required to publish that information during that time,” said Rooker, “but we’re happy if people remember the name of our office after orientation is over.”
Some students also mentioned that peer advocates at the Rape Crisis Center had not been made aware of available interim measures, and that those peer advocates also felt as though they had not received adequate training in dealing with LGBTQ complainants.