After students complained last semester that the University's explanation of sexual assault policies was confusing and scattered online, the provost's office is hoping that a new website will mitigate the problem.
The Sexual Respect website, which was announced in an email from Provost John Coatsworth and Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin on Wednesday, launched Jan. 17 and includes information on how to file a report on gender-based misconduct, contact information for confidential and nonconfidential campus resources, and a list of rights for complainants and respondents. Students complained last semester that the information had previously been spread out over a number of sites.
“The University encourages everyone to become familiar with the types of behaviors that constitute misconduct and with the University's policies and procedures which are listed below,” the email said.
The website also includes a “frequently asked questions” section, which answers questions about filing a report with the police, how an investigation is completed, the confidentiality of the process, and what to do if complainants don't want to participate in a disciplinary hearing.
Columbia University Democrats President Segal Singh, CC '15, said that she was happy to see the administration taking action to launch the new site, as she had been pushing for the Office for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct to make changes to its website since September.
“The old website had a lot of outdated information, a lot of broken links, and it was actually really difficult for survivors to navigate,” Singh said.
The spotlight turned to the University's sexual assault policies last semester, after the CU Dems petitioned the University to release more data on the adjudication of sexual assault on campus. In November, students held a freeze mob on Low Plaza to draw attention to sexual assault at Columbia. At the end of last semester, a subcommittee of the President's Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault met with University Senator Marc Heinrich, CC '16, Singh, and students to discuss the petition and potential changes.
Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez, who holds a seat on PACSA, said at the time that they “can always look to see if we can do a better job.”
“This includes education for both women and men about sexual assault and consent, as well as what to expect from the process for both sides—from the complainant and respondent,” Martinez said.
Heinrich called the updated website “a step in the right direction,” but noted that more needs to be done.
“Obviously I think there's still a lot of things that need to still be changed within the system. But the website now looks a lot better than the former antiquated website,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich said that the changes to the website “definitely shows that the administration is looking into student concerns,” but still hopes that administrators continue to look into making sexual assault policy more transparent.
“Releasing data and restoring confidence in the system is the right approach,” Heinrich said. “I definitely understand some of the concerns of the administrators—and it's great they are having conversation about it—but I personally do think that is the right step.”
Singh said that she still hopes that administrators eventually choose to release data about the nature of sexual assault cases at Columbia.
“We're very heartened to see that they've put out info about accommodations, which is an option the University is required by Title IX to give, and it wasn't at all clear on the old website,” Singh said. “That said, this is a very small baby step towards the kind of transparency and accountability we'd like to see.”
“We met with PACSA last semester and they seemed really open to our concerns about getting data released,” Singh said. “I don't think the University plans to stop here—at least I hope. It would definitely be reprehensible if, in the face of widespread student concerns, they decided that the only thing they needed to do was update their website.”
Columbia's announcement came the same day that President Barack Obama, CC '83, signed a memorandum to establish a task force to find ways to better protect students from sexual assault on college campuses.
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