University President Lee Bollinger announced Wednesday morning that Columbia will release anonymous, aggregate data about the way it adjudicates sexual assault and gender-based misconduct, following months of student activism to make the University's policies more transparent.
In the statement, which was emailed to the student body around 9 a.m., Bollinger also announced support for a University Senate review of the President's Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault and said that undergraduate and graduate deans are looking into holding student forums to discuss Columbia's adjudication policies.
“Gender-based misconduct and sexual assault have no place in our community. Period,” Bollinger said. “A commitment to increase awareness of such misconduct, decrease its frequency, support survivors of violence, and hold accountable students who violate university policies, has long been a priority at Columbia. I can assure you it will continue to be so.”
Bollinger's statement addressed the four points outlined in a statement released Sunday by the USenate's Student Affairs Committee, which asked for a statement from Bollinger, the release of data, town halls, and increased transparency from PACSA.
“We're definitely very happy to see Bollinger release this statement,” Matthew Chou, CC '14 and co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee, said. “We think it presents a lot of good information as to his priorities and the next steps, and we look forward to working with the administration and with all members of the Columbia community to address these concerns.”
“This is definitely a victory for us,” Akshay Shah, CC '14 and the other co-chair of the USenate's Student Affairs Committee, said. “But this is just the first step. Our ultimate goal is to make sure that University policy responds to the needs of students, and we want to make sure we continue the momentum we have so far to achieve those goals.”
Shah and Chou said that the USenate will continue to remain involved in improving Columbia's policies and that the issue will be brought up at the first plenary of the semester on Feb. 7.
“This issue has a lot of stakeholders,” Shah said. “Everybody has a different role to play, and we want to make sure we play the right one.”
University Senator Marc Heinrich, CC '16, said that he is “thrilled to see the administration responding to concerns, and that there's such a considerable amount of conversation going on.”
“Obviously, there's still a lot of work to be done, but this is a great start, and I think it could go a long way to really making campus safer,” Heinrich said.
The spotlight turned to Columbia's sexual assault policies last October when the Columbia University Democrats circulated a petition with more than 1,000 signatures calling for the University to release data pertaining to its sexual assault policies. In November, a group of students held a freezemob to raise awareness about sexual violence on campus. The following month, a group of students—including Heinrich and CU Dems president Sejal Singh, CC '14—met with a PACSA subcommittee, a meeting they said was productive.
Their meetings with PACSA stalled this semester after the departure of Jeffrey Scott, executive vice president for Student and Administrative Services and co-chair of PACSA. Then last week, a Blue and White article featured three students' stories on reporting sexual assault, including claims that their interviews were not recorded and that not all evidence was presented at their hearings. Heinrich and Singh said Tuesday night that they were meeting with various administrators.
Singh was pleased to see that the administration “seems to understand the urgency and the seriousness of the situation.”
“I think this really demonstrates the effect that students, when organized and united, can have on their communities,” Singh said. “This is a major victory for transparency and accountability—something we've been pushing for since October.”
As for what comes next, Singh and CU Dems are working to organize a Coalition Against Sexual Violence as a support group for students.
“We're speaking to survivors and experts and talking about areas that need reform—for example, the fallible methods by which investigations are recorded,” Singh said. “We're definitely not stopping here.”
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