News | Student Life

Students file federal complaint against Columbia, alleging Title IX, Title II, Clery Act violations

  • TITLE IX | Columbia and Barnard students filed federal complaints against alleged violations of Title IX, Title II, and the Clery Act on Thursday morning.

Updated, April 25, 3:26 a.m.

After months of advocating for improvements of sexual assault policy, 23 Columbia and Barnard students filed federal complaints against alleged violations of Title IX, Title II, and the Clery Act on Thursday morning.

The allegations in the 100-page complaint included that the University treats survivors and alleged perpetrators unequally, perpetrators are allowed to remain on campus, students are discouraged from reporting sexual assault, LGBTQ students face discrimination in counseling, advising, adjudication, and Greek life, students do not receive accomodations based on mental health disibilities, and sanctions for perpetrators are too lenient.

A University spokesman said on Thursday that administrators were unable to comment on the allegations of the federal complaint.

“Filing now is a way of saying we’re not going to back down,” Marybeth Seitz-Brown, CC ’14 and one of the students who filed the complaint, said. “This is the last resort—it’s time to get the law involved.”

Seitz-Brown said that she wants to see administrations take action to reform the way the University adjudicates sexual assault and the resources available to students.

“We’ve seen two town halls and a couple of emails, and as a survivor and an ally to survivors, that’s not enough,” Seitz-Brown said. “That’s not enough to make me feel safe. We’re afraid, to be honest, that when the summer comes, that’ll be an excuse not to follow through on these promises.”

Seitz-Brown said that “the thing to highlight here is how much this is not just about sexual violence but mental health as well.”

Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15 and one of the students who signed the complaint, said that filing a complaint wasn't their first choice, but that they felt they had exhausted every other avenue.

“We’ve had meetings, we’ve done activism, we’ve been seeking counseling, and nothing has worked,” Ridolfi-Starr said. “We’re desperate. We have no other option.”

Ridolfi-Starr added that students have started a support group to discuss their stories and increase awareness for the issue on campus.

Rakhi Agrawal, BC ’14 and one of the students who filed the complaint, said that she was placed on disciplinary and academic probation because she “was a mental health liability,” according to the release.

“I don’t think they [the administration] were taking us seriously enough,” Agrawal said about the decision to file. “The University is going to have to take action. This is a really good time for the University to be honest and lay all its cards out on table, to really work with the complainants.”

“The trauma of sexual assault is something only a survivor can understand, and that’s where the University can offer the most tactile support,” Agrawal added. “The fact that they haven’t done that is a large part of why the system is so flawed as it is right now.”

The release also includes an anecdote from a transgender student who alleged that the University failed to make academic accommodations promised under Title IX “on the basis of their gender identity.”

The student said that there was a “general ignorance and hostility towards my gender identity … even [the] dismissal of my rape because it didn’t fit the normative ‘boy-rapes-girl’ narrative.”

A self-identified queer/trans Columbia College student, who asked to remain anonymous, said that xe hoped the complaint will encourage more queer and trans victims to come forth and share their stories. 

“As queer/trans survivor, I felt there were a lot of intersections of my various identities that the University wasn’t prepared to handle or was hostile towards accommodating,” xe said. The “normative narrative of rape is very much cis-hetero man rapes cis-hetero woman. These are narratives that get prioritized—the closer your rape gets to the story, the more it gets prioritized or the more they think it hurts, and that’s as far from the truth as possible.”

The student said that of particular concern was the lack of specialized psychological staff for queer and trans students.

“Mental health problems disproportionately affect queer and trans people,” the student said. “There’s one person at CPS with extensive experience in queer rape and there are astronomical wait times to see her. You could wait a month.”

“Students should need to do whatever they need to do to feel safe,” said Sejal Singh, CC ’15 and the former president of the Columbia University Democrats and the vice president for policy-elect of Columbia College Student Council. “Hopefully this will push the University to take desperately needed urgent action towards those goals.”

Singh noted that there has been a wave of Title IX suits at universities in recent years. In 2011, 16 students filed a complaint against Yale. There have been similar cases at the University of Connecticut and Northwestern University.

“There’s a consensus emerging that universities aren’t doing enough,” Singh said. “This is a nationwide problem.”

“I really want to emphasize that the University must continue meeting with students and working towards solutions,” while the complaint is being considered, Singh said. “These issues affect students on campus every single day and we can’t afford to wait until the suit is resolved. We need to expand resources and improve adjudication proceedings as soon as absolutely possible.”

At the town hall on sexual assault policy in March, students asked whether the University was compliant with Title IX and the Clery Act.

“If you look nationwide, I don’t think anybody is sure they’re Title IX compliant,” Michael Dunn, deputy Title IX coordinator and the director of investigations, said in response.

A University statement issued Thursday said Columbia will continue working in the coming months to make clear that sexual assault and gender misconduct are unacceptable, including on college and university campuses.

We have been working with students, faculty and staff to make that emphatically clear on our campus and have already taken the first of a series of significant new measures dedicated to preventing such sexual misconduct, supporting survivors, and improving adjudication of these painful cases, the statement said. That process of action and reform will continue in the months ahead because we are committed to protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of every member of our university community.

Check back for updates.

emma.bogler@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ebbogz

Correction: A previous version of this story quoted Sejal Singh referring to the complaint as a lawsuit. Legally, the terms are distinct. The part of Singh’s quote referring to a lawsuit has been removed. Additionally, an earlier version of this story said Zoe Ridolfi-Starr asked the question about the University’s Title IX compliance at the March town hall. Spectator regrets the errors. 

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
seriously... posted on

I understand the what they are trying to do, and it is honorable, but the way they are going about it, is terrible

+1
-19
-1
Anonymous posted on

how so?

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

It is clear that many in the administration have been sincerely trying to resolve this issue. It's just the nature of bureaucracy that administrative changes take time, but instead this court action makes it seem like the university is full of villains who are part of some sort of massive conspiracy against victims of rape. This is not the case. Do you really think everyone in the bureaucracy just hates rape victims? Do you think they like all this negative press? They are obviously trying to resolve it, and instead these students are just making it seem like these university are rape havens. We need to do something, but this was not it.

+1
+25
-1
Anonymous posted on

But all of these students have been extensively involved in these negotiations. I agree that most admins working on this issue seem to sincerely care about it, but doesn't always result in the needed reforms—for instance, at the first town hall, some of these admins clearly did not understand the students' concerns about conflicts of interest in the adjudication process. I'm going to take a guess and say that these students have resorted filed the complaint because the reforms aren't actually making that much headway.

+1
+18
-1
Anonymous posted on

No it is no clear at all. These are intelligent people, no? So if they "have been trying", why have they not solved the problem? Are you attempting to grade them in the most ridiculous, lenient way that they grade you?

+1
-15
-1
ben posted on

as an alumnus from nearly two decades ago I am kind of shocked that this is still a problem. It was a problem when I was there (I probably still have a safety report showing 0 rapes in a year in which two personal friends were raped). Don't blame the bureaucracy - they've been aware of this problem for a long time. I'm glad someone is filing federal charges.

+1
-3
-1
Anonymous posted on

If you are raped, go to the NYPD. It is that simple. Why would you go to the University to get justice.

+1
-36
-1
TG posted on

While this advice is not bad, it's important to note that justice for survivors of rape is hardly guaranteed by the NYPD, as many will attest. It is also not guaranteed by the Columbia area hospitals that are responsible for collecting evidence of rape. Regardless of what other avenues students choose to pursue, the University has a responsibility under Title IX, et al., to protect the equal rights of its students. These students are 100% right to file this complaint. People who hesitate to support them should really reflect on who they want to protect, from what, and why.

+1
+13
-1
Anonymous posted on

Some corrections:
The allegations listed here are only SOME of the violations alleged, according to the press release. Since it's over 100 pages long I'd assume there's probably more than that.
Typo in Sejal's first quote.
Rakhi Agrawal asked at the Town Hall of Columbia was Title IX compliant--not Zoe or Clery Act.

+1
+7
-1
Anonymous posted on

Also, a factual error in Sejal's comment--this is not a lawsuit. It's a federal complaint.

+1
+6
-1
Anonymous posted on

What do you think a lawsuit starts with? A complaint. Civil Procedure grade= Fail

+1
-12
-1
Anonymous posted on

This an administrative complaint, filed with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education - not a complaint filed in federal court.

+1
+2
-1
what? posted on

A lawsuit is the very thing we do not need

+1
-6
-1
Anonymous posted on

—and thus would incentivize the admins to make sure that changes will absolutely be enacted, and not just half-assed ones, either

+1
+3
-1
CC Dissenter posted on

I understand that this is a huge and tragic problem nationwide, but why take this to the feds? I would be much more comfortable with this issue being resolved internally through the persistence of Columbia students. It is clear that many in the administration have been sincerely trying to resolve this issue. It's just the nature of bureaucracy that administrative changes take time, but instead this court action makes it seem like the university is full of villains who are part of some sort of massive conspiracy against victims of rape. This is not the case.

Also, the conversation needs to continue on campus for the true problem to be resolved. The villains here are the sex offenders, and the goal should be to continue a conversation to make sure that these horrible things don't happen. Sure, the victims can win some renumeration from the university but will that solve the real problem? Would forcing the university to kick out all alleged abusers, even the ones for whom not a shred of evidence was found against them, be the solution? I think the wrong actions are being taken here. Instead of fighting the administration, can't we continue to fight for CHANGE in OUR community?

Comment repost from Youngist article.

+1
-10
-1
Anonymous posted on

I hope some day soon somebody will sue the deans and President Bollinger, personally, for criminal negligence and aiding and abetting. Why stop with this civil complaint? Stop playing nice.

+1
-7
-1
Anonymous posted on

Many of these are he said she said situations. The university (or the cops) try to put these things together. Frequently the perpetrators have to leave for a semester, a year, leave an activity or sport, and have disciplinary actions in their file, etc. It sounds like the victims feel that is not enough punishment. There are guidelines for this. That is a completely different story.

+1
-9
-1
Anonymous posted on

U R a friggin robot.

+1
-4
-1
Anonymous posted on

Involving an outside agency is a huge mistake, rather than solving this internally. They have no idea on the functions, resources, activities of any college in general let alone our specific university. They will have no idea how to make recommendations and they are less much likely to be carried out than if they came from within.

+1
-6
-1
Anonymous posted on

what!? the job of that outside agency - the department of education - is to enforce title ix, the federal law that prohibits sexual assault on college campuses. that law applies to columbia, like other universities, because it receive serious amounts of federal money. in return for that federal money, columbia must ensure it's students are not discriminated against - including by being sexually assaulted. the point of involving an "outside agency" is because, as we've seen again and again, colleges fail to get their act together. title ix was passed 40 years ago - how long does columbia need to develop and carry out compliance policies "from within"?

+1
+1
-1
But really posted on

Getting the Feds involved may make a statement and succeed in the goal of demonizing the administration...but it's also probably the single worst thing to do if they want swift and effective reforms. Litigation is by definition a slow and inefficient process.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

It is getting the job done at Yale and Dartmouth. So, you don't know what you are talking about.

+1
-13
-1
Anonymous posted on

Nothing has happened there. They both have a worse culture.

+1
-7
-1
Anonymous posted on

If you love to use your mouth on your own phallus, no need to tell us about it. Oh, and thank you for trying, Columbia internal counsel.

+1
-10
-1
Anonymous posted on

Absent in this discussion is what are the rights of someone accused of rape? The chief complaint seems to be that people accused of rape can still attend school, but they deserve protection too, and school judicial boards provide very little due process. Are we going to pretend that false accusations aren't real, or that accusations of rape may not truthfully depict what occurred? Or are we just going to continue to vilify anyone concerned with protecting the rights of the accused?

+1
+5
-1
TG posted on

I'm really astonished by the consensus against the complaint developing here. How many students accused of rape are currently protesting their unjust accusations? How many media stories have you read in which students at elite universities were falsely accused and prosecuted for rape? I did 10 minutes of googling and found 3 in the last 5 years. I also found a statistic on Andrew Sullivan's blog that the "most reliable statistics" place false accusations at "2-8%" of all rape allegations. No doubt a false allegation is a terrible, terrible life-destroying thing. So is rape. On the other side, there is this complaint and several others at other universities mentioned by the article, to say nothing of the countless students--mostly women, but not exclusively, who have spoken out individually about their campuses doing nothing to protect them. We know that rape is vastly under-reported. We know that survivors who do report face scrutiny and stigma. It's more than clear that rape is tacitly condoned at these universities and throughout our culture when we doubt 100% of the women who report. I urge you to consider why you fear a university culture more inclined to err on the side of protecting survivors 92-98% of the time, than unfairly scrutinizing the falsely accused 2-8% of the time.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

This 2-8% statistic is highly suspect for a number of reasons, chief among them being the fact that accusations of rape in a criminal proceeding are different than the accusations of rape brought in a school judicial board but not brought to the police. In the latter case, the state may decide not to proceed because of insufficient proof to overturn "beyond a reasonable doubt" but there is no such burden on school judicial proceedings. So I do believe that for allegations of rape in a school context, the number of false accusations is higher than 2-8%. You're right that people alleging rape face scrutiny, but people accused of rape, even if the accusation doesn't go forward before a school judicial committee, are also heavily scrutinized and demonized.

If we believe that education is a fundamental right, then someone shouldn't be expelled easily. Even if the conditions are "rare." Considering the long history of rape accusations towards black males by white females being used as a way to threaten them, I don't think we should disregard the rights of accused to a fair judicial hearing just because you read online it's rare.

+1
-2
-1
TG posted on

Your logic on the statistic confuses me. The best sense I can make of it is that you're assuming that the statistic is based on police reports and that people are probably less likely to lie to the police than to a school judicial board. You are right that it is based on police reports as examined by researchers, I just skimmed the study. As for your assumption that people are more likely to lie to a school than to the police; it's an interesting idea. Certainly the numbers probably exist to find that out, but I can't find them. If college campus rapes are more often reported to schools than to the police, I would think it's because women feel safer reporting to their school than to the police. But I don't have any evidence for that other than anecdotal.

Next, I don't think anyone is suggesting automatic expulsion without a judicial hearing. I think that judicial hearings are exactly what these students are asking for in response to rape allegations. They are being discouraged from reporting; that is the problem that they are confronting.

I take your point seriously about allegations of rape being used to target black men. I just want to point out that rape disproportionately affects women of color.
According to Dept of Justice estimates (cited in Forbes 2012) 1 in 6 white female survivors of rape report, while 1 in 16 black female survivors of rape report. Women of color are also more likely than white women to be victims of rape, though I can't find a statistic that isolates women of color on college campuses. Students of color on college campuses deserve to feel like their reports will be taken seriously.

Finally, you suggest that my point is suspect because I used the internet to find information. I'm just going to let you think about that.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

The students may get a judicial hearing, but then the question is what are the standards for the hearing in a rape case? This can cut both ways, because school judicial boards aren't very good at adjudicating these issues. It's very possible that an accused will not face a fear hearing.

My final point wasn't that using the internet to find information is suspect. It was aimed at people who haven't thought about this issue except to the extent that a Gawker or Jezebel article once told them such-and-such statistic, and use that as the basis of their views. The resolution of what an appropriate school judicial system should be in rape allegation cases involves a lot factors, and I'm trying to draw attention to one that gets particularly overlooked.

The final point I'd like to make is that I don't think it's really relevant that rape accusations may be somewhat rare (however you measure that), or that women are more likely to be raped than men are likely to be falsely accused of rape. Both classes of people are victims, both did nothing to deserve it, and we can't trample either of their rights. Both victims rights have to be taken into account, and that requires due process, which schools are not particularly good at promoting.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

False accusations are RARE. No one wants to falsely accuse someone of rape because rape, as demonstrated by this year long controversy, is highly stigmatized; most people who step forward to say the were raped, truthfully or falsely, are ostracized, questioned of their culpability, and, overall, are not treated with respect or dignity. If you know someone who has been falsely accused, especially if they have been falsely accused multiple times, odds are that they have sexually violated someone or that the way they treat their partners is in some way problematic and they just will not accept responsibility for this.

+1
-4
-1
Anonymous posted on

I agree. Isn't a little harsh that an accused can't ever graduate from college? That's a little extreme punishment.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

If a woman accused a man that he raped her, then he raped her. He has the responsibility never to be vulnerable to such an accusation. Therefore, no, it is not a little harsh. It is not harsh enough.

+1
-4
-1
SMH posted on

No due process in your world, huh?

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

Bravo. This proves that Columbia students - well most of us anyway - can think, in spite of Columbia faculty and deans.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

There may well be administrators who respect your truth.

+1
-5
-1
Publius posted on

What am I missing? Why don't the victims of sexual assault on the Columbia campus do what any other New Yorker would do -- call the NYPD and swear out a complaint? Sexual assaults are crimes under the NY Penal law. They are not like cheating on an exam or other academic matters. The University is not your mommy and daddy. Call the cops.

+1
+4
-1
Anonymous posted on

Because most are not rapes, they are "assaults." A true rape would be a criminal investigation. Assaults are difficult to prove unless there are witnesses. The NYPD would not be able to investigate most of these "crimes" as there is very little if any evidence. Filing a complaint with the school is generally all one can do.

+1
-2
-1
Sickened posted on

This is an outrageous response. I'm all for protesting on campus and partaking in the perennial tradition of bashing the admin for not making changes fast enough. However, undeniably, change has certainly been in the works. Countless emails have been sent and town halls have been held such that educated policy reform can take place. Airing this on a national scale not only discredits the university, but by extension, us, as students as well. In doing so, not only are the existing reform efforts also undermined, but now, the administration is likely to be more antagonistic and reluctant than ever to embrace this cause. All around, a disservice to the Columbia University community.

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

Columbia University is a criminal organization. I hope that is aired as widely as possible. As for you, your head is far up your own ass. Don't believe me? Look around you. All you see is your own colon lining.

+1
-11
-1
really? posted on

A criminal organization? Your obviously crazy...

+1
-5
-1
Anonymous posted on

I just wanted to share my own story. I'm not sure where else to share this and I'm really not trying to undermine anyone else's story who might be in a different situation. I was raped by a good friend who is not affiliated with Columbia earlier this semester while on the Barnard campus. I put off reporting it to the Title IX coordinator at Barnard because I'd heard such terrible things about how they handle sexual violence reports. When I finally did report it, after months of aggravating, the process was very easy and the rapist is now a "persona no grata" at Barnard, which, at this point, is enough justice for me, since I know he will not have as easy of access to me and to mutual friends at Barnard. The Title IX coordinator has also been extremely helpful in providing information about what filing a police report and pressing charges would look like and has given me information about how to get an order of protection. Maybe I'll file a police report when I am more ready to talk about it, but that will be on my own terms, when I am ready. I know that there are more problems with reporting to CU/BC when the perpetrators are CU/BC students, but if your rapist is someone who is not a CU/BC student, report it to CU/BC Title IX. They will be infinitely more helpful to you because their only interest is in protecting their own, and not in protecting some random schmuck off the street who might have raped a CU/BC student. Do not let the way that Title IX handles perpetrators within the Columbia community stop you from reporting if your rapist is not from the Columbia community.

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

this episode can make you understand better what is going on at Columbia. Some people can actually learn from this.

+1
+4
-1
Anonymous posted on

http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s03e06-sexual-harassment-panda

+1
-2
-1
Witness posted on

There is a conflict of interest with having security and protecting the billion dollar endowment of a large institution. No investor would give money to a school with beer bottles everywhere. If somebody gets into a fight, they might get the investors donation. This is true at Universities with huge endowments. They don't want nothin on camera.

Hmmmmm... why not stick security cameras at intersections ONLY so that perpetrators of crimes can't leave or enter and area quickly. This is a great technique used in china. The harder it is for a criminal to leave the scene of a crime, the less likely it is they will commit the crime.

+1
-1
-1