Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault announced a plan to create a set of unified student, alumni, and faculty proposals for reforming Columbia’s sexual assault policies on Saturday.
The group, which was created in February and is open to all Columbia alumni, will work with students and faculty to develop those proposals over the next few months. CAAASA held a panel on Saturday at Teachers College during the Alumni Reunion Weekend to discuss the issues with Columbia’s current policies and the changes that panelists would like to see.
“The dream is to present a set of proposals from the alumni and the students and the faculty—unified, that we all agree on, and that can be easily implemented by the University,” panelist Erik Campano, GS ’15 and a researcher in Columbia Health, said. “And we are optimistic that these three groups—student, alumni, and faculty—can agree on a detailed set of reforms.”
Close to 40 alumni attended the panel, which was closed to the press. Panelists included Zila Acosta, CC ’11, Law ’15, and the co-chair of the University Senate’s Student Affairs Committee, Anna Bahr, BC ’14 and the former managing editor of the Blue and White who wrote a two-part series on sexual assault adjudication at Columbia, CAAASA co-founder Hannah D’Apice, CC ’12 and a former Spectator design editor and staff director, and Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15 and a member of No Red Tape Columbia and the Coalition Against Sexual Violence.
“I’m very involved in alumni activities at Columbia but often there’s a sense that alumni are cynical of what’s going on,” added Aries Dela Cruz, GS ’09 and an event organizer. “To come back to campus five years later to see that this legacy of people who care goes on long after … is really inspiring to me and hopefully will go on to inspire other alumni.”
“I think people were really excited to hear what’s being done and what they can do, but also had genuine questions about the intricacies of the problem,” Acosta said. “I think alums identify with the issue.”
Attendees at the event on Saturday said that the biggest advantage of bringing alumni into sexual assault reform is the financial pressure they are able to put on the University.
“The alumni community has a lot of resources to help push through policy changes,” Campano said. “I think I speak on behalf of all student activists that we’re very happy to be collaborating with a unified group of alumni.”
“If that’s [funding] an opportunity for us to influence the conversation, I think that’s something we really need to consider,” said panel moderator Peter Gallotta, CC ’09, a former president of Columbia Queer Alliance and a ROOTEd facilitator. “It’s power of the purse.”
Still, Campano said that students and alumni are only two-thirds of the equation, and that he believes support from faculty is necessary to make concrete changes.
“There are strong indications from faculty members that they are prepared to join us in supporting a comprehensive reform to gender-based violence policy,” Campano said, adding that the group is hoping to see a proposal from faculty by the end of the summer.
In May, nearly 100 faculty members signed a letter supporting student action pushing for changes to Columbia’s sexual assault adjudication policy.
While CAAASA has been around since February, the Reunion Weekend event was the first opportunity for a large group of alumni to come together and learn about the issues.
Throughout the semester, students have continued to push administrators to make changes to sexual assault adjudication policies. The Coalition Against Sexual Violence presented a list of policy recommendations to administrators in February. Administrators discussed policy concerns with students at two town halls held in March and April.
Still, some students have said that administrators have not done enough. In April, 23 students filed a federal complaint against Columbia, alleging violations of Title IX, Title II, and the Clery Act. Lists of alleged “sexual assault violators on campus” appeared in bathrooms in Hamilton, Lerner, and Butler in May.
Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15 and one of the students who filed the federal complaint against Columbia in April, reported her sexual assault to the police in May, saying she was frustrated with the University’s decision in her case.
Both Bahr and Acosta said they believe the University can and will work with all three groups to change its policies.
“We all want Columbia to have a sterling reputation, but we want them to earn it,” Acosta said.
“This is not a divisive issue. This is not a political issue. It’s about safety,” Bahr added.
Though a set of unified proposals is still in the works, panelists at Saturday’s event said alumni support around the issue is undeniably growing.
“There aren’t many issues alums get super riled up about,” Acosta said. “But student safety is one of them.”