News | Student Life

Student activists say new sexual assault policy falls short

  • LEFT OUT | Student activists said that the University’s new sexual assault policy falls short and that they were cut out of the drafting process.

Student activists are not happy. While Columbia released a new sexual assault policy Friday that makes some significant changes to the way the University handles cases of sexual assault, activists say the policy falls short and that they were cut out of the process.

Concerns raised about the new policy include the lack of guaranteed accommodations for survivors, the sanctioning guidelines, the training for staff members, and the dean of each school’s continued role as decision-maker in the appeal process.

A statement signed by activist groups No Red Tape Columbia, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault, Title IX Team, and Take Back the Night said that the policy “does not reflect students’ needs, and changes made are not adequate to ensure student safety.”

“Our goal is and always has been to work with the administration ­­ including President Bollinger, Jeri Henry, and Melissa Rooker, who were central to the development of this policy­­ to address these critical concerns,” the statement said. “Instead, we have been stonewalled, misled, and deliberately excluded from the revision process. Thus far, their refusal to meaningfully engage with students and their failure to respond to our concerns has made constructive communication impossible.”

Not involved

Administrators said the new policy was developed based on recommendations from the Department of Education and a report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, but that they also took into account student concerns presented throughout the spring semester.

“The policy is directly responsive to many issues students raised last spring in a variety of forms, including town halls, meetings with administrators, and otherwise,” Suzanne Goldberg, University President Lee Bollinger’s special advisor on sexual assault prevention and response, said in an interview on Friday.

Students, however, feel they were not involved in the creation of the new policy. Student activists were first told about the changes on Aug. 12, when administrators briefed a group of 10 undergraduate and graduate students on the new policy and asked for their feedback.

“I think that a lot of the oversights in this policy could have been avoided had students been able to meet with administrators to speak with them, to explain our concerns,” Sejal Singh, CC ’15 and a coordinator with the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, said.

The statement students released Friday said they were told the University would not rewrite its gender-based misconduct policy over the summer, and that student voices would be involved during the process when the time came.

“The point of that meeting was so that the students would be aware that the policy was about to come out, understand the key features of that policy, so they could communicate about the key features of the policy with their colleagues and their peers,” Goldberg said. “One of my interests in having that meeting was to solicit the students’ ideas for how to best engage with the community going forward in the academic year.”

Goldberg and Scott Schell, a vice president for public affairs, said that administrators decided to release the policy before the end of the summer in order to have the policy ready for new student orientation, and to make sure they were in compliance with the federal guidelines.

But students and alumni expressed their discontent with several aspects of the new policy and said that their concerns ultimately weren’t considered.

“They had to scramble to react and really come up with a robust response,” Aries Dela Cruz, GS ’09 and a member of Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault, said. “While the administration says that they’re incorporating concerns from the students, what the students are seeking is really a more robust engagement and robust dialogue with administrators involved on this issue.”

Specific concerns

Singh said in an interview on Friday that she was particularly unhappy with the policy’s sections on accommodations for students going through the process and sanctioning guidelines.

The new policy clarifies that accommodations are available to students from the minute they request help until they graduate, but states the Gender-Based Misconduct Office will “evaluate any request for accommodations in light of the circumstances and information available at the time.”

“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be changed,” Singh, who is also Columbia College Student Council vice president for policy, said. “The policy doesn't guarantee those accommodations, which I think is a huge problem and a serious oversight.”

Singh added that the section on sanctioning is unclear because sanctioning officers will determine consequences based on similar past cases. In order to feel comfortable with this, students would need to trust that sanctioning officers will impose serious consequences—something they say they can’t do until they see data on how the University has adjudicated past sexual assaults.

“It’s not clear that the sanctioning system has been meaningfully changed,” Singh said, adding that she hopes the anonymous, aggregate data on sexual assault adjudication—which administrators have said will be released in the “near future”—provides a clearer picture of what kind of sanctions students can expect based on the type of gender-based misconduct.

The policy includes a description of how sanctions are determined and a list of possible sanctions, but does not provide specific guidelines for different types of violations.

“We have no idea how these policies are going to be implemented until we get that data,” Singh said. “And I think that’s a lot of the problem.”

Jeri Henry, the senior assistant dean of judicial affairs, said in an interview on Friday that “there’s not a one-size-fits-all model of sanctioning.”

“Sanctions really have to be calibrated to fit the misconduct. The policy itself is not going to mandate that there’s a particular sanction for a misconduct,” Henry said. “And I know you’ve heard me say before that the most serious violations will result in the most serious sanctions.”

Another concern the new policy left unchanged is deans’ responsibility for determining appeal cases.

The Coalition Against Sexual Violence and students at town halls held throughout the spring semester expressed particular concern over this point.

Students emphasized the potential for conflicts of interest to arise due to deans’ other responsibilities, including fundraising and representing the colleges. In addition, deans who take over midyear may not receive full training, as training has typically been done once per year.

“The idea that someone would … not receive any training and then be determining these serious, urgent, deeply important questions that affect student lives with absolutely no training is simply ridiculous and, to me, demonstrates such a lack of regard for student safety,” Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15 and a lead activist of No Red Tape, said at the March town hall.

On Friday, Henry echoed her comments from the town hall last spring, saying she feels confident the deans are the best people to make these decisions.

“We do really strongly believe that the deans are in the best position to be the final arbitrators of these pieces,” Henry said. “They are committed to a fair, equitable process for their students. They should all have the final say to a student that falls under their purview.”

Another concern presented in Friday’s statement from activist groups and throughout the school year was about the type and frequency of training administrators and staff members receive.

Henry said that deans either have received or will receive updated training, and that there will be ongoing training for the student affairs administrators formally designated to serve on hearing panels. The University has hired Lisa Friel, the vice president of sexual misconduct consulting and investigations at T&M Protection Resources and the former chief of Manhattan’s Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, to consult and help plan training for staff members.

Working together?

Singh said she thinks the policy does introduce some positive changes—but hopes that administrators will listen more closely to student concerns in the fall.

“There are certainly some good things here, but many of those good things are mandated by federal regulations,” Singh said. “And a lot of the things that students have been fighting haven’t been sufficiently addressed.”

Goldberg said administrators want to prioritize meeting with students in the fall and are looking forward to hearing their feedback on the new policy.

“The policy on that first page invites continuing engagement from students and the entire Columbia community,” Goldberg said. “Most important right now is to make clear that student suggestions, comments are welcome now and throughout the school year.”

Dela Cruz said that while he hopes to see concrete changes, he is still skeptical that administrators will follow through on their promises.

“Given what’s happened in the past, I’m prepared to be let down,” Dela Cruz said. “But I’m very optimistic that eventually, Columbia has it in its heart to do the right thing and really sit down with students and make sure that everyone has a place at the table.”

Singh said that she plans to continue working with administrators in the fall, but she still wishes they had included students during the drafting of this new policy.

“I think that it’s really important that there are clear, open, successful ways for students to be communicating with those decision-makers,” Singh said. “We’ve been asking for these things for a very long time. If they had spoken to us as part of this process, these oversights might have been avoided.”

samantha.cooney@columbiaspectator.com  |  @sammcooney

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anonymous posted on

Spectator! How many more articles are you going to publish on the same issue? It seems that everyone on your staff got an assignment to write about the new sexual assault policy. You are not doing a service to the community and no, you are not doing anything "noble". You are continuing to stir the shit and propane the hysteria among the intellectually dormant! STOP! Now let's all THINK!

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Anonymous posted on

We are all thinking. You are thinking too, but with the wrong head.

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i know posted on

what you mean by the "wrong head" but I'll disappoint you - I'm a woman. Now if you have something meaningful to say, say it, be mature enough and don't offend others who contribute.

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Anonymous posted on

Ok woman, let's together found a charity for rapists.

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you see posted on

People like you are irrational - you're loud but you don't say much other than offend. You're so obsessed with the idea that this place if full of rapists that you don't allow anyone to help you see otherwise. You will continue rolling in what you've created

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Anonymous posted on

Do help us to see that the place is not full of rapists. A good way to do so is for you to go to Bollinger and ask for information, and to get him to allow questions about the quality of the information. But then you will find that that is not possible because he and his deans will be all anxious about covering their butts. We do not take their words at face value. Even as your conviction differs from ours, we would advise you not to take Bolly & Co at face value either. Another lingering question: why does Columbia University not simply facilitate all parties to get with the NYPD and NYC prosecutors and defendants? What intelligent explanation is there for Bolly & Co to keep churning emails while effectively just sitting on their asses? The only way to address the cases AND to reduce hysteria is to fire Bollinger, all the deans, all the legal counsel, set up reserves in the endowment fund for University liabilities to the victims (and the falsely accused), appoint new administration, and start over.

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Finally a real voice of reason! posted on

"Do help us to see that the place is not full of rapists. ...." "reduce hysteria" "endowment fund for University liabilities to the victims (and the falsely accused), appoint new administration, and start over."

That's a great, well-ballanced comment.

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Anonymous posted on

So now you can go and rape somebody, and then congratulate yourself for being so clever.

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Here's an idea! posted on

Let's form a charity for the wrongfully accused, unless you think false accusations never happen at Columbia, just rape does. All men are evil and all women are smart and rational. Yes, let's do it! Let's march though columbia with posters "We want trigger warnings" "men against false accusations" "false accusations are crime". "I'm just not into you but please don't freak out and accuse me of something I didn't do" .

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Anonymous posted on

Sure. Do it. And then let's fry those who are accused as they should be.

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Anonymous posted on

No, we can't fry anyone - but surely NYPD and the real court outside Columbia would know what to do.

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Anonymous posted on

FRY THEM BY KICKING THEM OUT, MAKING IT PUBLIC, PUTTING IT PERMANENTLY ON THEIR COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY TRANSCRIPTS, AND TELLING ALL PROFESSORS AND CAREER SERVICES TO INCLUDE SUCH TRANSCRIPTS ON ALL RECOMMENDATIONS AND REFERENCES FOR OTHER COLLEGES, OR GRAD SCHOOLS, OR JOBS. (Yes, I know it is difficult for you to use your imagination. You are a Columbian.)

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haha! posted on

yeeehaw! let's now examine you

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Anonymous posted on

You are not my type. (Get that? That means a NO.)

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No certainly posted on

we "Columbians" don't have your beautiful imagination

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anonymous posted on

Spectator! How many more articles are you going to publish on the same issue? It seems that everyone on your staff got an assignment to write about the new sexual assault policy. You are not doing a service to the community and no, you are not doing anything "noble". You are continuing to stir the shit and propagate the hysteria among the intellectually dormant! STOP! Now let's all THINK!

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Anonymous posted on

There are thousands of things going on at Columbia, many bigger and more important than this. Please, write about something else. Altho not condoning anything, our "assault" statistics are lower than the national averages per population. Come on, already.

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Anonymous posted on

Are you for press control in Ferguson too, dumb ass?

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this is a call posted on

to stop propagating the hysteria. and please DON't OFFEND people who contribute. That's so rude and a sign of someone who doesn't have a strong agenda.

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Anonymous posted on

So you say Ferguson is hysteria. I am supposed to respect your dumb-assed opinion.

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Anonymous posted on

Blessed King George, what it is to be Columbia;
A college with a president cheered
For loving rapists, ignoring the raped;
Deluded shaper, yet unshaped,
Uninterested, unknowing dickhead.

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yeah posted on

guys - you're falling apart - all you can say is some idiotic rambling. You know why is that - it's because you're creating an atmosphere for the intellectually dormant.

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Anonymous posted on

Is your fondness of rape supposed to be a matter just of your taste?

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Lee Bollinger posted on

Provost Troy's spouse, Susan G., "Chief Provocateur" and architect of this strategy. Invite two students in. One hour. There, your feedback has been noted. Decision rendered; policy enacted. Now please go away.

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You can thank posted on

your Red Tape and those who are spreading the rape culture hysteria. This way no one will be touched, looked at, challenged. Thank you all! Of course CU had to cancel the concert - 29 students sued Columbia for their handling of sexual assault cases (plus the lawsuits by those who were wrongfully accused, and for the lack of due process), and now you think they're going to open themselves up for more accusations by the same and some new "activists"? We're not about individual responsibility now . Now we're into group think, thriving on mass hysteria and the atmosphere of the intellectually dormant. It's black and white now, and if you do not agree, you can be sued or accused that you are pro rape....Days of freedom on campus are over. Everything will be scrutinized for political correctness. I am so sick of this.

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Anonymous posted on

What can Columbia do? What kind of forensic investigation can they conduct? Do people ever think of that? We have laws - you cannot ruin someone's life base on someone's word alone. If you say you're raped and ALL you want is that Columbia "remove your rapist from the campus" - then... I have doubts about your allegations. We have laws, and, sorry - if you say you're raped, and even though that is a terrible crime, and the process of proving it might be grueling - you still have to prove it, and it has to be beyond reasonable doubt. Because, there are so many cases of people's lives being ruined by false accusations, that this side, too, has to be taken seriously. Potential psychological and physical harm can be enormous in both cases.

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Anonymous posted on

Who cares what the students activists think. They are a small minority.

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Anonymous posted on

All of these Soec stories are old news. I thought the point of the on line only addition was to keep things current, up to date, and changing. You can't have six articles on the same narrow subject, please choose one. Less sensation, more news of the university please.

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OMG! Yes, please! posted on

Write about something else!!!!

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Guilty until proven innocent! posted on

First, the university defines sexual assault as not only rape, as understood in the criminal justice system, but also (quote) : "any intentional sexual touching, however slight, with any object without a person's consent. Intentional sexual contact includes contact with the breasts, buttocks, groin, or touching another with any of these body parts, or making another person touch any of these body parts; any intentional bodily contact in a sexual manner." - How many people would consider such behavior--while indefensible--to constitute rape? To Columbia, however, forcible sexual penetration and nonconsensual (Quote) "sexual touching, however slight" are both "sexual assault."
Second, while the university notes that sexual assault, by definition, comes without consent, it modifies this provision in a critical way: "Alcohol and other drugs can lower inhibitions and create an atmosphere of confusion over whether consent is freely and affirmatively given." Taken literally, then, any alcohol use by the female party to sexual intercourse could call into question whether a Columbia tribunal will subsequently brand a male student a rapist, since even if the female gave consent, the university claim non-consensual contact on grounds of "confusion over whether consent is freely and affirmatively given."
In this atmosphere, accused students appear to be guilty until proven innocent.

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Anonymous posted on

That is correct. That is why it is so silly for people to say "universities are not doing enough," or "universities protect rapists." That is a joke. The university's burden of proof is so much lower than a court of law. Basically one hundred percent of the time there is consequence to the male. This is why people do not go to the police. Their cases would all be thrown out for lack of evidence. Also the court will hear both sides.

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Anonymous posted on

Columbia University does not enforce the policies that it has, to the detriment and extreme disadvantages of the victims. It does so by being technical and bureaucratic, and it acts that way deliberately. If any of you know any Columbia University legal counsel, they will confirm to you (personally and as your friend) that they do exactly that. Therefore, the university can keep "unveiling" any new policy. The bottom line is that it will continue to do nothing, and will continue to allow rapes of Columbians by Columbians. How are would it be for them to facilitate cases and facts going to NYPD and New York prosecutors (not only regarding the violence in the cases, but also the violation of the victims' civil rights in the cases). But Columbia University does not do any such thing.

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Anonymous posted on

Columbia University does not enforce the policies that it has, to the detriment and extreme disadvantages of the victims. It does so by being technical and bureaucratic, and it acts that way deliberately. If any of you know any Columbia University legal counsel, they will confirm to you (personally and as your friend) that they do exactly that. Therefore, the university can keep "unveiling" any new policy. The bottom line is that it will continue to do nothing, and will continue to allow rapes of Columbians by Columbians. How hard would it be for them to facilitate cases and facts going to NYPD and New York prosecutors (not only regarding the violence in the cases, but also the violation of the victims' civil rights in the cases). But Columbia University does not do any such thing.

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Food for thought posted on

psychologist Eugene J. Kanin, Ph.D., indicated that as many as 41% of reported rapes are false, with "victims" making false accusations for one of three reasons: to seek revenge, provide an alibi, or obtain sympathy and attention. 59% are real victims. So, why aren't more people raising voice against false allegations as well? When did defending male part of our population become unacceptable?

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Anonymous posted on

Yes but that is not the discussion here. Why are the 59% not expelled, their expulsions not made public and put permanently on Columbia University transcripts, and all other colleges, grad schools, and prospective employers informed? Why are the 59% not on official lists of sex offenders? Are you saying that because the 41% exists (assuming that the number is ballpark correct), then therefore the 59% should not pay for their crimes? Are you saying that Columbia University leaders should not be held accountable for their negligence and inaction? Your logic is fucked up.

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anonymous posted on

Obviously, we're not talking about 59/41 at Columbia so no comparison should be made. This study was done on a national level. All I'm saying is that this is NOT something any college should be dealing with. If you're a victim of rape - go to the police. If you're falsely accused (and that happens a lot, as well!) lawyer up! Obviously there was not enough evidence for the people you mention at Columbia to be expelled. Just because someone says to a faculty member or any member of the investigation committee "I was raped" doesn't mean they have enough skills to investigate or should have the authority to do anything about it. And people who file those complaints know that very well. You don't expel students based on someone's word alone. Rape is a terrible crime but "beyond reasonable doubt" is needed to be established to accuse someone of it. Could the accuser be lying? Could she/he be telling the truth? How do you know?

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Anonymous posted on

Ok. One more time. Columbia University administrators protect rapists. And all you starry-eyed freshmen out there, remember this.

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anonymous posted on

that's one load of bull

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One more time posted on

and I say to you, that's one big load of bull. get a life

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