Opinion | Op-eds

Alumni call for collective responsibility about sexual assault

Sunday morning, New York Times readers across the country faced a front-page profile of one female student’s horrific experience with sexual assault at Columbia. Sexual assault has been in the spotlight since February, when the Blue and White published a story about Columbia’s failure to properly adjudicate a repeat sexual assault offender. Two patterns have emerged in the dialogue since then. First: There is lack of accountability in the University’s response to complaints. Second: There are flaws in student culture around consent. Perpetrators, the direct cause of sexual assault, are products of our very own Columbia community and culture. Columbians can and should hold University administrators accountable for their failures, but we also must take ownership of Columbia’s culture around consent and support for survivors.

As alumni, it deeply upsets us to envision a future Columbia that still doesn’t tackle this issue with the necessary thoroughness and sensitivity. Alumni donate to improve the quality of life and education for all students on campus, not to uphold a glossy reputation. We want to believe in the integrity of our alma mater, but we cannot if the University is mishandling instances of sexual assault or not giving survivors the support they deserve. Most importantly, rape culture is not limited to college campuses. As alumni, we want future students to leave Columbia with a thorough understanding of how entrenched rape culture is in our society and how it affects everyone. 

The cases cited in campus and national media outlets over the last few months—including the recent federal complaint against Columbia—are not isolated incidents, and the cultural problems they indicate won’t go away in a single semester or with a single set of policy changes. The larger issue is the University’s people problem, as individuals involved in adjudication appear to mishandle the policies Columbia already has in place. This institution must properly instruct and prepare the people involved in the adjudication process. Columbia needs to critically reassess how and to what extent administrators, educators, and third-party professionals understand the many different forms sexual assault can take, not merely the graphic or headline-grabbing ones. Policy is useless if the individuals enacting said policy are not properly educated and trained. As we have seen, with an issue as complex as sexual assault, the cases rarely go by the book.

We are proud of student groups such as the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Columbia University College Democrats, and No Red Tape Columbia, which are bringing mainstream attention to this issue in a serious and conscientious way. We are also grateful for other groups, including Take Back The Night and Columbia’s Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center, whose unsung work over many years has provided ongoing support and resources for survivors.

We trust these groups and others will continue to hold the University accountable. It’s up to us, as alumni, to do our part in holding Columbia accountable and supporting students from afar. Campus-level success, though, requires another step. It’s up to all students to stand up to sexual assault or harassment when they see it happening. It’s up to all students, particularly juniors, seniors, and student leaders, to serve as role models for new students who don’t necessarily understand consent and too often see sexual assault as merely a statistic. It’s up to all of us to ensure our actions reflect the values we want the University to embody. It’s up to all of us, not just an active few current students, to take ownership of Columbia’s culture by cultivating a climate that embraces consent and supports survivors.  

Ben Cotton is a CC ’11 graduate. Hannah D’Apice, CC ’12, is a member of the Columbia University Club of North Texas and Columbia College Women. Andrea García-Vargas, CC ’13, is a member of the Columbia University Alumni Representative Committee. Andrew Hitti, CC ’13, is a member of the Columbia Venture Community. The authors are all former managing board members of Spectator and members of Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

ALL students, staff, and administrators must take responsibility for this situation, not just Columbia. In this free-for-all, facebook world that we live in, students especially need to learn to make the appropriate choices and not put themselves in compromising situations. Part of growing up and going to college is to learn right from wrong and make proper choices. You can't blame Columbia if you are drunk at a frat party and announce your every move on social media.

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Anonymous posted on

You know that rape can't happen without a rapist in the first place, right? You and your victim-blaming "students especially need to learn to make the appropriate choices" need to fuck off.

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jo posted on

I dont necessarily agree with that. There is a differnce between standing in the middle of the street and getting hit by a bus. or waking on the side walk and getting hit by one. It is naive to think that all parties are not involved. Yes, we cannot stop all crime, but there are things for all people to do to decrease it. I agree with the other person you are living in oblivian if you think you can do what you want, when you want, where you want.

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Anonymous posted on

You know you're in a messed up society when we're comparing sexual assault perps to buses and cars and when we're comparing sexual assault victims who (gasp!) did so much as drink some beer to people dumbly standing in the middle of the street.

Based on your analogy, rapists are just an everyday element of life, just like buses on roads. Now THIS is the logic ALL OF US should try to combat.

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Anonymous posted on

And this right here is exactly everything that is wrong with rape culture. Congratulations on doing exactly what this article is urging everyone to STOP doing.

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Anonymous posted on

wtf? "free-for-all, facebook world" is a new one. unfortunately, blaming victims for other people deciding to inflict violence on them is not.

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You are absolutely posted on

RIGHT!!

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Anonymous posted on

I am sorry but, if you have casual consensual sex with a "friends with benefits" mantra, both parties should be ready for the unexpected. Allegedly the woman said "no" when the sex got more aggressive and kinky, but nobody can verify that including the Columbia administrators. The probability of something like this happening in a loving, committed relationship is low. Keep that in mind before your next casual hook up.

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u r posted on

pondscum

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Anonymous posted on

You can have rape, domestic abuse, and sexual violence in committed relationships as well. Just because a woman had consensual sex in the past (eg by your analogy any marriage, relationship, AND any hookup) does NOT mean that her consent is any less vital than it was the first time. If a woman says no, she says no. If she says no and he continues then it is rape.

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Anonymous posted on

You can have rape, domestic abuse, and sexual violence in committed relationships as well. Just because a woman had consensual sex in the past (eg by your analogy any marriage, relationship, AND any hookup) does NOT mean that her consent is any less vital than it was the first time. If a woman says no, she says no. If she says no and he continues then it is rape.

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Anonymous posted on

The point is that it is not possible to know whether the word "No" is ever uttered in this or any other like situation. That is the dilemma for the Columbia administration and the police. Check the stats. Sexual assault is less likely in committed relationships.

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Anonymous posted on

It is the responsibility of passers-by and those within an earshot to intervene and to report a rape to the police. It is the responsibility of the rapist - er - not to have raped, and to be subject to the law if he had. It is the responsibility of NYPD to investigate and to act promptly. It is the responsibility of Columbia President Bollinger to make sure that Columbia Deans respond promptly and appropriately, to err on the side of protecting victims and apparent victims, to facilitate NYPD as NYPD performs its work, to overwhelm with action and underwhelm with their usual bullshit verbiage. It is the responsibility of any man never ever to be vulnerable to an accusation by a woman that he raped her. It is the responsibility of all Columbia alumni and alumnae to withhold all their contribution to all Columbia endowment funds unless and until it is emphatically clear that Bolly & Co are being effective about all of this, and to force their departures and to facilitate prosecution of them for their past criminal negligence. These boil down to individual responsibilities that are simple and easy to do. They get us off the talking mode. It is time to move on Bolly & Co until we get some real effect.

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Anonymous posted on

I have a couple concerns with these comments. First, can you explain how, specifically, a man can "never, ever...be vulnerable to an accusation by a woman that he raped her?" Even if a man refrains from being sexually active entirely, he could still be accused of rape. Ironically, a man would have to voluntarily imprison himself to avoid any chance of being accused. Second, how do you "err on the side of protecting...apparent victims," without violating due process, and without engaging in the circular reasoning that someone is "an apparent victim" with no evidence that it is so? I hope your post was satirical and not serious.

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Anonymous posted on

This is a simple thing. You are too much of a lawyer.

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Anonymous posted on

I'm throwing this idea out there: http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/26/opinion/jones-sex-consent-texting/

I know there are still potential problems with the idea of texting "consent", but it is be good place to start with differentiating "consensual sex" later deemed "rape" or sexual assault." If partners text or email one another "I consent with _____" before doing the deed, it could make things much easier in the long run. Phone records can always be recalled and provide legal standing, this includes previous texts and, in some cases, email.

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Anonymous posted on

Consent is not a contract, and it never should be.

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Anonymous posted on

I'll leave this here: http://bwog.com/2014/05/11/faculty-release-letter-supporting-complaints-against-columbias-sexual-assault-policies/

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Anonymous posted on

Accusing | convicting without evidence is exactly what Nazi's did to Jews.

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"FOUND RESPONSIBLE" - penalty for the innocent posted on

What some consider "only" one year suspension from college for those "found responsible" is quite often, in today’s academic environment, the penalty for the innocent. In most cases, if a student is found "responsible" this involves more bad judgement on his part than sexual assault) . Period!

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Anonymous posted on

Well then he would have gotten a valuable lesson from Columbia ("World's great university - chuckle) free of charge. Think with the other head. That is the lesson.

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