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A Campus Conversation on Sexual Assault

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Read below for information on Columbia’s progress surrounding gender-based misconduct. Visit the University website on Sexual Respect for updates, including two recently created video clips, one with Professor Suzanne Goldberg, Special Advisor on Sexual Assault Prevevention and La'Shawn Rivera, Director of the new Sexual Violence Response & Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center.

You can also view Columbia College's answers to alumni’s Frequently Asked Questions.

In recent months, the news has been filled with stories focused on sexual assault at colleges and universities across the nation. While not a new issue on campuses or in society at large, sexual assault on campuses has come under greater scrutiny recently, leading to the formation of a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Students on Columbia’s campus voiced their own concerns early on, helping to prompt a public discussion at Columbia among students, alumni, faculty, administrators and other community members about what more Columbia should do to protect and support victims, prevent incidents from occurring and create a stronger culture of respect, responsibility and well-being for our students. Through several open forums in spring 2014 and a succession of articles and opinion pieces in Spectator, on Bwog, and in local and national media, the Columbia community has learned about details of individual cases, heard philosophical arguments around the concept of “rape culture” and been presented passionate opinions on the institution’s role in handling this issue in a way that can satisfy students’ myriad needs while upholding a standard of fairness and integrity.

Although it may be obvious to many, it is still important to clearly state that any form of gender-based misconduct or sexual assault is intolerable and unacceptable at Columbia. And while Columbia’s response to what is happening in this area is a University-wide process that affects students of all 16 schools, Columbia College is a focal point as our students make up a large percentage of our undergraduate population.

The undergraduate years are precious and formative. Any violation upon students’ ability to fully experience the joys, discoveries and camaraderie of college impedes their opportunity to learn and to develop as individuals. As such, along with the meaningful enhancements the University has recently made to existing policy, process and resources for gender-based misconduct and sexual assault, still needed is the ability to focus on strengthening the culture of our community to prevent violations in any form. At this year’s Convocation, which welcomed the Class of 2018, Dean James J. Valentini told parents, “Your children become mine for the next four years. I love them, not the way you, their parents can, but I do, for they are the treasure of the dean.” He also spoke of the Core Curriculum as cultivating a way of living that is deliberative and conscious of the values that inform any decision. In doing so, he quoted Aristotle: “Our activities are… what determine the character of life,” and Gandhi: “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.”

Starting this year, with the Class of 2018, a new, mandatory segment was added to Orientation that focused on prevention and included two hours of content that focused on sexual violence, gender-based misconduct and the definition of consent, now defined as “Yes Is Yes” or “enthusiastic consent.” In line with the White House’s campaign “It’s On Us,” Columbia also has already introduced its version of a bystander-intervention student program, “CU Step Up,” which encourages community members to take steps to stop inappropriate behaviors and activities when they see them.

The College is taking a leadership role in exploring other educational programs for all students that can elevate the campus conversation and instill clear ideals in our students’ minds about their roles as leaders and the duties that come with leadership. The role of staff and administration is crucial as well, as they are partners in embracing and fostering an environment where open conversation, differing ideas and constant change are welcome and in fact, encouraged. As a result, Valentini is expanding opportunities for College students to interact and converse with him. In addition to continuing “Dine with Deantini” gatherings, opportunities to lunch and talk with the Dean, he has also begun a series of visits to residence halls and dining halls to hear from a broader population of College students. More updates will be forthcoming though The Dean’s Blog.

Listed below are some highlights of the recent changes to Columbia’s policy and resources regarding gender-based misconduct and sexual assault. In addition, the College has created a Frequently Asked Questions page for alumni.

  • Naming of Suzanne Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, as Special Advisor to the President on Sexual Assault and Response
  • Creation of an Executive Vice President of Student Affairs role, which will have a key role in preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus as well as in the oversight of adjudication; recruitment for this position is underway.
  • Charging the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault with developing an ongoing, multi-year, comprehensive plan to address sexual assault within our community
  • Addition of a second Sexual Violence Response and Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center in Alfred Lerner Hall at the beginning of the Fall semester and adding six educators and advocates in the Sexual Violence Response office
  • Creation of a centralized Gender-Based Misconduct Office, which conducts investigations; manages the hearing, sanctioning and appeals process; and supports students with case managers who can help them navigate the process
  • Adding three case manager positions and four investigator positions
  • Making special accommodations available immediately for students who lodge a complaint or are respondents, including housing, academic or work scheduling; the ability to withdraw from academic courses without penalty; and the issuance of a “no contact” order
  • Hearing Panel participants are now chosen from a select group of trained administrators and will receive annual training and training prior to any case on content, as well as how to interact with students in the adjudication process
  • Expansion of Orientation to include three hours of mandatory training, both on the definition of consent and resources available to students as well as on bystander intervention
  • Introduction of a bystander intervention program, “CU Step Up,” to encourage students to focus on their responsibility to help others, in line with the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign