Columbia Spectator

Columbia recently instituted a (mandatory) “sexual respect education” program in which students have several options to fulfill the requirement.

One of these options, “consider[ing] the topic of sexual respect through various artistic mediums,” has left some wondering about its “ability to teach students about sexual assault prevention.”

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

According to Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg, the arts option is meant to appeal to diverse learning styles while yielding material that can continue a conversation about sexual respect.

“Every student has a capacity to create a piece of art,” social work professor Rogério Pinto—who co-chairs a committee formed to design the arts option—said at a Columbia College Student Council meeting two weeks ago. “We can express a lot of thoughts and feelings by critically thinking about a particular subject and then creating a piece of art.”

Still, some students on a working group of students, faculty, and administrators that advised Goldberg on the program have expressed concern that making a video, writing a poem, or creating a painting are less effective ways to teach students about sexual respect than other workshops.

“There’s really no mechanism to say whether or not a student actually digested the material,” working group member Abby Porter, CC ’17, said. “It’s not that students at Columbia aren’t incredibly smart, it’s just that talking about this requires a dialogue.”

Well, it seems the “learning style” craze has reached beyond the realm of lower education.

Another member of that working group, Nick Wolferman, agrees with Ms. Porter on the “need for required dialogue”: “For our purposes, to self-impose a community standard revolving on self-respect—the workshops should have been the sole and primary means through which we did that.”

It isn’t enough, you see, that the school required this new program; you have to fulfill its mandate the “right” way!

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The Columbia Daily Spectator student newspaper will no longer provide comment sections for articles dealing with sexual assault.

Columns dealing with the topic dating back to May of last year also will have their comment sections closed.

Spectrum (a section of the Spectator) reports:

We value the many comments readers have on our stories. When done thoughtfully, comments can further conversations in ways that add insights and provide new perspectives to our stories. Moreover, comments are the most direct way for readers to give feedback to Spectator, which is central to our ongoing goal to improve our coverage.

However, the comments on our opinion pieces related to sexual assault have not been used for these purposes. Instead, anonymous commenters and internet trolls have used this space to spread hate, vitriol, and ad hominem attacks on writers and members of our community rather than offering commentary on the content of the piece or on the complex issue of how to address sexual assault on our campus.

Surprisingly, the comments are open at the Spectrum article, and there’s plenty of folks letting the Spectator know how they feel about the new policy.

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The results of last year’s Barnard College “campus climate survey” have been made public, and twenty percent of the students who took it noted they had been sexually assaulted “in some form.”

Barnard is a private women’s institution.

The survey also asked about “[student] awareness of campus resources for mental and physical health and their experiences with harassment and discrimination based on race, sexuality, and gender.”

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

… 95 percent of students who took the survey indicated they would file an official report through at least one of the available mechanisms, only 50 percent reported awareness of the Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment.

Barnard has administered the campus climate survey to the student body since 2012, and this year’s results were announced the night before Thursday’s town hall will be hosted by Barnard’s Student Government Association to discuss the campus climate.

“It is important to note that this survey was tailored to the Barnard campus. As a result, any comparison of the Barnard survey results to other published data is not practical because there is not a uniform measure currently in use,” the survey states. “Rather, the Barnard results can be helpful for benchmarking Barnard student experiences across years here at the College, such as assessing awareness of resources and likelihood to report information.”

The survey notes that it’s unknown whether the sexual assaults actually took place on campus, and what relationship the victim of the assault had (if any) with the perpetrator.

Two of the questions used to determine “sexual assault” were

  • “Had unwanted sex play or sexual intercourse because you were under the influence of alcohol or other substances?”


  • “Given in to sexual play (fondling, kissing, touching, but not intercourse) when you didn’t want to because you were overwhelmed by the other person’s arguments and/or pressure?”

Read the full Spectator article and Barnard survey report.

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IMAGE: Nicoel Mitchell-Duff/Flickr

As promised, Columbia unveiled its new “sexual respect” program today via emails sent out by various college deans.

Students will have approximately one month to complete the program through various options, and failure to do so can result in holds in future registrations or even one’s diploma.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

“The essence of this initiative is to reinforce that community citizenship is a critical part of being a Columbia student at any school, and that sexual respect is integral to what it means to be a member of this community,” Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg, who spearheaded the program’s development, told Spectator in an interview.

One option includes a series of hour-long workshops facilitated by Sexual Violence Response that will each focus on one theme, such as intimate partner violence, healthy relationships, or support for survivors of sexual assault.

“Students are at different levels of interest, experience, and engagement with these issues already,” Goldberg said. “The initiative offers a variety of participation options to, in effect, meet students where they are.”

In addition, a “media initiative” will provide students with prompts and questions in order to consider the topic of sexual respect through various artistic mediums.

According to Goldberg, this choice will allow students to engage with sexual respect issues in a creative way, enable further conversation by discussing the resulting artwork, and create material that can be used in future prevention programming.

Projects must “represent a good-faith effort to address the topic,” may not be sexually explicit, and may not comment on specific individuals without their consent, Goldberg said. Student participants will also be required to submit a statement alongside their works.

Before creating their own projects, students will be required to view three artistic representations listed on CourseWorks, including “A Needed Response,” a video made by two University of Oregon students in response to the Steubenville rape sentencing.

The program was constructed by a group “comprised of students, faculty, and administrators from across the University, including members of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence and No Red Tape.”

There’s no word if there will be any workshops about false (rape) accusations, basic due process rights, and/or comprehensive reviews of the Duke lacrosse case and the recent University of Virginia imbroglio.

Interestingly, the Columbia-affiliated Barnard College, an all-female institution, has opted not to participate in the program. Two of its deans said they needed “more information about the requirement’s content and implementation before making it mandatory …”

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IMAGE: Floyd Brown/Flickr

This coming Monday, Columbia will announce a new requirement: Students will have until March 13 to complete a “sexual respect” education program.

Failure to do so could result in “diploma or registration holds.”

Students will have a choice of four options to fulfill the requirement, “including participating in an hour-long workshop, watching and discussing short films, and submitting anonymous reflection pieces on two separate TED talks.”

Pieces of art or poetry related to the topic can also be submitted.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

The program — which will be officially announced on Monday as the University’s first community citizenship initiative — was announced by Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm and graduate hall directors in meetings with the staff of each residential area over the past two weeks.

“[Administrators] want to be very effective by having people get something out of it, but they understand everyone is really busy,” one RA said.

While students may fulfill the requirement with any of these options, they will be encouraged to participate in a workshop, which will focus on one of a few topics such as healthy relationships and bystander intervention.

No Red Tape prevention coordinator Michela Weihl, BC ’17, said that while the program should offer choices to students, these options should not differ in how much work they require or how much information they convey.

“A lot of the options being offered are pretty visibly less effort, and when you offer students a choice … unless they’re deeply invested already, they’re going to choose what’s going to take them less time,” Weihl said.

There appears to be some confusion, however, as to the “mandatory nature” of the program. The Spectator notes that Dean Kromm had informed RAs last week that the program would not be required. But later, an RA met with the dean and informed her that “many RAs in the [first] meeting expressed concerns about enforcing student participation without requiring it.”

“The sentiment wasn’t that we, RAs, wanted to add it as a requirement,” the RA said. “We thought that students might not partake if there might not be follow up.”

RAs who had meetings this week said that they were informed the program was mandatory.

The College Fix reached out to Spectator writer Giulia Olsson and the paper’s editor for clarification; however, neither responded.

An RA offers up a money quote for the new program: “Someone who doesn’t understand what rape is and thinks this is bullshit would most likely not participate — and those are the people that need to be reached.”

One might think that someone who has the brains to gain entrance into an Ivy League school would know what rape is.

Then again, based on past and recent evidence, one wonders if even those in charge at our universities know its definition.

At any rate, Columbia sure had an interesting week.

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Columbia University’s new “gender-based misconduct policy” and associated procedures for responding to campus sexual-assault allegations have garnered criticism from a coalition of victim advocacy groups.

The groups claim they were not consulted during the revision process despite their efforts for at least a year pushing the university to alter how it responds to sexual assault.

The revised policy stands out for allowing both accuser and accused to retain advisers such as lawyers, and for seeking to get people with “relevant legal training” – such as judges – to serve on hearing panels.

The Huffington Post reported that “a small collection of students” met with the university president’s special adviser in early August and was “informed a new policy would be unveiled” that same week. “Students were not given copies of the policy and not provided an opportunity to give feedback.”

rapeGroups “submitted pages of policy proposals … made pleas for reform on national television and the front pages of newspapers,” said No Red Tape Columbia, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault, Title IX Team and Take Back The Night of Barnard College in a statement published in the Columbia Spectator.

“We have repeatedly requested meetings with top administrators,” yet all such efforts “have been rejected or ignored,” they said.

The changes to the policy are “largely an effort to ensure their baseline compliance with the recently enacted” Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act and Department of Education regulations, the group said, but “does not reflect students’ needs, and changes made are not adequate to ensure student safety.”

Most of the changes to the policy modify the previous adjudication and sanctioning processes for sexual assault cases.

One of the most notable changes is the removal of students from hearing panels, which were previously comprised of one student and two university officials.

Under the new rules, panels “will generally have three members drawn from a small group of specially-trained University student affairs administrators,” and “in certain matters, the University may include retired judges, lawyers or other individuals with relevant experience and special training.”

Another new stipulation allows for both the victim and alleged assailant to choose an adviser, which can even be an attorney, to “support the student and provide advice about the investigation and disciplinary process.”

The renamed Gender-Based Misconduct Office gets several new positions under the revision: three case managers “who will serve as a neutral point person for both complainants and respondents throughout the adjudication process”;  six new staff positions in the Office of Sexual Violence Response;  and two more Title IX investigators, for four total, according to the Spectator.

One thing that remains unchanged is the “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof that hearing panels use to determine violations. This means an alleged assailant can be found responsible if the hearing panel is “convinced based on the information it considers that the respondent was more likely than not to have engaged in the conduct at issue.”

The coalition’s letter in the Spectator, among other things, faults the lack of “clear or useful sanctioning guidelines” in the new procedures, failure to “sufficiently improve the training for staff members who interact with survivors,” and the decision to leave appeals “in the hands of Deans with no expertise, inadequate training, and a clear bias.”

columbia-commencement.llee_wu.flickrVarious student groups have been pushing Columbia to revise how the university deals with sexual assault allegations at least since October, when the Columbia Democrats circulated a petition calling for the release of anonymous, aggregated campus sexual assault statistics.

Initially, officials from the university refused to disclose the statistics, but ultimately reversed its decision in January under pressure from students and the advocacy groups.

The Student Action Committee of Columbia University issued a statement in January requesting the university “clarify and initiate any needed reforms to the adjudication process within the Office of Gender-Based Misconduct,” and the university agreed to a town hall on March 14 with the advocacy groups, students, faculty and administrators.

Further, in April, a group of 23 Columbia and Barnard students jointly filed a federal complaint against the university for violating Title IX, Title II and the Clery Act.

Despite these allegations, Columbia is not one of the 72 universities and colleges currently being investigated by the Department of Education, according to statistics released to The College Fix.

The new policy notes that student groups “may provide additional input throughout the coming academic year.”

The Columbia policy follows a bevy of recent federal legislation addressing sexual-assault investigations on campus, most prominently the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act , as The College Fix has reported.

Critics of the legislation, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argue that the bill does not protect due process rights of alleged sexual assaulters or provide them with equal resources as victims of alleged sexual violence.

College Fix contributor Julianne Stanford is a student at the University of Arizona.

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IMAGES: Ville Miettinen/Flickr, llee_wu/Flickr