CU Dems have been circulating a petition calling for information on how Columbia deals with sexual assault. “Transparency” is a word we hear thrown around pretty often, so truth seeker Joseph Rosales interviewed Austin Heyroth, CC’15, VP of the Dems, for some details.
Bwog: Can you give a quick intro to the petition and the campaign, maybe talk about why/how transparency can improve safety?
Austin: We started looking into Columbia’s sexual assault policy last year after a number of students privately expressed concerns with the policy and the lack of transparency about how it works. Most of the people we talked with were worried that Columbia might have the same issues that a number of other colleges and universities have been in the news for–things like incredibly lax punishments for offenders, like what we’ve seen at Yale, or that the punishments that are put in place can be changed by a single person in the administration.
Columbia also hasn’t released any estimates of the true rate of sexual assaults on campus. It doesn’t provide any information on how Public Safety officers are trained to respond to sexual assaults or support survivors. Another related issue that we’re dealing with, but that isn’t part of the petition, is that the Rape Crisis Center is at Barnard–meaning that any non-Barnard students who need to go there need to talk with a (generally male) security guard, give the guard an ID with their name, and tell the guard that they’re going to the Rape Crisis Center. Obviously that process could be incredibly difficult and stressful for someone who is a survivor or victim.
Bwog: Why has there been trouble getting transparency on such an important issue? What have been the administration’s responses thus far?
Austin: Columbia doesn’t release enough information for students to know it these issues are present here, whether Columbia’s policy is working, or if it needs to be reformed. Right now students have no way of knowing if Columbia is fulfilling its obligations to promote student safety and are completely in the dark about a lot of important issues. If the problems that are present at a huge number of other colleges are also issues here, the only way for the community to try to address those issues is with the information we’re asking for.
We’ve talked with several administrators in the Office of Gender Based Misconduct and the Rape Crisis Center. While they haven’t refused our request, its clear that this issue isn’t a priority for them. It’s taken us weeks to get meetings scheduled, and in the meantime many of our emails aren’t responded to. We’ve repeatedly asked for a timeline or some indication of if and when they plan on releasing this information, and we haven’t received any response. We think the best way to get the administration to take this issue seriously is to show that students are hugely concerned by it and think that transparency and accountability need to be a priority.
Bwog: Who will the petition ultimately be presented to?
Austin: We plan on delivering these signatures to the Office of Gender Based Misconduct, CU’s Title IX Coordinator, the Equal Opportunity Office, and the Rape Crisis Center.
Interview edited for clarity.