Mar

13

Town Hall: CU Sexual Violence And Rape Culture

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***Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual assault policy, and issues of sexual assault and gender-based sexual misconduct on campus.***

Taylor Grasdalen updates for Bwog on tonight’s Town Hall discussion of policies at Columbia University, held at the Law School. Updated below with the transcript.

5:02 pm: We’re in Jerome Greene Hall, room 103. Things are quieting down. We’re getting started. The room is completely full of students and students in suits, as well as the table of administrators.

5:04 pm:  Terry Martinez and Matthew Chow have just introduced themselves, and Dean Valentini now speaks. He wants to thank the students for their input and concerns. The purpose of tonight is to listen and share information of the current policies on campus, and answer students’ submitted questions. Deantini hopes to answer questions as fully as possible, only limited to the protection of students’ identities. Dean Awn, Dean Boyce, Dean Hinkson, and Dean Hartford introduce themselves and each thank the crowd, mention the importance of education. Dean Hinkson brings up the recent efforts of the SGA.

5:15 pm: Student speaker emphasizes privacy of tonight’s space, protection of identities, and protection of students’ statements. Dean Martinez mentions the counseling services especially available today during and after the event. Amy Zavadil, Michael Dunn, Melissa Rooker, Jeri Henry, Samuel Seward, and La’Shawn Rivera — those administrators who will be mainly speaking — introduce themselves.

 5:20 pm: Amy Zavadil, the Associate Dean for Equity and Barnard’s Title IX coordinator, speaks about expanding prevention education. She says that the school is absolutely obligated to help student survivors of assault, and explain the process of help and the school’s complete accommodations available to survivors. She emphasizes understanding of the process.

5:21-32 pm: Michael Dunn stands to engage in this conversation with students. He states that his first priority is the safety and the rights of the survivor, to be responded to and investigated safely and promptly. He stresses the faculty and administration’s duty to report issues. He clarifies that “misconduct” entails any of the following: sexual assault, gender-based harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence, whether that is nonconsensual intercourse or nonconsensual contact.

The “process” begins with a complainant lodging allegations against a respondent, whom the complainant identifies. The Assistant Director at Student Services then meets with the survivor to ensure the student’s understanding of the school’s policies, and the options available to them, whatever steps they’d like to take. He goes on to say how interim measures in the “process” may include removing the respondent from the complainant’s residence hall, classes, or other places where contact might take place. Dunn emphasizes that when a case begins, it is up to the student to take that case as far as they like, but that Columbia must continue to investigate in order to protect the community. Dunn takes a sip of water, mentions how he feels like Michael Rubio.

He discusses interview process. He says that the report is in order to fully understand what happened, and to document all that each party would like to say. The respondent then either accepts responsibility or denies, from which point a hearing panel may begin. Those on the panel are of course completely unaffiliated with the students, and such hearings are closed and each side’s statements are private. The hearing panel will decide whether to charge a student, and how to “sanction” the initial, alleged respondent. Such sanction is chiefly determined by other existing disciplinary violations.

The last part of the process is the possible appeal, which is sent to the dean of the college of the respondent. An appeal may begin based on a procedural error, substantive new evidence becoming available, or the parties’ disagreement over the severity of the sanction.

5:35 pm: USenators briefly discuss the importance of advocacy, consent education, and informing the students and faculty of all changes.

5:39 pm: Seward begins to discuss staffing of the Rape Crisis Center, specifically during NSOP week. He says that is committed to address the issue of its staffing. He, too, discusses what effects moving the Center from Barnard might mean, and how we might avoid impediments in the future. Rivera continues Seward’s statements, and stresses further the “conversations” that need to happen.

5:43 pm: Matthew Chow and Terry Martinez want to review policies, and mention implementing medium- and long-term reforms. They want to increase student representation, and streamline who will officially look at policies. Rooker wants to include in orientation prevention education, as well as policy education. I’ve stopped tallying the use of the word “education.” Students will now begin to ask questions.

5:51 pm: We begin with a question submitted online, paraphrased: How can members of the community expect updates, and how timely will responses be? Martinez says that she is committed to timely updates (not necessarily every week, but more than once a semester), feedback, and the collaborative effort. She will be updating policy and decisions as they decide them. Chow says that the updates will include information from survivors, as well.

One student brings up the idea of 24/7 access to aid. Seward says that this may come as stressful parts of the year, specifically “the NSOP issue” and select other times of the year. He does say that such offices are often staffed by students who “have lives”; “there are other resources available in the community,” however, too.

In response to Seward, a student states how not all might feel comfortable leaving Columbia — going to St. Luke’s, for example — and takes issue with his suggestion.

Another student brings up the issue of training. Rooker discusses the many specific trainers and investigators available on campus and in respective departments, the Title IX trainings required, and so on. Zavadil discusses Barnard’s trainers, and much of the administration’s “background in training.” She says that they do bring professional backgrounds in training. The same student asks if this must be the same kind of background, but Rooker stresses how there is actually a diversity.

5:56 pm: A student brings up the consistency of the process, and the process of appeals. Jeri Henry reiterates the process of appeal that Dunn discusses. Henry mostly discusses how the specific facts of each case are considered, despite the consistency of appeals’ consideration.

6:02 pm: A question submitted online regarding students’ feedback on their experience with the process. Barnard snaps throughout the room. Rooker says that she and Zavadil would like to hear back directly from students. Zavadil states that depending on the level of authority of the administrator the student dealt with, the student can speak to someone relatively higher.

Question on selection of hearing panels. What does training for the panel look like? Dunn responds that they want experienced panel members, as well as student voices. A “schedule crunch” may preclude special, more careful selection of the panel. Dunn says that panel members must be trained for each panel. Who does the “call” go out to? (To join a panel?) The deans of schools reach out to students they identify as good possible candidates.

Question on NSOP and consent education workshops. Rooker discusses education for all the schools of Columbia, for which she’d also like to mandate bystander intervention and more specific workshops. Zavadil adds information about Barnard’s own specific NSOP policy and consent education.

6:08 pm: What is the policy within the University for a student whose grades are struggling based on their experiences? Dunn says that they work with a student and their academic advisor first. They ask the student’s professors to “give them breathing room” as they recover from their trauma. He discusses the options for students — leaves of absence, for example — but clarifies that there are steps they can take if the student remains in school. Zavadil states how they like to be proactive about preventing academic issues, as well, engaging with survivors and supporting through their recovery.

Another student brings up how the NSOP education is essentially optional, relative to other schools’ many required courses, workshops, and so on. Rivera brings up how they would like to pilot, possibly beginning this fall, a more regimented education.

6:17 pm: A student brings up awareness of other programs’ existence, beside those at Columbia, like the partnership with the Crime Victims Treatment Center. Rivera says that they do currently share outside resources — with which they do also “partner” and can refer students — and that they wish to continue establishing further relationships. Zavadil mentions that these resources are available online, as well.

A student brings up those text and email alerts students receive, however untimely. Zavadil begins to answer, but the student clarifies that many schools across the country successfully employ reports, which are  in fact “legally required.” Martinez says that she believes they are compliant with timely reports for students. Moving on.

Question on the peer-to-peer education model. Rivera does want to continue such process, but says they are making changes to their student selection process, integrating face-to-face interviews — did this not exist before? — and wants to implement “other changes.”

Question on the staffing of the Rape Crisis Center. Is there any move toward a more professional staff, or are they happy with the volunteers? No one responds for a moment, but Seward braves the question. He can’t imagine a world in which there aren’t volunteers….

6:24 pm: One student brings up the “pattern of behavior” issue, as so many campus offenders have offended before — citing the recent White House statements. Henry responds that the “pattern of behavior” is just one piece of it, as these cases are “incredibly dense.” She says that, indeed, suspension or expulsion are sanctions reasonable for many students’ misconduct. Henry states that within one’s “social circle,” there may be one same perpetrator, and stresses the importance of coming forward about such a person’s behavior in order to protect the community.

The students elaborates on the question. Henry says that giving allegations their due process is necessary. Martinez hurries along the Town Hall.

6:28 pm: Question on deans’ and faculty training in sexual assault issues. Henry says that it’s something they are “going to do” — no required training yet necessarily implemented. The same student asks how can a student trust the process when there is so much inconsistency and bias amongst administrators. Martinez says that the student is posing her question in a way intentionally difficult to answer. The student responds that impartiality seems difficult, and Henry says that Columbia response is ethically bound to be as unbiased as possible. It doesn’t seem like anyone is satisfied by those answers. Martinez keeps bringing up the time.

6:40 pm: A student brings up how some students who bring their cases to Columbia and choose to go elsewhere still question their exact rights in the process. Seward tries to respond. Some students feel pressured to follow specific paths, and that going through CPS has left many students questioning their rights and options. Zavadil responds on behalf of Barnard, bringing up the importance of confidentiality and making students as comfortable as possible within the process and in their choices.

One more question, perhaps. We have 24/7 libraries — why can’t we have 24/7 medical services and crisis centers? Seward says that they hear the request, but that he must bring it back to the entire community to make the decision, wants to hear a “unified” decision on it first. The same student asks if there is any reason the community might respond in the negative, but Seward…and then Martinez…running out of time…well, they heard the student, Martinez says as the student walks away requesting such a 24/7 service.

One more question. This time for real. What do we do to address the whole community and change the culture? Many of the administrators try to respond to this one, but Rivera talks about new curriculum — which of course hasn’t launched yet — and how they’d like to integrate that in the future, since there’s no “one size fits all” approach. She’s getting off topic in her response. Martinez looks like she wants to bring up the time again.

Anonymous follow-up to a quick mention of Greek life before: some fraternities have mandated consent workshops. They thought we should know. Rivera wants to point out that this is great.

6:40 pm: Not done yet, actually. Another question for Rivera to respond to, and she again brings up consent workshops.

6:44 pm: Official last question: Do you think we’re really Title IX compliant? Silence.

Dunn takes this one. There is no set government standard, he lets us know, but rather a “spirit of Title IX” to follow. Zavadil says that however we’re doing relative to Title IX, we can always do better. “Title IX is the floor,” she says.

One more question. We have an online alcohol course. Could there be an online course on sexual assault, as well? This goes to Rivera. They’re open to ideas, but, sigh, this doesn’t seem likely. Seward says he wants to know that it would work, and “that’s really the challenge.” Zavadil says that Barnard has looked into such courses, and has not gone through one that has satisfied her yet, as there is so much nuance to sexual violence in every community that cannot be addressed by one specific course.

6:48 pm: Martinez closes the Town Hall after an agitated few questions passing the set end time. You can talk to any number of people or services if you have more questions. There will be a space tonight in Q House to follow up to tonight’s discussion.

Update: On March 26, Dean Martinez’s office posted a 63-page transcript of the Town Hall (PDF).

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10 Comments

  1. Anonymous  

    Uh there was way more to that timely alerts question than what you wrote, Taylor.

  2. Survivor  

    The timely alerts question made me very nervous -- I wasn't assaulted by another student, but if I was, I would never have felt comfortable coming forward to report if I thought an email about it was going to go to the whole campus. Sexual assaults are intensely traumatic personal experiences and I really don't think it's okay to broadcast people's stories like that.

    • Law Student  

      I agree!

      Also, I believe what the administrator from Barnard saying (before the student cut her off) was that the "timeliness" sometimes is complicated when a complainant comes forward -- because of many reasons -- with significant time after the actual incident.

  3. CC 15  

    I appreciate this concern and can definitely relate. Just wanted to let you know that timely warnings don't include identifying information or personal stories--they typically include the date, time, location, and general category of the incident (i.e. sexual assault, armed robbery, forcible fondling, etc.)

    A good example of a timely warning on sexual violence can be found here: http://now.uiowa.edu/2014/03/timely-warning

    Hope this helps clarify what that student is asking for, and how timely warnings can be compatible with survivors' safety, comfort, and confidentiality!

  4. Correction  

    Columbia no longer has an online alcohol course. AlcoholEDU ended (thankfully) last year. The RC@C program is part of what replaced it.

  5. anal culture

    can we all stop talking about this shit already? shut the fuck up it's annoying.

  6. anal culture

    this bwog alienates and demonizes straight men who have done nothing by leaving readers with the impression that only/all men are sexual assaulters. For that offense, I say FUCK YOU BWOG on behalf of all men.

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