It’s been a busy few months for the topic of sexual assault at Columbia. There have been protests and controversial responses, New York Post articles and Blue and White articles, one town hall and another town hall, and the significant use of our tag “sexual assault.”
The latest development: a group of 23 students under the name of “Our Stories CU” is filing Title IX, Title II, and Clery complaints against Columbia University for its handling of sexual assault on campus. On April 3, the same thing happened at Harvard. The press release below notes: “students allege that the university has failed to comply with federal laws to ensure equal access to education, respond adequately to reports of sexual assault, and provide accommodations based on disability status.”
Examples of the violations claimed by the group in their 100+ page complaint include allowing perpetrators found guilty to remain on campus, showing hostility to victims based on gender identity, and deterring a student placed on academic and disciplinary probation—allegedly for being a “mental health liability”—from receiving mental health services.
The press release continues that “Columbia is more willing to silence and punish survivors and their supporters than serial rapists.” Read the full text below the jump.
Update (4/25 11:30 am): Bwog also received a tip about a Title IX Teach-In today at 4 PM in 754 Schermerhorn Extension: “If you want to know more about Title IX, come to a teach-in TODAY with Annie Clark (End Rape on Campus), Elischia Fludd (a sexual assault policy advocate), Dana Bolger (Know Your IX), and Christina Brandt-Young (Legal Momentum).”
Update (6:00 pm): The University has released a statement regarding the complaint, noting that they have not seen it but are still committed to reforming current sexual assault policies on campus.
Update (4/25 5:30 pm): The Columbia Coalition Against Sexual Violence has released a statement on the recently filed complaints as follows:
The Coalition Against Sexual Violence fully supports the actions taken yesterday by survivors and complainants in filing Title IX, Title II, and Clery complaints against Columbia University and Barnard College. This year, the Coalition has advocated for serious changes to the resources, policies, and procedures for responding to sexual assault on this campus. While the changes we are advocating for will improve the process for the future, we want to emphasize that a federal complaint may be the only way for students whose cases were mishandled to have those cases reexamined. Moreover, we recognize that while many survivors and complainants are members of the Coalition, our policy work is not accessible to all survivors on campus. Our aim has always been to elevate survivor’s voices and this complaint highlights the diversity of students who are affected by sexual assault. These complaints demonstrate how urgently needed these changes are– every day that changes aren’t made, survivors on campus are being harmed by inadequate mental health and crisis resources, adjudication processes that fail to meet their needs, and a lack of access to housing and academic accommodations.
With this in mind, we unequivocally support these actions taken by students to make themselves safer on this campus. We want to reaffirm our commitment to continued reform to Columbia’s policies and to expanding the resources for survivors on campus. We will continue to push for progress and want to emphasize that this conversation cannot be put on hold while these complaints are being considered. Students need Columbia’s process to be reformed immediately and we support, encourage, and welcome any actions taken to ensure that necessary changes are made.
The official press release as follows:
Today, twenty-three students collectively filed federal complaints alleging violations of Title II, Title IX, and the Clery Act with the Department of Education against Columbia University, including Barnard, the affiliated women’s college. Title II is a part of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX is part of the Higher Education Act, amended in 1972. The students allege that the university has failed to comply with federal laws to ensure equal access to education, respond adequately to reports of sexual assault, and provide accommodations based on disability status. These violations include, but are not limited to:
- Survivors and alleged perpetrators are consistently treated unequally;
- Survivors are often discouraged from formally reporting;
- Perpetrators, who are often serial offenders, are consistently allowed to remain on campus.
- Inadequate disciplinary sanctions for perpetrators are commonplace, if they are disciplined at all;
- Survivors, student activists and journalists are retaliated against for speaking out about Columbia’s mishandling of sexual violence;
- Survivors and other students are discriminated against and denied accommodations based on mental health disability, including PTSD and depression;
- LGBTQ students face discrimination in counseling, advising, adjudication, & Greek life;
- Students are not notified of crimes which present a threat to campus as they should be under the Clery Act.
The experiences of these 23 students—who represent only a fraction of those affected–demonstrate Columbia’s pattern of mishandling sexual violence that results in a distinctly hostile environment. Below are some of the reported violations of federal law:
Allowing perpetrators, including those who have been found responsible, to remain on campus affects survivors’ mental health and academic performance on a daily basis. One survivor, terrified of running into her attacker and distracted from her academic life, received incompletes in half of her classes and was forced to withdraw from another with no University support. Another survivor writes that “because of Columbia’s incompetence, I was not able to pursue a just outcome on my own terms, and I continue to be triggered by my rapist’s presence on a weekly basis.”
One queer trans* survivor cited the university’s refusal to make academic accommodations they were entitled to under Title IX, doubting and devaluing their story on the basis of their gender identity. The student cited “general ignorance and hostility towards my gender identity…even [the] dismissal of my rape because it didn’t fit the normative ‘boy-rapes-girl’ narrative.”
A survivor who had previously been placed on disciplinary and academic probation because she was a mental health liability to the school was actively deterred from seeking counseling and health services. She was also denied mental health accommodations and threatened with expulsion. The survivor, Rakhi Agrawal, said “I was desperate. I tried to kill myself. I needed the support and protection of my Barnard community—but instead they put me on disciplinary probation for my suicide attempt.”
Two of the complainants, Emma Sulkowicz and Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, spoke at U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s press conference on sexual assault on college campuses earlier this month. They shared how their lives were impacted by sexual assault, highlighting how universities nationwide have failed to keep students safe.
As the 100+ page complaint illustrates, Columbia is more willing to silence and punish survivors and their supporters than serial rapists. Because of this reality, students have decided to file Title IX, Title II, Clery Act complaints to hold the university accountable for its deliberate mishandling of campus sexual violence and mental health. As survivor and complainant Cami Quarta declared, “I don’t trust the University to take my experience or my safety more seriously than they take their own public image.”