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Group Files Title IX And Other Complaints Against Columbia

no red tapeIt’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 CUis 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.”

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  • CC 15 says:

    @CC 15 WOW. This is crazy.

    1. carly rae jepsen says:

      @carly rae jepsen But here’s my number. So call me maybe.

  • No more tolerating rapists says:

    @No more tolerating rapists Good.

  • Finally says:

    @Finally This is what needs to happen for the University to take REAL steps to make changes to their policies. I applaud all of those who have the will and courage to speak up about this issue.

  • where is says:

    @where is the link to the actual complaint that was filed?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous It’s confidential, as these complaints always are. Only the relevant government offices will see it. Lots and lots of personal accounts and details that the complainants don’t want to share with the public, for good reason.

  • Broad.abr says:

    @Broad.abr Nice to see people finally using the legal system. Who would have guessed that Columbia Private Justice© wouldn’t work? I understand why people don’t want to get the NYPD involved, but when the only alternative is Bollinger’s Ass-Covering Brigade the NYPD doesn’t seem so bad.

    1. i'm going to hell says:

      @i'm going to hell Upvoted for “Columbia Private Justice©” and “Bollinger’s Ass-Covering Brigade”

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The Yard strikes yet again!

  • anonymous says:

    @anonymous Glad to see this in the spotlight. I am a parent of a woman assaulted on campus…the university systematically did everything they could to silence my daughter, starting with campus police pressuring her not to press charges. She insisted on calling the NYPD while the RAs spent the evening trying to talk her out of it. Disgusting. The University knew we didn’t have the means to challenge them in court (ie, she was a scholarship kid and we didn’t have the money to challenge Columbia in a legal battle) so we agreed not to pursue anything legally as long as they no longer allowed coed, same sex bathrooms and shower areas. We agreed, naively, hoping this would prevent another girl being assaulted. In the meantime, my daugher pursued justice in court, and won (felony conviction) yet the University refused to release any records or statements made to campus police or any documentation to the DA before the trial. The convicted felon graduated. I’m off to dig up the emails from Columbia that document this refusal.

    1. co-ed bathrooms says:

      @co-ed bathrooms don’t create sexual assaults.

      1. anonymous says:

        @anonymous you’re right, creepers do and its easier for them to get in a shower area with naked girls

    2. Alexander Pines says:

      @Alexander Pines As an FYI, most of Columbia’s gender neutral bathrooms are (and will be in upcoming renovations) single-person, private rooms that are accessible to all regardless of gender identity or presentation.

  • This is the price says:

    @This is the price we pay for Columbia’s ranking: hypocrisy and silence.

  • anonymous says:

    @anonymous True. Bathrooms do not. Vulnerable, defenseless, naked woman in bathroom with permitted, unquestioned access by said male made it much easier for assault to occur. That said, glad to see Columbia making gender neutral bathrooms available…slow progress, though. Geez.

  • @Cindy Hawkins Legorreta Way to go with those complaints! Years ago, right after 9/11 I resumed my education, enrolling at Columbia, SGS. Being an older student I really put my heart into it. When the inevitable day came that the stress of working a job in the real world, while maintaining a 3.7 GPA finally melted me down in public I imploded, in tears during an exam. A wise, caring advisor at Lewisohn brought me over to Lerner, where I was given some interim counseling – they referred me to therapy. Not being insured, as a part time, adult student I had no health coverage at my job. Moreover I was totally candid about that. Columbia kept urging me to follow the counseling option up. I reminded them I had no insurance and my income was so meager I could not pay for anything whatever. After about nine hours in various sessions, I was told, when all was said and done that: I had ‘misunderstood the terms of counseling”, excluded from any further sessions based on an inability to pay (interesting, it was $1000 a credit at the time, and of course all my fees were still due, before I could register for the upcoming term). I was mailed a nice packet of papers, for to free/low cost PSYCH clinics around the City, and ‘best wishes for your continued academic progress.” I had to go elsewhere to get well – and I did. I left Columbia, and with a very bad taste in my mouth. Furthermore, I am willing to bet a year’s pay that the services I so desperately needed back then are STILL not in place for any student in need of same at Columbia in 2014: be it counseling, post crisis care, mental health intervention, whatever. I am disappointed to hear that the situation continues to the present day. But not at all surprised. Shame on you, Ivy League.

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