News Editor Eric Cohn raises some points of concern with Columbia’s new sexual respect program.
Recently, I contacted Dean Kromm asking her whether faculty and staff are required to go through any sort of sexual respect training, as is now required for students. In an official university statement from Associate Vice President for Media Relations Robert Hornsby, I learned that, although staff are required to go through some sort of sexual respect training, faculty are only “recommended” to do so. The university’s full statement can be read below:
“The first phase of the new sexual respect education program is geared to students. However, the University does require awareness and prevention training for staff on harassment and discrimination, which is also recommended for faculty. We are in process of reviewing and updating our training modules regarding this issue to best serve the entire campus community.”
My inquiry began after a tip sent to Bwog by a student who wished to remain anonymous alleging sexual harassment complaints against a particular professor since 2007. In addition to the concerns raised by student groups about Columbia’s new sexual respect program, this tip critiqued Columbia for its lack of a comprehensive sexual respect program for faculty and staff.
The tipster sent us a series of course reviews dating from 2003, highlighting the numerous complaints of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior from the professor. Our tipster requested that we omit the name of the professor and his department out of concern that the department might attempt to retaliate against her.
According to the reviews, the professor inquired daily about the designs on students’ shirts, which “made several of the female students uncomfortable.” He made “inappropriate comments about student’s attire (graphic shirts, jewelry etc.),” and even pointed out that “a student might be showing more than they want…when they bend over,” which students found “not appropriate.” The professor’s lectures were also apparently laden with “racist” comments and “offensive” references to “female intuition.”
Although these student complaints are certainly problematic, they also raise questions about the reach and effectiveness of Columbia’s new sexual respect program. And our tipster’s situation is by no means an isolated incident. Within the past few years, Columbia has faced legal action from several students alleging sexual harassment from professors. In 2012, a doctoral student sued the school for ignoring his complaints against a professor at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 2013, two former graduate students sued Columbia after President Bollinger’s office gave them “a runaround” following complaints against two senior Columbia faculty.
Although I recognize that the new sexual respect program is still in its early first phase, Columbia must recognize that sexual assault issues are not limited to students. Sexual harassment from professors is also a problem, and Columbia’s new efforts should address it.