April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

On Monday afternoon, CU Dems Member and Bwog Events Editor Lexie Lehmann attended an open lunch with Marjory Fisher, Columbia’s Title IX Coordinator. The event was hosted in honor of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Yesterday, Columbia Democrats hosted a public lunch meeting as an opportunity to discuss the resources available to students on Columbia’s campus, as well as to address concerns about how Title IX might change during the Trump administration. As the group nibbled on some gourmet Westside-Italian catering, Ms. Fisher introduced herself as well as her colleagues, Sarah Swan, a representative from Columbia Law School and Jeri Henry, Associate Vice President of Columbia’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Ms. Fischer explained that before coming to Columbia, she was the Senior Managing Director of the Sexual Misconduct Consulting & Investigations Division at T&M Protection Resources. Before that, she was the Bureau Chief of the Special Victims Bureau in the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

Marjory Fisher began by explaining the history of Title IX, reminding us that it used to be just a protocol regarding sports equity. Under the Obama administration, however, Title IX was reinterpreted to address gender-based discrimination at private and public schools receiving federal funding. Columbia University, for example, receives around 1 billion dollars annually from the federal government. The purpose of the Title IX office, therefore, is to ensure that all complaints of misconduct are addressed through quick and thorough investigations.

After the introduction, one CU Dems representative, Joanna Cohen ‘20, began the question and answer period. She asked what student activists could, or should, be doing, to maintain the standards of Title IX under the Trump administration. Marjory’s answer was that Columbia’s commitment to funding gender-equity initiatives has been unfaltering in light of the Trump administration; in recent years, Henry added that Columbia has even committed to funding a vast expansion of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards so that it encompasses all of Columbia’s graduate and undergraduate schools. This vast expansion even required the onboarding of 9 new staff members in a single year.

As for the country’s political situation, Fisher reassured that New York students are also protected underneath New York State’s legislation, “Enough is Enough”. This legislation effectively mirrors Title IX to protect all New York students in licensed public and private institutions across the state. Henry and Swan agreed; while the language of Title IX may not change under the country’s new leadership – enforcement of the language may, but Columbia students can be assured that the University has their best interests at heart.

Swan presented the idea of Title IX as “a floor” rather than a ceiling – a level at which equity standards must meet at minimum, although we would perhaps aspire for them to be higher. Marjory continued with this point by talking about the anxiety of a lot of schools with pending lawsuits for Title IX violations, lawsuits that — at the extreme — could result in a university’s loss of their federal funding. Due to the severity of these consequences, many schools have been bending over backwards to comply to the standards put down by the Department of Education, standards that Fisher, Swan, and Henry alike speculated might sink lower under Trump.

As for advice for young activists, Fisher recommends that students call their representatives and spread awareness of these issues on campus. She suggests that we stay informed, and to hold the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education accountable for their actions. And while New York State might be more supportive than other states, the mechanisms for these operations are still difficult and complicated.

Towards the end of the talk, Ms. Henry reminded the group that there are lots of resources available to Columbia students who believe they are struggling and in need of help. The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, for one, encompasses a huge interconnected network of support systems that are all available to students in need. In addition, Columbia is in frequent professional communication with other schools in New York State to discuss and interpret Title IX guidelines as they are updated.

Finally, Ms. Swan ensured that Title IX offenses do not just occur on college campuses, and that sexual harassment and assault can occur on a number of levels as well as in private and public institutions. With that in mind, students concerned about these issues should reach out to other like-minded communities at other levels and other locations to ensure that activists are connecting and collaborating. Afterwards, Fischer ended with a conclusion that if there are other student or athletic groups that would like to meet with her or hear from her about Columbia’s Title IX policies, she encourages them to reach out to her and request a meeting.

Columbia University’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards can be found at the following link: http://studentconduct.columbia.edu/index.html
More information about Columbia’s Title IX policies and the Office of the Title IX Coordinator can be found at the following link: https://sexualrespect.columbia.edu/columbias-title-ix-coordinator

Image via CU Dems