Last week, it came to the attention of No Red Tape (NRT) that a member of the Student Governing Board leadership (SGB) is currently under investigation by the Student Conducts and Community Standards (SCCS) office for multiple allegations of sexual assault. These accusations include an alleged rape perpetrated against a general body member of NRT. SGB, as the umbrella organization responsible for managing Columbia student groups organized around religious, spiritual political, ideological, humanitarian, or activist concerns, is in charge of managing NRT’s funding, approving events, and controlling discipline, as well as other administrative responsibilities. Specifically, SGB requires all student groups in its domain to send representatives to the Town Hall meetings it holds at least once a semester, at the risk of cutting funding to the groups who do not attend.
Sources have confirmed that the accused individual was asked to leave his fraternity as a result of similar allegations, and has stepped down from other leadership positions on campus.
“For obvious reasons, we at No Red Tape are profoundly uncomfortable with this individual having any power or say in No Red Tape actions, funding, discipline, etc.,” a member of NRT wrote in an email to the group’s faculty advisor. Besides the responsibility that NRT’s leadership feels towards its members, this student explained, it constitutes a “wild conflict of interest” for an anti-sexual violence activist group to be required to attend meetings with an individual undergoing investigation for gender-based misconduct. They, therefore, asked that NRT be excused from Town Hall meetings at which this individual would be in attendance. The NRT member further requested that SGB student leadership, or the Columbia advisor in charge of SGB, “ask this individual to recuse himself from any and all decision-making related to No Red Tape, if there ever comes a time when SGB has to vote on a No Red Tape-related matter.”
This morning, the NRT member who wrote this email met with NRT’s and SGB’s faculty advisors to discuss the student’s concerns. At this meeting, it was agreed that the alleged perpetrator would be “quietly” removed from financial decisions involving NRT. However, it is less certain whether NRT can be exempt from Town Hall meetings. SGB’s advisor can make this request on the behalf of NRT, but if the advisor tells the reason for the request to the student chair of SGB who would actually make this decision, the NRT member involved in SCCS’s investigation could be charged with retaliation.
SCCS’s Gender-based Misconduct Policy and Procedures for Students document states that, during a disciplinary investigation, both the “complainant” (alleged survivor) and “respondent” (alleged perpetrator) have the right to “privacy to the extent possible consistent with applicable law and University Policy.” A member of NRT calling attention to the existence of the investigation and information about the respondent violates this confidentiality policy, which is crucial to ensuring a successful investigation and a fair trial for both the complainant and the respondent. Such violation could warrant a retaliation charge, which would hinder the ongoing investigation and potentially result in disciplinary action for the complainant. As such, neither NRT’s leadership nor either advisor can call for the alleged perpetrator to be removed from his SGB position or otherwise rescind his responsibilities related to managing NRT without the possibility of disciplinary action.
“The University has an obligation to warn the campus community about potential ongoing safety threats,” Bwog’s source wrote. “I argue this falls under that category. Leadership positions over other students are a privilege, not a right, and if you’re under investigation for multiple rape allegations, I think you (at least temporarily) forfeit that privilege.”
Bwog has reached out to both SCCS and SGB for comment and has been notified that SGB will send us a statement tonight or tomorrow morning. We will update the story when we receive it.
Update 2/12/18, 4:45 pm: In a statement issued via its Facebook page, SGB has declined to comment on the article above, instead only restating relevant policies regarding members with conflicts of interest.
According to SGB, members with conflicts of interest “should” ideally “remove themselves” from voting processes; “the board” can also remove these members from discussion. In regards to the actual presence of the individual accused of sexual assault at meetings where NRT is also in attendance, the statement more broadly stated that there are “exceptions for town hall attendance as circumstances demand.”
This announcement came six days after the original article was published on Bwog. The full statement is available here.