On Gender-Neutral Bathrooms at Columbia

[Content warning: Transphobia]

We were horrified to learn that several dorms at Columbia had residents vote on whether or not to make dorm bathrooms gender-neutral, as opposed to having Columbia create gender-neutral bathrooms of its own accord.

Gender-neutral bathrooms can be a necessary, lifesaving resource for trans and gender nonconforming students. Trans and gender nonconforming people face significant risks when entering binary public restrooms, with an estimated 12% experiencing verbal harassment and 2% experiencing sexual or physical violence in the year prior to being surveyed. Further, binary restrooms force students to choose one of two gender identities, neither of which reflect the identity of many gender nonconforming students on campus.

Gender-neutral bathrooms give trans and gender nonconforming students the option to use a restroom without having to choose a binary gender identity, and make bathrooms safer and more accepting by clearly stating they are for everyone to use. Rather than provide this resource in every dorm, Columbia has chosen to leave it up to students, the majority of whom have never needed gender-neutral bathrooms, to decide whether trans and gender nonconforming students deserve this valuable resource. Disappointingly, several dorm floors ended up denying their occupants gender neutral bathrooms, leaving trans and gender nonconforming students to choose a binary gender identity or move out of their dorm rooms entirely. Forcing students to make this choice and subjecting them to the hate and harassment they often face as a consequence is inhumane and unfair.

Columbia has a duty to ensure all students are treated with dignity and respect. Allowing residents to vote on whether or not they feel “safe” with gender neutral bathrooms — a question that implies cisgender students would be put at risk by making bathrooms gender-neutral — is contrary to that, shocking, and sending a dangerous message about the humanity of trans and gender nonconforming students.

As a group that advocates for survivors of sexual violence, we refuse to let an abstract, baseless “threat” of gender-based violence be a scapegoat for blatant transphobia. We fully endorse creating gender-neutral bathrooms in all campus dorms, and object to the humanity of our trans and gender nonconforming classmates becoming a ballot item.

Columbia: Commit to Enforcing Title IX

[CW: sexual/dating violence mentions, mental health issues, racism, other discrimination mentions]

Anti-discrimination protections are crucial for our survival. No Red Tape CU includes members who are queer, genderqueer, Black and POC, Muslim and Jewish, low income, not-able-bodied, survivors of violence and discrimination, and international students. The Trump administration formally or informally rolling back Title IX enforcement is personal to us.

Title IX protects our members from experiencing homophobia.

Title IX prevents our members from being misgendered or denied access to facilities based on gender identity.

Title IX guarantees our Black, POC, Muslim, and Jewish members assault investigations and school experiences free from racial and Islamophobic violence.

Title IX provides our low-income members with free counseling, medical services, and academic support.

Title IX gives our members with disabilities the accommodations they require to be students at Columbia.

Title IX demands Columbia protect all of us from sexual and dating violence.

Title IX gives our international student members and all undocumented students the same rights as those who are U.S. citizens.

Title IX stops Columbia from retaliating against us for fighting for our rights, as Columbia has tried to do countless times before with written threats of expulsion.

The impact of these protections applies to countless other students who have benefited from Title IX. Without the protections Title IX has afforded survivors of violence and students with one or more marginalized identities, many of us would no longer be in school.

In March, we held a #CantTrumpOurTitleIX day of action in which we demanded the Trump administration enforce Title IX protections. Unsurprisingly, they are refusing to do so.

Now we call upon Columbia to commit to enacting and upholding our Title IX demands. The demands, which we released in March with 100 signatories, require little effort on Columbia’s part — slightly altering policy language and procedures, committing to expanding upon existing accommodations, etc. However, Columbia has yet to respond.

We asked EVP Suzanne Goldberg to collaborate with us on our Title IX demands before we released them. Thanks to an internet browser extension, we could see that she and her assistant, Don Harrison, opened the email five times. Neither bothered to reply. While we have been working to make Columbia safer, EVP Goldberg has denied Black and queer survivors meetings with her, defended the Columbia administration’s homophobic policies, and refused to improve the ineffective mental health resources that have been in place through multiple of our classmates completing suicide this year.

EVP Goldberg is not alone in being deliberately indifferent to gender-based violence on campus; Student Conduct and Community Standards, the office investigating campus violence under the direction of AVP Jeri Henry, locked their door and turned off their lights to prevent us from delivering a petition to them in the middle of a workday. AVP Henry told a survivor that she should leave Columbia because she asked for accommodations, adding to a documented history of AVP Henry bullying survivors of violence. And Title IX Coordinator Marjy Fisher, despite adamantly claiming she fights equally for all students regardless of identity, agreed to take a white survivor in our group to the Manhattan ADA to report her assaults but refused to take a Black survivor who asked to report as well, and has shown general anti-Black racial bias in her daily treatment of survivors in our group.

Now, more than ever, Columbia employees — particularly EVP Goldberg, AVP Henry, and Marjy Fisher — need to put our needs ahead of their egos and commit to enforcing the Title IX demands we have put forward.

We have fought for survivors every day since our group’s inception in 2014, exposing ourselves to constant harassment, discrimination, and in some cases, actual violence. Where have you been, Columbia? What will it take for you to do your job?

BREAKING: Columbia Stops Enforcing Recording Contract

We are thrilled to announce Columbia University has stopped forcing students and their advisors to sign a form stating they will not record the Gender-based Misconduct process. While the recording ban is still handed out to students, Columbia has declined to discipline students who openly violated the contract.

This change is due to the hard work of the students, faculty, and allies who supported the #RightToRecord campaign. To the 740+ people who signed the #RightToRecord petition, those who posted pictures online as part of the #RightToRecord hashtag campaign, those who attended the rally on October 28, and the survivors who bravely stepped forward and shared their stories, we thank you.

In particular, we want to acknowledge the organizations who endorsed our #RightToRecord petition: UAW Local 2110, UAW Local 2110-Barnard Contingent Faculty, UAW Local 2110-Graduate Workers of Columbia, Black Law Students Association, Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, Columbia Queer Alliance, Empowering Women of Color, Students for Justice in Palestine, International Socialist Organization, Latino/Latina Law Students Association, Take Back the Night, OutLaws, Mobilized African Diaspora, Divest Barnard, Columbia If/When/How, Columbia HeForShe, End Rape on Campus, Black Law Students Association-Northeastern Region, Our Harvard Can Do Better, Silence is Violence, and Sun Devils Against Assault.

There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to address sexual and dating violence on campus. Survivors, particularly Black survivors and survivors of color, continue to face increased violence and discrimination. We are still committed to fighting for a 24/7 rape crisis center and Title IX enforcement, and will work tirelessly until every SAAFE campus demand is met. However, the success of the #RightToRecord campaign proves we have the power to help make Columbia SAAFE.

In love and solidarity,

No Red Tape Columbia

 

P.S. Want a rundown of the #RightToRecord campaign from inception to victory? Check out our #RightToRecord webpage here!

On Barnard's Plans for Interim Title IX Coordinator

We were deeply concerned to learn that while Barnard searches for a new Title IX coordinator, they will not have an interim replacement. Instead, they will allocate various Title IX duties to members of General Counsel (the lawyers paid to protect Barnard from lawsuits) and other administrators.

The Office for Civil Rights mandates schools have a designated Title IX coordinator at all times. Even if a school has multiple Title IX coordinators, one should have overarching authority. Answer C-3 from OCR's "Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence" mandates:

If a school designates more than one Title IX coordinator, the school’s notice of nondiscrimination and Title IX grievance procedures should describe each coordinator’s responsibilities, and one coordinator should be designated as having ultimate oversight responsibility.

Barnard is blatantly violating this guideline by not having a specific interim coordinator while they hire a new one, and instead, randomly allocating different Title IX duties to various, untrained employees.

Further, in allocating Title IX coordinator duties to members of General Counsel (employees whose sole interest is in protecting the college's public image), Barnard is intimidating students and preventing them from seeking necessary assistance. Answer C-4 in the aforementioned OCR FAQ specifically states:

Because some complaints may raise issues as to whether or how well the school has met its Title IX obligations, designating the same employee to serve both as the Title IX coordinator and the general counsel (which could include representing the school in legal claims alleging Title IX violations) poses a serious risk of a conflict of interest.

We call upon Barnard to designate one employee not from General Counsel as interim Title IX coordinator. Not having a specific Title IX coordinator is unacceptable, and allocating duties to General Counsel is a clear conflict of interest that silences student voices.

Graduate Student Unionization

[CW - sexual harassment]

It has come to our attention that Professor Julia Hirschberg sent an email to Computer Science TAs arguing graduate student unionization would not help students fight sexual harassment on campus. Professor Hirschberg also contends EVP Suzanne Goldberg stated Columbia University is the only school in the country to provide legal support to students going through the gender-based misconduct process.

We were very confused to read this alleged assertion from EVP Goldberg, as it is not grounded in reality. Title IX encourages schools to provide students the option of having an attorney-advisor throughout the gender-based misconduct process, and many schools in the nation provide students with optional attorney-advisors. 

We further find the legal support Columbia offers insufficient. Columbia employs the services of Sanctuary for Families. However, Sanctuary for Families has a history of discouraging survivors from pursuing complaints, preventing survivors from documenting their cases, and relaying confidential information disclosed to them to Columbia in violation of attorney-client privilege (with the justification that Columbia is the “client”); Sanctuary for Families’ interest lies in protecting the University, not students who come to them for help.

In contrast, union legal representation for students during the gender-based misconduct process would have one person’s interest at heart: the best interest of the student seeking help.

As an organization that advocates for survivors of sexual harassment, we fully support graduate student unionization. A union is necessary to combat the sexual harassment Columbia has allowed to run rampant on campus. Professor Hirschberg and EVP Goldberg’s assertions that Columbia is sufficiently addressing sexual harassment on campus are insulting and categorically false.

We encourage all graduate students and undergraduate TAs to vote for unionization on December 7th and 8th. For more information on unionization, please click here.