Statement

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.

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.

On the Columbia Wrestling Team

This week, the Columbia community came together as students dealt with the results of the Presidential Election. We created safe spaces, organized rallies, and brought down the walls that normally divide students . We seemed to be taking the advice of Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama when, rather than give into the hate and gloom spurned by this election, we comforted each other and looked to the future.

Bwog’s recent uncovering of GroupMe messages sent by the Columbia Men’s Wrestling team provides a glaring depiction of the reality of hate and ignorance on this campus—a reality that is hard to accept for many of us. The messages, from 2014 and 2015, were examples of the hate that women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and many other marginalized people face daily.

Equally as disturbing is the mockery of sexual assault that the wrestlers make in the messages. Columbia University is tied for the second-most open Title IX investigations with the Office of Civil Rights in the country and is the first school many think of when they hear thinking about sexual assault on college campuses; sexual assault is not a joke and should never be dismissed as one.

No Red Tape condemns the actions and behaviors of the Columbia Men’s Wrestling team and believes they should be held accountable for their words. We hope we, as a campus community, can use this incident to strengthen our commitment to prevention education and having discussions about inclusivity. Our nationwide discourse about justice and liberation begins with the rhetoric of those closest to us, and it is on all of us to hold each other accountable for bigotry.

We are in solidarity with everyone who has been affected by these messages. In light of the events that have unfolded this week, Columbia Psychological Services is holding extended walk-in hours. For more information, you can contact them at 212-854-2878.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Statement

[TW]

As we near the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we have recently been taking the opportunity to reflect upon the anti-sexual violence movement and our role within it as activists and supporters. Accordingly, we feel that it is important for us to address the presence of interpersonal violence within activist communities.

We recognize that dating abuse and sexual violence can and do occur within every community, and activist communities are not an exception. Survivors who experience violence within these communities may be discouraged from coming forward because of concerns about damaging public perceptions of the movement or the reputation of other activists. However, the public image of an activist movement should never be prioritized over the safety and integrity of its members. Strong movements cannot be built if they perpetuate the silencing of survivors and allow violence to continue behind closed doors.

To all survivors of sexual violence, we believe you and strive to support you in any way we can. If you decide to turn to us for help or come forward with your story, we will connect you with resources and provide you with support to the best of our ability. Regardless of the circumstances of your experience or who your story implicates, we are here for you.

We believe that it is crucial for activist communities to apply a critical eye to ourselves when advocating for change. Sexual violence is a pervasive problem that spans all identities, settings, and social circles, and we recognize that we bear a grave responsibility, as an organization that combats sexual violence, to recognize the presence of violence within our own communities and continue to fight to end it in any way that we can.