On July 29, 2016, Columbia released aggregate data about reports of Gender-Based Misconduct for the 2015-16 school year. This data shows clearly that the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy revisions that occurred last year were not enough to create a safer campus. Columbia is still failing to hold perpetrators accountable and ensure the well-being of its students.
Although more cases of gender-based misconduct were reported in 2015-16 than during the previous school year, fewer perpetrators were found responsible. As students who have extensive experience with the incompetent and self-serving Columbia administration, we firmly believe this discrepancy is a result of an administration and campus culture that routinely protects rapists and abusers while disregarding the experiences of survivors.
According to the report, 115 instances of gender-based misconduct were reported in the 2015-16 school year. While this number alone is cause for concern, it is important to remember that sexual violence is extremely underreported, and official numbers do not truly reflect the extent of violence which occurs on campus. The numbers for this report do not include any reports made to Sexual Violence Response (SVR) and Columbia Psychological Services (CPS); in order for an assault to be counted, it has to be reported to the Office of Gender-Based Misconduct. As we detail in our SAAFE demands, we are calling for reports of gender-based misconduct to be counted anonymously in Columbia’s Clery Crime reports in order to better reflect the occurrence of sexual violence.
We are also extremely disturbed by the lack of administrative response to reports of sexual harassment and dating violence. The lack of support for students who experience violence in their workplaces, residence halls, and other campus spaces contributes greatly to an unsafe learning environment. In the context of these findings, the need for a graduate student union to provide some protection and collective organizing power against sexual harassment becomes even more urgent. Columbia must also invest in extensive and mandatory prevention education about sexual and dating violence beyond the current Sexual Respect Initiative requirements — something it has yet to do.
Additionally, it is unacceptable that students found responsible for rape are allowed to return to campus within two years. We believe that behavior as grave as this necessitates not only permanent removal from the campus community, but extensive and meaningful re-education. Columbia provides neither of those things, instead allowing perpetrators to return after taking a brief hiatus.
To be clear, we know we cannot rely on what is essentially a broken system to keep us safe. Through its administrative apathy, Columbia has demonstrated the issues it is truly dedicated to are profit and public image, not the safety of its students. These findings come as no surprise. However, it is unacceptable that Columbia continues to foster a dangerous and hostile learning environment rather than respond adequately to sexual violence.