The SIPA Diversity Coalition Calls on the Columbia Administration to Support Survivors of Sexual Assault

Dear Columbia University Administration and Fellow School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia Business School and Columbia University Students:

 On October 3rd, 2018, the Diversity Coalition called on SIPA and Columbia University administrations to release a statement denouncing Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility to serve on the highest court in the United States. The letter came at a time of deep  division on a fabricated social construct that sexual assault is a partisan issue.

 As the incoming Diversity Coalition of SIPA, we will continue their work and call on our administrations to prioritize and actualize their support for survivors.

 We have witnessed the disappointment of our colleagues before us as the SIPA and Columbia administration have neglected to align with academic restorative leadership in institutionalizing effective, evidence based support services for student survivors.

 In the fall of 2018, multiple students experienced sexual assault committed by colleagues at professional schools across Columbia  - some of whom are under active investigation but are free to engage in extracurricular activities on campus and attend their classes as usual. Meanwhile, survivors are faced with no grievance period for taking time off from school following their assault-a basic protocol that research supports as a critical phase for healing following traumatic events.

 We call on the Columbia Administration to rectify this harmful policy and prohibit anyone under investigation of sexual assault from all campus-affiliated involvement unless proven by legal and medical authorities to be innocent.

 Further, at the School of International and Public Affairs, students who have campus housing lose their placement if they take a semester off and are not permitted to take classes part-time. Columbia University also has a retaliation policy that silences survivors from organizing or talking openly about their assault at the risk of legal action. While the same standards are held for those under investigation, we contest this on the premise that to speak out against one’s abuse is not only courageous, it is in many instances a very tool for survival. Yet, to be restricted from outing oneself as under criminal investigation only serves as personal preservation. The disequilibrium between both parties favors the protection of the accused, not the survivor.

 Sexual assault is the leading offense across college campuses in the U.S. This year, more than 9% of femmes or women enrolled in our graduate schools will experience sexual assault, and more than 2% of masculine of center or men will as well. Many more will be sexually harassed. These numbers, while devastating, are not a surprise, a coincidence, nor a a new phenomenon. They persist because campus leadership neglects our safety and neglects to take accountability or  proactive measures to reduce assaults. At Columbia University, we have seen faculty perpetuate victim blaming mentalities, citing that assaults “take two to occur”. We detest this archaic fallacy and assert that in every circumstance of assault, the only person who made the incident escalate is the perpetrator alone. We implore Columbia University to shift their response, to conduct greater trainings, and to ultimately stand behind students as it is our wellness and safety that is most intimately affected by their lack of action and failed attempts at remaining ‘neutral.’

 When the administration demonstrates support for students, the campus environment is collectively better off. Students are not only told, but shown, that  our decision to be part  of  this institution matters because our well being, safety and health are unequivocally more important than tuition or the potential fame we earn their title in years to come. Columbia boasts leading scholars, life changing opportunities, and room for many of us to harness our skills as leaders. But when the experiences of survivors are institutionally neither supported nor understood, the University effectively reduces its value to students of the present and future.

 As a Coalition of student groups dedicated to social justice, we stand behind those who have gone through treachery at the hands of Columbia University.

 We believe survivors.

 We also believe that the pain and layered barriers of reporting sexual assault skews our knowledge of how pervasive assault at our institution is, as more than 77% of incidents of sexual assaults go unreported. We will continue to commend and support survivors who speak out for their courage, as well as those whose voices are unheard.

 To our fellow SIPA and Columbia students--we invite you to join us in voicing your concerns and filing formal complaints to the Title IX coordinator.

 To our University administration and leadership: We believe in the power of our student body and of your administrative leadership. We strive to work together to creatively and effectively institutionalize policies that support survivors and are evidence based in reducing instances of assault. At present, the institution is complicit in perpetuating the misogyny and patriarchy that harms those among us most systematically made marginalized. We implore the administrators to take this call to action seriously and correct their harmful legacies.

 We realize that we are not alone, that many faculty members face similar challenges of harassment and assault as students. We also know that many faculty, staff, and administrators support our call to action as we work to make Columbia’s campus increasingly safer and more just - especially for black students, non-black students of color, queer, trans and disabled students. We are grateful for this alliance  and are optimistic that the administrations of professional schools across Columbia University will finally condemn and take action against sexual assault.

 Columbia, SIPA, and CBS administrations, we will continue to speak out on this issue and reach out to you in the hopes that together we can incite needed change. We await your response.


 The SIPA Diversity Coalition and Concerned Students

OpinionOpen LetterComment