BREAKING: Students file Title II, Title IX, and the Clery Act complaint against Columbia and Barnard

A startling twenty-three students collectively filed Title II (Americans with Disabilities Act), Title IX (Higher Education Act), and Clery Act violation complaints against Columbia University and Barnard College. The violations, handled by a group called Our Stories Columbia, included in the complaints filed with the Department of Education include survivors discouraged from reporting, perpetrators allowed to remain on campus, inadequate disciplinary sanctions, and discrimination based on sexuality and mental health and wellness.

The press release (which can be found at the bottom of this post) includes stories from survivors, which range from a queer trans* survivor having their story doubted due to their gender identity to a survivor denied mental health accommodations and threatened with expulsion.

The complaint follows a year of raised awareness and discussion at Columbia and other Ivy League schools — along with an increase in the national discussion — and Harvard students filing a Title IX complaint at the beginning of this month.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 24, 2014

Today, twenty-three students collectively filed federal complaints alleging violations of Title II, Title IX, and the Clery Act with the Department of Education against Columbia University, including Barnard, the affiliated women’s college. Title II is a part of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX is part of the Higher Education Act, amended in 1972. The students allege that the university has failed to comply with federal laws to ensure equal access to education, respond adequately to reports of sexual assault, and provide accommodations based on disability status. These violations include, but are not limited to:

  • Survivors and alleged perpetrators are consistently treated unequally;

  • Survivors are often discouraged from formally reporting;

  • Perpetrators, who are often serial offenders, are consistently allowed to remain on campus.

  • Inadequate disciplinary sanctions for perpetrators are commonplace, if they are disciplined at all;

  • Survivors, student activists and journalists are retaliated against for speaking out about Columbia’s mishandling of sexual violence;

  • Survivors and other students are discriminated against and denied accommodations based on mental health disability, including PTSD and depression;

  • LGBTQ students face discrimination in counseling, advising, adjudication, & Greek life;

  • Students are not notified of crimes which present a threat to campus as they should be under the Clery Act.

The experiences of these 23 students–who represent only a fraction of those affected–demonstrate Columbia’s pattern of mishandling sexual violence that results in a distinctly hostile environment. Below are some of the reported violations of federal law:

Allowing perpetrators, including those who have been found responsible, to remain on campus affects survivors’ mental health and academic performance on a daily basis. One survivor, terrified of running into her attacker and distracted from her academic life, received incompletes in half of her classes and was forced to withdraw from another with no University support. Another survivor writes that “because of Columbia’s incompetence, I was not able to pursue a just outcome on my own terms, and I continue to be triggered by my rapist’s presence on a weekly basis.”

One queer trans* survivor cited the university’s refusal to make academic accommodations they were entitled to under Title IX, doubting and devaluing their story on the basis of their gender identity. The student cited “general ignorance and hostility towards my gender identity…even [the] dismissal of my rape because it didn’t fit the normative ‘boy-rapes-girl’ narrative.”

A survivor who had previously been placed on disciplinary and academic probation because she was a mental health liability to the school was actively deterred from seeking counseling and health services. She was also denied mental health accommodations and threatened with expulsion. The survivor, Rakhi Agrawal, said “I was desperate. I tried to kill myself. I needed the support and protection of my Barnard community–but instead they put me on disciplinary probation for my suicide attempt.”

Two of the complainants, Emma Sulkowicz and Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, spoke at U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s press conference on sexual assault on college campuses earlier this month. They shared how their lives were impacted by sexual assault, highlighting how universities nationwide have failed to keep students safe.

As the 100+ page complaint illustrates, Columbia is more willing to silence and punish survivors and their supporters than serial rapists. Because of this reality, students have decided to file Title IX, Title II, Clery Act complaints to hold the university accountable for its deliberate mishandling of campus sexual violence and mental health. As survivor and complainant Cami Quarta declared, “I don’t trust the University to take my experience or my safety more seriously than they take their own public image.”