Ah, springtime at an Ivy: students descend on the quad, thesis writers emerge from their caves, and — best of all — high school seniors attack campus with naïveté, un-jaded excitement, and a myriad of questions all boiling down to:
Can my host get me alcohol? Is this the school for me?
Columbia’s first Days on Campus program — prospective student visiting weekend — for the Class of 2018 began today. Prospies were treated with a beautiful spring day and blue and white balloons blanketing College Walk. But they’re also getting another dose of classic Columbia: protests.
No Red Tape CU, an activist group dedicated to fighting sexual assault and rape culture, marched on down towards the activity fair in Lerner Hall with red tape over their mouths and letters to hand out. The letters, as obtained by Bwog, congratulate students on their acceptance, but tell them to “prioritize your own safety and how university communities respond and prevent sexual violence on campus.”
“Wherever you end up this fall, we need you to be a part of ending sexual violence on campus both at Columbia and nationwide.”
The letter also details questions prospective students should ask administrators and current students, revolving around their handling of sexual violence.
The protestors were barred from the activities fair, but took to the sidewalks while some managed to sneak in as part of other student groups, as detailed by Emma Bogler, reporter at the Columbia Spectator.
Some @noredtape members who are part of other student orgs have managed to Trojan horse themselves back into days on campus
— Emma Bogler (@ebbogz) April 6, 2014
This comes nearly a year after a similar protest happened at Dartmouth during their Dimensions show for prospective students, leading to a day of classes canceled and replaced with discussions. Since then, the school has been undergoing a system of changes to address sexual assault — and other social issues — on campus.
@ebbogz We’re passing out letters! Not trying to protest–just raise the issue of sexual assault 4 new students. Why’re we being silenced?!
— No Red Tape Columbia (@NoRedTapeCU) April 6, 2014
It’s no big mystery why administrators would try to silence
protestors letter passers on Days on Campus: Demonstrations like that may not necessarily encourage prospective students to pick Columbia. But, as No Red Tape wants you to know, the administration tries to keep quiet about sexual assault on campus across the board, not just for prospies. At the Women in the World Summit in New York this Friday, former president Jimmy Carter spoke about how victims are encouraged to be silent about their assault in order to preserve the reputation of the school.
“The same thing [as the situation in the military] applies, in maybe a less way, to a president or dean of a university. I teach at Emory University, at University of Georgia, at Columbia University, New York University, and so forth, and the same thing goes on on American university campuses. … Only 4% of rapes are reported, because the girls who get raped are discouraged from reporting it because it brings bad reputation to the university. That needs to be changed.”
Columbians have been speaking out about sexual assault policies on campus. In March, administrators hosted a town hall to discuss the issue — on the Thursday night before spring break, when many students had already left campus. This was largely prompted by mass student outrage following a two-part series by Anna Bahr, Barnard’14, in The Blue and White Magazine published on Bwog, detailing horrific oversights in handling of sexual violence cases. At this town hall, students (disclosure: myself included) filled the 122-capacity room and demanded answers on failings from the administrators. In a high (low?) point in the event, one student stepped up and asked why Columbia does not get email alerts about reported sexual assaults on campus, as necessitated by the Clery Act — such as what Yalies receive.
The panel at the town hall (including outgoing Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez and Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Faculty and Staff Concerns Michael Dunn) had no real decent answer, besides saying that the Clery Act and Title IX are ambiguous, making it difficult to know what really is necessitated to be in compliance, and anyways they had a lawyer look at it and he said they were totally fine!
“A lot of universities think they’re compliant until they go under a federal investigation,” the student responded.
In one of the final questions of the evening, a student asked if, following the points brought up, Columbia thought they were Title IX compliant. After an awkward extended pause, Martinez jumped in to say she thinks they are, then looked for the other panelists to back her up. After another awkward pause, Dunn added that “I think if you looked nationwide, I don’t think anybody’s sure they’re Title IX compliant,” leading to shocked laughter from the crowd.
This past week, two Harvard students filed a complaint against the school for violating Title IX sexual assault policies with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. According to The Crimson, the complaint includes testimonial from 10 assault victims. The complaint is now under review. After the complaint was made public, President Faust announced a task force on sexual violence handling and policies.
A few days before the complaint was made public, The Crimson published an anonymous account of a student who had been sexually assaulted. In this piece, the student speaks about living in the same House as her assailant, while her requests to have him moved have been denied. She was discouraged from bringing the case to the Ad Board, told that charges would likely not be given as “assailant may not have technically violated the school’s policy in the student handbook.”
Back at Dartmouth, a proposed policy was introduced that would enact mandatory expulsion for those found guilty of assault. President Hanlon has asked the community to respond and comment on the proposed policy. Responses and comments are due back in about one week, at which point we’ll check in to see how the policy will move forward.
Parker Gilbert, D’16, was found not guilty of rape last month, with the head juror saying that “the complainant’s omission of the word ‘rape’ when describing her interaction with Gilbert to her friend,” according to The Dartmouth. The defense also used the complainant’s delay in going to the unfortunately named Dick’s House — Dartmouth’s health services — until after a friend told her to go for a sexual assault exam. Naturally, both of these points are actually systematic of rape victims who are in shock and need time to understand what happened.
Meanwhile, Cornell reached a 23-year high of reports of sexual assault. In 2012-2013, 23 cases were reported. The release of this data follows years of protests, editorials, and information being spread across the student body. In 2012, President Skorton introduced changes to their assault policy, strengthening punishment of assailants by “treat[ing] accusations of sexual assault or harassment cases against students in the same way as those made against faculty, staff and student employees.”
The uptick in reports is a positive sign for the Cornell administration: More students are now comfortable with reporting incidents and are aware of how and when to do so. Then again, it’s also a hugely negative sign: Clearly there need to be further steps taken towards prevention, rather than just improvements on reaction and punishment.
Sexual assault has become a major point of discussion and contention at several Ivies. While some are still grossly mishandling cases in their own judicial systems, other schools have made vast improvements over the last few years. It’s clearly a time for widespread change in how colleges tackle such a complicated issue, and at least the prospective students at Columbia today will remember to pay attention and work for continuing improvement once they make it to whichever campus they choose.