Last year, Columbia students were up in arms about the sexual assault epidemic on their campus. After shocking stories of the university’s seemingly deliberate mishandling of numerous investigations and disciplinary hearings, many students went public: demonstrating on campus, covering buildings in red tape, interrupting parent orientations and posting the names of alleged rapists on bathroom walls.
In April, the school drew national media attention after students filed three federal complaints—prompting investigators to examine twenty-three separate cases regarding Columbia’s response to sexual assault and mental health needs. The complaints came on the heels of numerous federal Title IX complaints across the country leveled by students at UNC, UC Berkeley, Occidental, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, USC and Emerson College accusing their respective administrations of similar mishandlings.
Before Columbia’s campus erupted, other Columbia students had spent months negotiating with administrators for relatively uncontroversial changes like a release of anonymous aggregate data on campus assault prevalence and increased accessibility to information regarding the rape crisis response process.
Members of the college Democrats, for example, had been meeting quietly with administrators, formulating a flowchart for the university in order to clarify what rights and resources survivors were entitled to.
After four months of negotiation, university administrators agreed to publish the flowchart online, but when they did, students found that the administration had cut crucial information, including which academic and living accommodations survivors were entitled to and what evidence would be admissible at university sexual misconduct hearings.
On May 5, one of the students involved in negotiating the flowchart e-mailed the administrators requesting that, in future negotiations over sexual assault policies, student voices be part of the final decision-making process (The Nation obtained this e-mail exchange from another anonymous source). She wrote (emphasis added):
I would request that in the future we could have direct contact with whoever makes the decision on what information can be included or excluded. I am sure that you expressed to them which pieces of information we felt most strongly about including, but perhaps we might be able to make a stronger case for ourselves if we can communicate with them directly. Will this be possible for future projects that students might want to work on with you/other administrators?
In response to the notion that students might have some say in what goes into an informational flowchart for students, Virginia Ryan, a university Title IX compliance officer accidentally sent the following e-mail, meant for her colleague Michael Dunn, Columbia’s deputy Title IX coordinator and director of investigations: