Six students at Yale were found guilty of rape or sexual assault last semester. Of the six, four were given nothing more than written reprimands, one was forced to attend gender sensitivity training and one was suspended for two semesters. All of the students were allowed to return to campus.
Sadly, there is no reason to believe that the situation at Yale is unusual. A string of more than a dozen recent federal Title IX investigations has revealed that not only do many schools fail to adequately punish convicted rapists, they effectively make it virtually impossible for a reported assailant to be convicted. Other times, schools allow their judicial process to drag out over months or years so that alleged assailants often graduate before any conclusion is reached. These reports have made it clear that students cannot simply assume that schools are fulfilling their legal obligation to ensure student safety. Students know they need to demand that colleges and universities prove that they are protecting their students’ rights to safety and equal access to education.
Currently, Columbia University doesn’t release even the most basic information about how its sexual assault policy is applied or what a survivor can expect when going through the judicial process. It does not release information about what percentage of reported assailants are convicted through Columbia’s judicial process, what type of punishments they generally receive, or how long the process typically takes. Earlier this year a number of students, including several survivors who had been through the process, explained their concerns to the Columbia University College Democrats (CU Dems). The students were worried that Columbia’s policy had the same problems witnessed at dozens of other schools. To ensure that Columbia University fulfills its obligation to student safety, the CU Dems launched a petition to demand that Columbia University release this information.
The petition immediately garnered support among students, and to date has received over 1000 signatures. It has been endorsed by religious groups, social organizations and virtually every political group on campus, including the Columbia College Student Council, Columbia Queer Alliance, Student Worker Solidarity, Take Back the Night, the Muslim Students Association and the College Republicans. The petition was also covered extensively by campus media. Among the Columbia community, the petition is considered an wholly uncontroversial response to the failures of other schools and the concerns of students.