Students deserve clarity on sexual assault resources

By Editor-in-Chief

With the month of April marking Sexual Assault Awareness Month nationwide, the college has scheduled several events to spread awareness of the problem of sexual violence on campus.

Although these educational efforts are well-intentioned, the events and exhibits alone are not enough to combat the prevalent problem across college campuses.

As reported in the story on Page 9, a recent allegation of a campus sexual assault is currently under investigation at Columbia. 

The case brings up several areas in which students at the college seem to not know their rights, or where to access available resources to them or how to report incidents in which they feel they have been harmed. 

Several students’ reckless activity on Twitter in response to the alleged campus sexual assault also reveals a widespread ignorance among students as to the repercussions they could face for taking to social media to publicly dox the alleged offender, who has not been convicted of a crime or a violation of campus rules at this point in the investigative process.

Although students claimed they felt the only way their concerns about campus safety and respecting alleged victims’ rights would be acknowledged was if those worries were made public online, those who chose to publish identifying information about the alleged assailant on Twitter have made themselves vulnerable to defamation lawsuits in the event that the alleged offender is found innocent. 

Aside from the apparent widespread lack of knowledge among students about the legal dangers they could bring upon themselves by posting irresponsibly on social media—however impassioned they may rightfully be on the issue of sexual violence—students also don’t seem to be aware of the college’s Title IX policies, where to access the vital resources available to them or even that the college has designated Title IX coordinators on campus whose jobs are directly meant to serve students seeking the information.

While Columbia has been long known as a progressive college that aims to serve its students and ensure a safe campus, more needs to be done on the college’s part to educate the student body on what constitutes a sexual assault on campus, the college’s procedure for conducting an investigation and their rights under the law should they ever have to face such an instance or if they are ever accused of a sexually violent act.

The college’s Sexual Misconduct and Procedure Handbook is made available to students through Columbia’s website, but this information is not widely publicized and is certainly not explained to students thoroughly or on a regular basis.

Implementing more in-depth training for students, faculty, staff and administration on the college’s Title IX policies, which many say are more thorough than those of several other colleges’, would be more effective than expecting students to read a lengthy handbook in print or online. 

The “mandatory” sexual assault webinar introduced to the campus in the Spring 2015 Semester was a meaningful gesture but falls short of providing students with thorough education that should be done in a classroom or new student orientation setting.

Students, staff, faculty and even administrators cannot be expected to memorize this detailed information in the form of a quiz-like webinar. 

More events should be incorporated year-round on campus and in classrooms to ensure students are aware of their rights or at least are knowledgeable about where to find information and resources that could help them if a need for those resources ever unfortunately occurs.