‘Mandatory’ sexual assault webinar should be enforced

By Editorial Board

To increase education about on-campus sexual misconduct, the college launched “Think About It,” a mandatory online training module for students, staff and faculty last spring. In an April 17 email to students, vice president of Student Success Mark Kelly announced a May 30 deadline, giving students more than a month to complete the webinar.

“You will receive reminders from me in the coming weeks,” Kelly said in the message. “My office will also follow up individually with those students who have yet to finish the program.”

Despite Kelly’s claims, many students say they did not receive further emails regarding the webinar, which possibly led to a low participation rate. According to Sharon Wilson-Taylor, associate vice president and dean of continuing students, only 20 percent of students took the training last semester. The “Think About It” webinar was incorporated into the orientation educational courses for incoming freshmen and transfer students, all of whom completed the training. However, because it was not made mandatory for current and returning students, many did not complete the course.

“Think About It” should be required for every student enrolled at Columbia. Educating students through the webinar should be a priority for the administration in the coming year. Education and dialogue about consent and sexual violence are more necessary than ever, considering  that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 

Enforcing a mandatory webinar via email can be difficult, but in this instance, it is necessary. Freshmen and transfer students make up less than half of the student body. Every student on campus should be educated about sexual assault, the procedure for reporting incidents and the college’s sexual assault policies. The college could ensure every student is educated by requiring completion of the survey before students can register for classes each semester.

Dialogue outside of the webinar would be effective as well. The college could encourage professors who teach freshmen to incorporate discussions about sexual assault into their curricula.

The college’s failure to follow through with enforcing this mandatory educational module appears to demonstrate a lack of commitment to a crucial issue on college campuses, which is uncharacteristic of Columbia. Given the college’s strong history of commitment to sexual harassment education and prevention, including sponsoring sexual assault awareness-themed art installations, Sexual Assault Awareness month in April and discussions at Convocation, it is surprising that the college would not follow through with enforcing “Think About It.”

Many colleges are currently struggling to find an effective strategy to reduce sexual assaults and accommodate victims. Creating an initiative such as “Think About It” to help foster a safe community for Columbia’s young adults and then not showing the commitment to follow-up, even with later emails, does not send a good message and makes it seem like the college only created the initiative to be able to say the school 

cares about the issue enough to follow through.

The Chicago Reader’s Sept. 24 cover story, “The University of Chicago’s message to the Class of 2019: Don’t be a rapist,” chronicles the mishandling of several sexual assault reports at U of C and how victims united to create a change on campus. Students assembled art installations and a student organization to give victims a voice. The organization began working with the college’s housing department to make it easier for victims to change housing arrangements. Ultimately, U of C implemented sexual assault awareness into orientation and strengthened resources available for accommodating victims. The events at U of C are an extreme case, but they are not uncommon. Widespread and mandatory education, like the “Think About It” module, can help prevent such situations, but only if the administration commits to it.