Students frustrated with progress of sexual assault case


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Students frustrated with progress of sexual assault case

By Opinions Editor

As Columbia hosts collegewide events throughout April in observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the college has allegedly allowed a sexual assault complaint filed Feb. 1 to go without a hearing, which some say could be a potential violation of the U.S. Department of Education’s recommended 60-day limit for such investigations. 

Students made allegations of foot-dragging on social media. 

There is currently a Title IX violation with Columbia under federal investigation, according to the Know Your Title IX website. The college declined to confirm if this complaint is the same complaint or corroborate it was filed on Feb. 1, as sources suggested, according to Cara Birch, spokeswoman for the college. 

The Chronicle contacted students involved with and familiar with the complaint. 

Within two weeks of when these sources say a student filed a report with Columbia’s Title IX coordinator, the alleged offender had been moved to a different residence building, The Chronicle was told.

But there is still no word on a hearing date that the student was promised, according to a student who identified herself as the alleged victim’s roommate. 

“She has sent them several emails and had no response,” the student told The Chronicle. “The only response she got was the Title IX people telling her to stop talking about it. They said to stop talking about the rape and to not have any contact with [the alleged offender] or any third party contact.”

In response to a request for comment, the alleged offender said: “The allegation is false, and I won’t disclose more [because] the investigation is still underway.”

The U.S. Department of Education recommends a sexual assault investigation, including fact finding, holding a hearing and determining what actions should be taken by the institution, should be completed within 60 days after a sexual assault is reported.

Columbia’s own policy is to follow the 60-day guideline for completing an investigation, holding a hearing and rendering a determination, according to the college’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy & Procedures.

The 60-day mark for this incident passed on April 1, based on the alleged Feb. 1 filing date. 

An investigation is always to be completed within 60 days, Birch said. However, she said, holding a hearing and rendering a determination may take place after that 60-day time frame. 

“Both [parties] need to go through a hearing process,”Birch said. “Both sides select who would sit on that committee for that hearing. A hearing can be delayed depending on whether the parties approve of the committee.” 

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to defending the individual rights of university students and faculty, it is not unheard of for investigations to become delayed. Factors such as witness unavailability can hinder investigations from fitting into the time frame, said Joe Cohn, the foundation’s legislative and policy director.

“It makes sense to schedule the hearing promptly,” Cohn said. “It is important hearings aren’t so rushed that investigations aren’t completed thoroughly first and [both parties] involved have the opportunity to prepare.”

Beverly Anderson, the college’s Title IX Coordinator, said in an emailed statement through the college’s press office that each Title IX investigation is investigated using the college’s guidelines.

“Regardless of external variables, the college must and will investigate and adjudicate as required by its Sexual Misconduct Policy & Procedures,” Anderson said.

All allegations of sexual misconduct at the college are investigated, according to an April 8 emailed statement from the college.

“To protect the integrity of any potential investigation process and to respect the privacy of our community members, Columbia does not comment on such matters,” the statement said.

Frustrated with what they perceived as a lack of action, the alleged victim’s friends discussed bringing the issue to the attention of their peers and the college. They decided to not publicize the alleged victim or offender’s name, they said. 

“We figured that the only way to voice our opinions in a way where we knew people would become aware of it was through Twitter and mentioning the college in our tweets and mentioning Dr. Kim,” the alleged victim’s roommate said. 

President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim responded to two students’ posts from his Twitter account.

“Columbia takes this seriously & it’s currently under investigation. If you have further concerns, please DM @ColumbiaChi,” Kim said in response to both posts.

The alleged victim’s roommate said she recognizes making the alleged offender’s name public before any adjudication has been made could result in legal repercussions. However, others who are not affiliated with her or her roommates published his name and residence information.

Sophomore theatre major Alexus Jarriell did not post the name, but said she understood why students wanted to make his name public.

“I feel conflicted  [because] I don’t think that he should be protected from feeling embarrassed and from being made to feel that he has been pointed out,” she said.

The risk of making an alleged offender’s identity public is that it could result in a defamation lawsuit if the alleged offender is not proved guilty, Cohn said.

“Ultimately, people have the free speech rights to talk about issues, including people,” Cohn said. “You do not have the right to say things that are demonstrably false. If someone is accused of being a rapist, but it turns out later that they aren’t, the first person may be subject to a defamation lawsuit. None of that should be decided by the university. Defamation should be decided by courts.”

As of press time, the alleged offender has not received any known consequences aside from being moved to a different residence building to separate the alleged victim and alleged offender.

Three students, the alleged victim’s roommate, Jarriell and Makenzie Beyer, a freshman creative writing major, said they have seen the alleged offender on campus since the report was filed.

“I can’t imagine how the victim feels when she bumps into [the alleged offender],” Beyer said.

It can be appropriate, Cohn said, for institutions to take actions such as suspending people involved in an investigation or moving parties involved to different residence buildings.

“Interim measures [can be taken] so long as they are not linked to a conclusion of guilt, and on a case-by-case basis, institutions should have fairly broad powers,” Cohn said. “People do not have to be in fear every time they get into an elevator or in the laundry room. [Moving someone out of a building] makes sense and doesn’t require [administration] to figure out if the accusation is right or wrong.”

Residence Life confirms if the parties involved in an investigation are in the same residence building and if one of them should be moved, Birch said. 

Whether or not colleges and universities should conduct sexual assault investigations at all is a practice that should be questioned, Cohn said.

“Institutions of higher education do not have the tools to [conduct investigations] properly,” Cohn said. “[Institutions] should be involved in the roles they can do very well, like preventative education and making sure people get connected to the right law enforcement, medical professionals and counselors, and making sure people know how to navigate the system.”

The alleged victim was referred to counseling services at the college, according to the alleged victim’s roommate. The college offers 10 free sessions to students. 

Columbia launched a mandatory webinar addressing on-campus sexual misconduct on April 17, 2015, and by Sept. 28, 2015, only 20 percent of continuing students had completed training, and 100 percent of new and transfer students completed the training, as reported Sept. 28, 2015, by The Chronicle.

Above all else, students’ safety in such situations should be priority, Jarriell said. 

“I understand there is a legal process, but it’s a safety issue, and that’s the bottom line to me,” Jarriell said. “I’m not trying to retaliate [or] make this school look bad, but I am just in general saying I don’t think that it is safe.”