Editor’s note: Due to the deeply sensitive and personal nature of this piece, we have allowed the following to be published anonymously. We recognize that this is one account of the following events and hope it will be read and discussed as one person’s experience and opinion of Columbia’s policy.
UPDATE, 5/16: In light of the extensive debate generated by this op-ed, we felt it necessary to provide additional contextual information. The adjudication process that the anonymous author writes of falls under the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law intended to protect the confidential records of all students. FERPA legally prohibits the University from commenting on all individual cases, including the one described below. This protection of privacy also means that certain factual assertions cannot be subject to the same scrutiny that they would have been had this story run as a news article in the Spectator. As we originally emphasized, this is a personal perspective expressed as one individual's opinion.
We plan to further address and investigate the issues raised by this op-ed in the coming semester. However, for the present, we would like to publish the following statement by Dean of Student Affairs and Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Life, Kevin Shollenberger:
"We know that, in response to the Spectator's recent opinion column, some students have expressed concerns about whether they should report incidents of sexual assault through the University's Disciplinary Process. The University has a dedicated core of both professionals and student volunteers who are deeply committed to assuring that Columbia is a safe space for all members of our community, and especially with respect to protecting against sexual assault. We want to convey in the strongest possible terms to our campus community that the safety and security of our students is our highest priority and we treat any reported incidents with the utmost seriousness. We all hope that any and every person believes that they can and should report such incidents and we urge them to utilize the University's resources if they feel they have been victimized."
Until recently, I was unaware of the egregious flaws in the Disciplinary Procedure for Sexual Assault. However, after my assault took place earlier this semester, I was encouraged by friends to take action against the student who had violated the sexual assault policy in many different ways, the worst of which was raping me twice.
The most difficult part of the whole incident was the fact that I could not tell my parents, as their conservatism and my current relationship with them would only cause more hurt and pain, something I did not and do not think I can handle at this point. Given that I could not go to my family for support, I ensured that I was well-versed in the policy, and that I followed each of the rules and regulations set forth by the office and University in order to seek justice.
I provided multiple forms of first-hand evidence to the case, including but not limited to phone records, an eyewitness (my roommate in EC), and descriptions of calls to the rape crisis center, which initially remained unanswered. I refrained from providing character witnesses because the sexual assault policy as defined by Columbia University is concerned with the event in the actual moment the assault took place, and not the testimonies of friends of the complainant or respondent that simply claim that he or she is a valuable asset to the community. Another blow to my case was the rejection of my request for a specific supporter. During the process, Columbia allows the complainant and respondent to have a supporter present at all times, but because my initial supporter was an administrator and employee of the University, I was told that it could be perceived as a conflict of interest.
During the hearing itself, there were multiple errors committed by the panel that were actually more hurtful to my own case, including but not limited to the respondent’s submission of a statement that I had not seen before and illegitimate contact with the panel, probing and hurtful inquiries geared toward my witness and best friend, and the approval of all three of the respondent’s witnesses, none of whom I had ever met before beyond simple introductions. The most personally difficult part of the hearing was the respondent’s refusal to speak or answer any questions.
The panel ruled in my favor with a 30-page report detailing the many ways in which the respondent had violated the policy, as well as seven different recommended sanctions, the harshest of which included suspension for the remainder of the semester. The report and panel decision was then forwarded to Kevin Shollenberger, dean of student affairs and judicial affairs, for approval. The way I had mistakenly interpreted the “After the Hearing” section of the policy was that the dean would simply have to approve the sanctions and decision set forth by the panel, and the respondent would then get an opportunity to appeal. I never imagined that the sanctions would be struck down, pared down to the mere removal of the respondent from housing and a mark on his record.
I was distraught with this decision—it felt as though no one really cared about what I had been through, and I felt it strange that the dean of student affairs, who had no true authority over the DPSA office and had not been part of the panel, could impact my life and my case in such a way.
While I focused on recovery, figuring out how to pay for the many anti-anxiety drugs, STD tests, and doctor’s appointments for which Columbia continuously charges me, the respondent had appealed. No one let me know. And this past week, my final week of classes at Columbia, I was called into Dean Shollenberger’s office and notified that there had been a procedural error during the hearing, and the results of the hearing were discounted—the person who made this decision was Dean Michele Moody-Adams. I believe that had the respondent been a member of the community without money and power, this entire case would have turned out completely differently.
There is not much for me to do besides share my story and hope that Columbia actually starts thinking about one of our most flawed policies, and whether we can change it so that the next girl (or boy) who decides to speak up and utilize the tools they have at their disposal can be treated with some degree of fairness and at least understand the decisions of what is, at least in my opinion, a failure of a university.