Dear President Bollinger:
We would like to begin by reminding you of the deep respect and admiration that members of this campus have for you as president of the University. It is because of this that we seek your support in concerns about sexual violence and the way sexual violence is handled on this campus. This issue concerns not just the safety of individual victims but also that of all members of the Columbia community. Just as President Obama stated that this crisis is one of our nation’s top priorities, we believe that this act of leadership must be replicated here, in our home away from home.
Throughout last semester, students at Columbia raised concerns about this problem. The Title IX Team organized a protest on Nov. 19 to raise awareness of sexual violence on campus and Title IX rights. The Columbia Democrats crafted a petition that garnered more than 1,00 signatures. Throughout last semester, student leaders were constantly engaging in dialogue with the administration, and now we have gotten a response. Student leaders have been invited to work with the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault to discuss possible ways to move forward. The leaders of the Title IX Team were consulted in the development of a much-needed new website entitled “Sexual Respect”—announced in an email today to the entire school—that clearly outlines our campus resources, the nature of the sexual misconduct adjudication process, and frequently asked questions about the process.
We are excited about this progress. However, more progress is still necessary for members of the Columbia community to know that their safety is a priority. Given the national uproar surrounding this issue and the fact that nearly 50 different colleges are under investigation for Title IX or Clery Act violations, we had hoped that our University’s president would at the very least make a statement to address student concerns. In the past semester alone, three articles have been published in major media outlets that suggest Columbia University does not actively create an environment free from sexual violence and harassment. Activists feel pressure to voice their concerns to the press—an action seen as hostile—rather than peacefully to Columbia. This is because when they are heard in a more public arena, they are more likely to be heard by the University. To effect change, activists have to go over Columbia’s head, making peaceful change impossible. But why does this have to be the case?
When Columbia College Student Council President Daphne Chen wrote an open letter to you in November expressing her hope that “one day you’ll really speak to us,” we hoped that perhaps you would respond. We hoped that perhaps you would participate a bit more vocally in addressing student concerns. As activists interested in addressing an issue as visceral and personal as sexual violence on campus, we hoped that at the very least our University’s president would acknowledge our concerns as legitimate.
The next step seems small but carries a lot of weight in the Columbia community and beyond: We would like to hear from you, President Bollinger. Not only as activists and students, but also as human beings looking to participate in a more open dialogue that will facilitate positive change.
Title IX Team
Smita Sen, CC ’16
Darializa Avila-Chevalier, CC ’16
Jean Kim, CC ’16
The authors are Columbia College sophomores. They are members of Title IX Team. Darializa Avila-Chevalier is an illustrator for Spectator.
Correction: An earlier version of this op-ed stated that the Columbia Democrats' petition had garnered over 600 signatures. In fact, the petition has well over 1,000 signatures. Spectator regrets the error.
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