A year has passed since Columbia expanded the size, staffing, and hours of the Sexual Violence Response offices after continued student activism.
But No Red Tape is pushing the Rape Crisis/Anti-Sexual Violence Center to expand the resources it offers again, demanding that the center's three locations remain open 24 hours and employ professional staff trained in trauma response and cultural sensitivity.
The RC/ASVC is a confidential on-campus emergency resource center that immediately connects survivors to trained advocates who provide them with crisis relief and information about medical resources and reporting, and who will connect students to other trauma-related resources. SVR recently expanded the center to include three locations: Lerner Hall, Barnard Hall, and Columbia University Medical Center.
"It's clear that this campus does need some kind of 24-hour trauma response that will be available to survivors whenever they call in or need to physically see someone or be accompanied to all of these services," Amber Officer-Narvasa, CC '18 and an organizer with No Red Tape, said.
But SVR already offers 24-hour support through its hotline, which is staffed by professional survivor advocates, and offers the same scope of resources as the office.
Additionally, No Red Tape has yet to specify the number of student and staff advocates it would like employed at each center during nighttime hours, or whether those numbers would be comparable to the number of daytime staff members. The group has specified that student workers at the center be paid at least $15 an hour.
The activist group is directing its request at the Office of University Life as part of an ongoing Demand a SAAFE Columbia campaign, which advocates for increased support, accessibility, accountability, funding, and enforcement of sexual violence policies by the University. Members of No Red Tape met with Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg as well as Interim Executive Director of Sexual Violence Response Suraiya Baluch in December to discuss their demands.
In an interview with Spectator, Goldberg said that she would commit to reviewing the staffing procedures for SVR, but reiterated that trained professionals were already available to help students 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
The RC/AVSC in Lerner Hall currently operates from Monday to Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., more than almost all other Ivy League rape crisis centers. While all Ivy League institutions, including Columbia, provide students with a 24/7 emergency hotline, Columbia would be the first to offer a 24-hour confidential on-campus sexual violence support center.
When the center is closed, students seeking emergency resources or support can call SVR's 24-hour hotline and be connected to a professional survivor advocate who can accompany the student to on- and off- campus resources or provide emotional support over the phone.
Despite the Campus Sexual Assault survey's finding that the vast majority of sexual assault victims were assaulted on Friday or Saturday between the hours of midnight to 6 a.m., administrators have said that when SVR did offer periods of late-night in-person staffing last year, they were not heavily utilized, noting that survivors may not choose to utilize SVR's resources immediately after being assaulted.
Additionally, representatives from SVR said that data shows that the majority of students who seek their services prefer to initiate contact with them through the hotline rather than walking into the center.
In response to No Red Tape's demand, SVR began informally analyzing the center's peak utilization times, finding that most walk-ins and calls to the hotline occur between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. But SVR said it will conduct a deeper analysis of data in order to review its practices.
Over the past two years, SVR has undergone a series of internal revisions and expansions after student activists voiced ongoing complaints about the hours and accessibility of its resources. University President Lee Bollinger announced in an email in May 2014 that SVR would be expanded to ensure 24-hour on-call access to professional advocates and to include a new location in Lerner Hall.
However, some students said they agree that the center should remain open during all hours.
"I definitely think that it should be expanded to 24 hours because most rapes happen after 10 p.m." Rhea Padalkar, SEAS '17, said. "With the initial trauma, it would be good to be able to go to SVR."
Yet a Columbia College junior, who requested anonymity because they referenced their friends' experiences as survivors, said that keeping the center open 24 hours a day wouldn't be useful.
"They were really afraid to tell someone, except for their friends, so I don't think it would help them even it was open 24 hours," they said. "It can take time for them to go up there and speak about it, so I don't think extending the amount of hours would help."
Still, No Red Tape members like Amelia Roskin-Frazee, CC '19––who called the hotline in the middle of the night in October––say hotline responders are neither informed about resources nor properly trained in cultural sensitivity and do not realize the different ways survivors identities play into their experiences of sexual assault.
"My call was outsourced to a random nurse who had no training in trauma response," Roskin-Frazee said in an email. "She asked me if I was on birth control. When I told her no and that I'm lesbian, she said, 'Well, you should still be on it.' [ ] ... [ ] I needed somewhere to go where I would feel safe and supported, and there wasn't anything available or even anyone trained available on Columbia's own hotline."
Officer-Narvasa said that the hotline should be staffed with peer advocates "rather than being connected with a nurse who is not trained in trauma response."
However, representatives from SVR said that trauma survivors are consistently requesting to speak to trained professionals instead of peer advocates and that, as a result, the center is shifting toward a model that leans more heavily on professional advocates.
Currently, Columbia's RC/AVSC is the only university rape crisis center certified by the New York State Department of Health. In order for SVR to maintain its certification, all advocates must repeat 40 hours of trauma response training and be recertified every year. Representatives from SVR said that the training curriculum is informed by a social justice perspective, and that it recognizes the intersections of identity, oppression, and violence against women.
When asked what type of cultural sensitivity training the group would like advocates to undergo, Officer-Narvasa said that No Red Tape does not have specific guidelines.
"The onus should not be on students to develop curriculums or detailed trainings for responders," Officer-Narvasa said in an email.
Officer-Narvasa said No Red Tape will meet with Goldberg again this semester and continue to protest for the 24-hour center.
Ultimately, SVR will continue to review its practices and respond to No Red Tape's demands. But for administrators like Goldberg, the bottom line is that students will continue to have access to resources through the center 24 hours a day.
"Certainly it makes sense to have someone available for students 24/7," Goldberg said. "And we have that now."
Correction, Jan. 19, 2016: A previous version of this article stated that the RC/AVSC is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is in fact open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.