Warning: This article deals with issues of sexual violence.
On Monday, we, No Red Tape, presented a list of demands that address sexual and dating violence on campus to the Barnard Student Government Association . These demands, which target support, accessibility, accountability, funding, and enforcement—abbreviated as SAAFE—were decided upon in open meetings and co-sponsored by over a dozen student organizations. The goal of these demands is to make Columbia safer for all students, especially students who experience identity-based discrimination and have difficulty accessing Columbia's existing resources as a result.
We asked for SGA's support because we feel that it is crucial to prioritize the safety of sexual assault survivors at Columbia, regardless of their identities or beliefs. Our demands, which include having a 24/7 rape crisis center, culturally sensitive first responders, and access to moral and legal support during adjudication processes, are not difficult to agree with. We were disappointed, however, to learn that some students would prefer to block demands that would make this campus safer for everyone just to make a political point about Zionism.
To be clear, we believe that sexual violence is inherently political. In September 2015, No Red Tape collectively crafted a values statement recognizing "that sexual violence is a manifestation of systemic gender oppression, which cannot be separated from all other forms of oppression." This guiding principle informs our work, both past and present. As an organization that aims to eradicate sexual violence, we must treat it as a political issue.
No Red Tape will not turn a blind eye to the violence committed by the state of Israel against Palestinians just because it is a "geopolitical issue thousands of miles away" from Columbia's campus. Simply put, the fight against violence and oppression cannot be limited to Columbia's campus.
Still, we advocate for all sexual assault survivors, including Zionist survivors, and will continue to do so in the future. We do not agree that supporting all survivors disqualifies us from condemning the systemic violence occurring in Palestine. While we see anti-sexual violence work as politically entrenched, we do not ask every survivor to view their experience as political.
Beyond recognizing how systems of power produce violence, we also "affirm and actively support every survivor's right to seek justice and healing in the way that they choose." For this reason, Survivors' Circle, a peer support group for self-identified survivors of sexual and dating violence, is entirely separate from No Red Tape. It is run by a separate group of people and is a nonpolitical support space for all survivors.
It is deeply unsettling that anyone would take the experiences of survivors who have dealt with other forms of oppression and appropriate them to fit an alternate political agenda. In October 2015, our SAAFE campus rally and demands specifically focused on the experiences of survivors who have experienced other forms of discrimination, including survivors of color, survivors with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ survivors. We wanted to highlight the ways in which race, class, and other identity-based factors uniquely impact sexual assault survivors' pursuit of healing and justice. By exposing and examining the intersections of institutionalized discrimination and sexual assault at Columbia, we hope to create meaningful change for survivors of all identities.
The Columbia community should not deny students access to the resources proposed in our demands in the name of personal politics. Furthermore, the Columbia community should not see survivors who need access to resources, especially those who are discriminated against because of their identities, as expendable or unworthy of the immediate justice and safety that they deserve.
There is an epidemic of violence on this campus. It will not go away if we continue to tolerate the insufficient policies, resources, and prevention programs currently in place. We ask that all individuals and groups at Columbia, regardless of other motivations and beliefs, come together collaboratively to make this campus a safe space, free from sexual and dating violence, for everyone. It is time we join together as a unified student body and demand the changes that will make us safe.
The authors are members of No Red Tape. No Red Tape works to end sexual violence and rape culture at Columbia and fights for transformative, sustainable, survivor-centric solutions.
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