Recent media coverage has highlighted a student desire for a blanket policy regarding gender-based misconduct to be applied to all student leadership roles, including those of Orientation Leaders. In an interview with Spectator two weeks ago, I shared the importance of reviewing applicants to such positions on an individual basis. But in an interview, there is always potential for comments to be taken out of context. I write this in hopes of clarifying some of the misinformation that is circulating.
Although there is no blanket policy prohibiting students found responsible for violating the University's gender-based misconduct policy from serving in leadership roles, Undergraduate Student Life does not condone any of the range of behaviors connected to gender-based misconduct. I assure you that each applicant to any leadership role connected to Undergraduate Student Life undergoes a comprehensive selection process, which includes a review of each applicant's disciplinary history and current student standing by Student Conduct and Community Standards. We are committed to building strong and effective programs served by a strong team of leaders who engender confidence and trust from the students they serve.
On Tuesday, I was presented with a petition from No Red Tape that suggested I believe "perpetrators of sexual assault should still hold leadership positions in orientation programs." This is not the case today, nor has it ever been. In fact, in the Spectator interview, I suggested that the most severe violations of the gender-based misconduct Policy would "render the student ineligible to serve in any of these leadership roles" and potentially warrant "removal from the community altogether." Further, the petition suggests that I "excused perpetrators of sexual assault for their actions, and presented gender-based violence as a "mistake." To be clear—I do not excuse perpetrators for their actions and behavior: Every single member of our community is responsible for and accountable to their actions, especially those who violate or harm another community member.
Comments have suggested that there is a sentiment that "Columbia allows rapists to serve in leadership roles," which could not be further from the truth. There is, within our policy, an enormous range of behaviors that could lead to a finding of "responsible" for a gender-based misconduct violation, which makes a blanket policy so tricky. For example, someone can be found responsible for a gender-based misconduct policy violation for giving an unwelcome hug. I believe this person, depending on what they learn as a result of going through the conduct process, may be able to hold a leadership position during their time at Columbia. If someone were found responsible for sexual assault, this student would not be selected to serve in a USL leadership role.
I recognize that moving forward as a survivor is intensely personal and often life-changing. I have heard stories from survivors and recognize that my words may not ease their concern, nor their pain. I care deeply for the Columbia community and share these views as a feminist, survivor, advocate, educator, and parent (of a 10-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son). I hope we can work together, given our shared desire to make Columbia safe for all students, to promote a campus culture of healthy behaviors and respect for all.
I always welcome your thoughts on this issue or any issue related to undergraduate student life. I look forward to our conversations and to your continued feedback and collaboration.
The author is the dean of Undergraduate Student Life at Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
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