Dear Jane Doe,
I believe you, and it is not your fault.
It is possible that no one will bother to tell you this. You might spend hours wondering if no one telling you this means that people are lazy, or that they think you deserved what happened to you. After I sued Columbia, I asked myself that question every day.
By tomorrow, you may regret coming forward to say that Columbia violated Title IX in response to your assaults. Perhaps you will be like me and make the mistake of reading the comments people post about you online. People may offer the same advice that Marjory Fisher, our Title IX coordinator, apparently gave to you—to just avoid him. Or maybe they will ask, “Was it really that bad?”
I remember the day after I sued Columbia last year. I sat in the Pupin bathroom, trying to wipe the TV make-up from my face like that would undo the decision I made. I clawed at the makeup on my cheeks, listening to the frantic passing footsteps by the elevator outside. Then I was just scratching, scraping skin cells onto a series of harsh paper towels, pulling the leftover eyeliner into blurry streaks (and finally into bloody streaks).
I looked at the mirror, at the scratches on my face from where I had rubbed over the little bumps that normally riddled my forehead so that they refilled with red on their tips. But then I pulled out more paper towels, throwing each one under the warm water from the sink, and pulled them across my skin. Every time I gazed at my swollen face in the mirror, I still saw her: the girl stupid enough to sue Columbia. I wanted so much to get rid of the part of me that wanted to hold Columbia accountable for failing to uphold Title IX. I thought silence would be easier.
And yes, silence is easier, but we cannot be silent about when we see Title IX violations at Columbia anymore.
As a student body, we have all failed you. Deliberate indifference—the thing that we both have accused Columbia of in response to our assaults—does not happen in a vacuum. Schools are only able to completely ignore complaints of violence if students let that happen unchallenged.
I admit that when I read your allegations, I was thoroughly unsurprised. Then I realized: my lack of surprise came from my acceptance of this conduct as normal. When I heard details about Columbia’s incompetent investigation into your assaults, I thought back to the “investigation” (a term I use generously) into mine, in which no interviews of potential perpetrators were conducted. I now think back to Columbia continuing to fight the grad student union that aims to protect graduate students like yourself, to Columbia having a person who retweets articles that claim college assault statistics are misleading sit on Gender-Based Misconduct hearing panels, to hearing stories about Sexual Violence Response personnel allegedly telling first-year students during orientation that someone being able to remember that Donald Trump is our president constitutes them being able to consent. Somehow I have come to accept all of this as normal, in the same way I have come to accept U.S. mass shootings like the one in Nevada on Monday as normal.
To be honest, I think all of us students have come to accept Columbia violating Title IX as normal. And in doing so, in becoming deliberately indifferent ourselves, we are failing survivors.
A school being deliberately indifferent to gender-based violence on campus is not normal—it is abhorrent and unacceptable. Students should not need to make graphic details of their violations public to get Columbia to keep them safe. We should not need to sue the institution charged with giving us a safe learning environment to protect ourselves from rapists.
Jane Doe, as a fellow survivor, I am in solidarity with you. Columbia needs to do better. We all need to wake up and fight for one another.
In love and solidarity,
The author is a junior in Columbia College studying Women’s and Gender Studies.
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