We, as a society, do not know how to deal with issues regarding sexual assault due to the normalization of rape culture. As a result of the idealization of toxic hypermasculinity, men feel entitled to women’s bodies while at the same time pressured to repress their own experiences of sexual assault. Fortunately, due to movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, issues regarding sexual assault have been brought to the forefront. However, while these movements aim to eliminate assault on a national scale, it is up to us to eliminate sexual assault in our very own local communities. The best places to start confronting this epidemic of sexual assault are within campus organizations and clubs with which we interact daily.

Since student organizations such as identity-based affinity groups are the primary sites of refuge for many students, it is the responsibility of their leaders to ensure the safety of their constituents. It is necessary that these clubs create atmospheres that are both open to survivors and intolerant of perpetrators. The most important thing clubs need to do is address the needs of survivors. We can get so wrapped up in vigilante justice that we often forget that some survivors may not want to relive their trauma by reporting assaults to a judicial board. By forcing our own agenda on survivors, we strip them of their agency all over again. We can provide resources that range from connections to a 24-hour rape crisis center, to organizing a confrontation with the perpetrator.

In terms of creating an environment which vehemently opposes rape culture, club leaders need to, if possible, constitutionally address issues surrounding sexual assault. Clubs should be allowed to suspend or ban people who are deemed by the board to be a danger to constituents. Of course, students cannot be expected to make administrative judgements in all situations, but in cases when survivors do not feel safe reporting assaults to judicial boards, club leaders should do whatever they can, within the limits of their power, to protect their constituents—regardless of expectations.

Currently, the administration cannot be trusted to deal with sexual assault cases, since they possess society’s subjective view on who they deem to be a victim and perpetrator. The University has a history of silencing weaker parties in sexual assault cases. The people who tend to get away with sexaully assualting others are typically in positions of power, such as men (although men are also often victims of sexual assaults), rich people, and white people. This factor of privilege prevents many survivors from confiding in administrators. For example, the history of women of color, especially black women, being hypersexualized in western society produces a significant disparity between support given to white and black female survivors. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are also viewed as “sexual deviants” by society’s definition, so they are less likely to be believed by administrators. These implicit biases make it increasingly difficult for members of these marginalized communities to come forward. Implicit biases regarding a person’s perceived criminality can also cloud the judgement of the administration. We also cannot ignore the lengthy history of men of color being murdered for simply looking at white women, which has manifested in both the hypersexualization and demonization of these men. As such, many people of color may feel hesitant to trust the University to handle cases of sexual assault. This is not to say that victims and club leaders should protect perpetrators for the sake of maintaining an image of their club or race. But, we cannot ignore the long history of men and boys of color who were murdered based off of false accusations.

So, how can clubs deal with perpetrators? We, as a society, tend to completely ostracize and isolate perpetrators, which is a completely warranted response. Although this method may be effective in the short term through its ability to shame the perpetrator and warn possible survivors, it is not completely effective. If the club leaders exile a perpetrator without taking the time to educate them or refer them to trained professionals, the perpetrator will eventually leave campus, find another community, and continue to assault more people. In an ideal world, people will come to campus understanding consent—but statistics of rising sexual assaults on campus have proven otherwise. Restorative justice programs can serve as avenues to healing survivors and the community as a whole. However, if a perpetrator makes constituents uncomfortable and violates the sanctity of the safe space, the club should have the power to remove them immediately.

As a campus community, we need to redefine how we talk about and deal with sexual assault. We need to destigmatize the image of victimhood. Above all, we need to create an atmosphere that is intolerant to the violation of human bodies.

We, as a society, do not know how to deal with issues regarding sexual assault due to the normalization of rape culture. As a result of the idealization of toxic hypermasculinity, men feel entitled to women’s bodies while at the same time pressured to repress their own experiences of sexual assault. Fortunately, due to movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, issues regarding sexual assault have been brought to the forefront. However, while these movements aim to eliminate assault on a national scale, it is up to us to eliminate sexual assault in our very own local communities. The best places to start confronting this epidemic of sexual assault are within campus organizations and clubs with which we interact daily.

Since student organizations such as identity-based affinity groups are the primary sites of refuge for many students, it is the responsibility of their leaders to ensure the safety of their constituents. It is necessary that these clubs create atmospheres that are both open to survivors and intolerant of perpetrators. The most important thing clubs need to do is address the needs of survivors. We can get so wrapped up in vigilante justice that we often forget that some survivors may not want to relive their trauma by reporting assaults to a judicial board. By forcing our own agenda on survivors, we strip them of their agency all over again. We can provide resources that range from connections to a 24-hour rape crisis center, to organizing a confrontation with the perpetrator.

In terms of creating an environment which vehemently opposes rape culture, club leaders need to, if possible, constitutionally address issues surrounding sexual assault. Clubs should be allowed to suspend or ban people who are deemed by the board to be a danger to constituents. Of course, students cannot be expected to make administrative judgements in all situations, but in cases when survivors do not feel safe reporting assaults to judicial boards, club leaders should do whatever they can, within the limits of their power, to protect their constituents—regardless of expectations.

Heven Haile is a first-year in Columbia College studying political science and African-American history. She is a first-year representative for the Black Students’ Organization and a member of the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association. Her hobbies include blissfully listening to Frank Ocean and Solange in a dark room, destroying oppressive systems, and stanning black women on Twitter.

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By HEVEN HAILE
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Discourse & Debate: How should student organizations respond to allegations of sexual assault?

Content Warning: This piece addresses issues of sexual assault. Student organizations are technically not allowed to oust students from their groups on the basis of allegations of sexual assault without going through the University. What obligations do student groups have when one member is accused of sexual assault by another?

In cases of sexual assault on campus, alleged victims often do not know where to turn. Their cases can often take months or even years to be settled by the University and in the interim, they require a support system and protection from their alleged perpetrator. These cases affect the organizations and clubs that the accuser and accused are involved in, and their responses can both exacerbate or ameliorate the situation. I believe that the best response to these incidents, at all levels, is one that maintains a standard of fairness and objectivity until a verdict has been given. I will briefly describe my views on sexual assault in general, and then I will discuss how I believe clubs should respond.

I am a firm believer in a rigorous standard of due process for any crime, meaning that the accused can seek legal representation, present exculpatory evidence, engage in cross-examination, have the right to a trial by jury in a court of law, and be innocent until conclusively proven guilty. Too often, when colleges and universities handle matters of sexual misconduct themselves, these basic, foundational legal principles are lacking.

I do not believe that changing the standard of evidence and allowing the accused’s university (in a hush-hush manner) to litigate issues of sexual misconduct in place of our judicial system are viable solutions. Too often, this fails both the accuser and the accused. I am a firm believer that if one is accused of committing a crime, especially one as egregious as sexual assault, one should be tried in a criminal court and, if guilty, face criminal charges, and not what is often (comparatively) just a slap on the wrist from their university.

However, despite all of the shortcomings and problems that arise when the university litigates these cases, I believe that organizations and clubs should ultimately suspend judgment until, and defer to, the administration’s verdict as it is the most qualified and objective arbiter in these cases. I believe that no one should face ramifications that can disrupt or potentially ruin their college career without being proven guilty.

In cases where a member of a Columbia club accuses another member of the same club of sexual misconduct, the first thing that the accused should do is report the case to the administration, and the fact that they are in the same club and therefore often in each other’s presence should be part of the information that is submitted. But, in the same spirit of my views concerning sexual assault generally, I believe that the accused should be innocent until proven guilty. As such, the club should not force out the accused, officially or covertly by other means, unless and until the University charges the accused with having committed the offense.

In the interim period between when the report is submitted and the University reaches a decision, the club leadership should meet with the accused and ascertain their side of the story, giving them a serious questioning about the facts of the case and offering the option to resign from the organization. If the accused maintains their innocence but the accuser feels that they are genuinely unsafe continuing to attend the club while the accused is still a member, it is incumbent upon the accuser to stop attending until the University completes its investigation. The club should do whatever possible to accommodate this hiatus, and any support systems that the club possesses should work in conjunction with Columbia’s general resources to help them during this time.

Even though, as previously mentioned, I take issue with the way that our University handles these cases, I believe that the results of its investigation should still be the standard by which the clubs make their decision. If the administration does find the accused guilty, the club should immediately dismiss them. If the administration does not find the accused guilty, then it is up to the accuser to decide whether or not they should return to the club.

It is extremely unfortunate that, in cases where the accused did commit the offense but is acquitted or simply given a slap on the wrist, the onus is upon the survivor to discontinue attendance, but I see no viable alternative that preserves the objectivity and fairness that we desire in our institutions given the administration’s current role as arbiter in these cases. I am not implying in any way that most accusers are lying about their experiences; the overwhelming majority of survivors are telling the truth. This is one of the innumerable tragic features of this type of horrendous crime, but I do not see an easy solution to this problem that maintains equity and fairness for all parties.

In cases of sexual assault on campus, alleged victims often do not know where to turn. Their cases can often take months or even years to be settled by the University and in the interim, they require a support system and protection from their alleged perpetrator. These cases affect the organizations and clubs that the accuser and accused are involved in, and their responses can both exacerbate or ameliorate the situation. I believe that the best response to these incidents, at all levels, is one that maintains a standard of fairness and objectivity until a verdict has been given. I will briefly describe my views on sexual assault in general, and then I will discuss how I believe clubs should respond.

I am a firm believer in a rigorous standard of due process for any crime, meaning that the accused can seek legal representation, present exculpatory evidence, engage in cross-examination, have the right to a trial by jury in a court of law, and be innocent until conclusively proven guilty. Too often, when colleges and universities handle matters of sexual misconduct themselves, these basic, foundational legal principles are lacking.

I do not believe that changing the standard of evidence and allowing the accused’s university (in a hush-hush manner) to litigate issues of sexual misconduct in place of our judicial system are viable solutions. Too often, this fails both the accuser and the accused. I am a firm believer that if one is accused of committing a crime, especially one as egregious as sexual assault, one should be tried in a criminal court and, if guilty, face criminal charges, and not what is often (comparatively) just a slap on the wrist from their university.

Ethan Hastings is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and (apparently) a Bachelor of Science in economics. His hobbies include not waking up for his 1 p.m. classes and amassing a fan base in the Spectator comments section. You can reach out to him at ehh2133@columbia.edu to solicit his opinion (but not his money).

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By ETHAN HASTINGS
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Above my right shoulder floats an avowed pragmatist; over the left, a rabid communist. The pragmatist tells me to regard capitalist ventures like Walmart as exploitative of workers, but also as a probable net good for the poor. Meanwhile, my acromial comrade would like to raze every Walmart to the ground for the wholly sufficient reason that each is joined to a parking lot, and parking lots privilege those of us who can afford cars.

As should be obvious to all, this dynamic extends beyond my conscience, with moderates and radicals regularly engaging each other on various issues. Note that these two archetypes are applied more accurately by issue than by person, for the simple reason that a typical person tends to be moderate on some issues and radical on others.

Though antithetical in outlook, both moderates and radicals bring value to the public conversation. The passion of the radical is necessary for social movements to be born and sustained. Without the enthusiasm of those who feel strongly about a given issue, fewer large-scale cultural movements would be likely to succeed. It is also often the case, however, that enthusiasm turns to intemperance, with the result being harmful. When the potentially useful ardor of the radical overheats and becomes injurious, it is necessary for milder minds to bring about a cooling effect.

For the reasons outlined above, and for additional reasons to be discussed, I think it is a good thing that student groups lack the power to unilaterally banish members accused of sexual assault.

On a campus with the political leanings of our own, the sentiments powering the #MeToo movement are surely regnant. While campus support for #MeToo is largely positive, as the movement has done much to expose and condemn men who view women as no more than the appurtenance of power, there can be no doubt that some students are extreme in their support. Thus, in the heady moment of cultural change, some members of student groups may see themselves as advocates for the accuser when sexual assault allegations occur rather than dispassionate arbiters pursuing the truth. The obverse peril is likewise to be feared: Students who deem the #MeToo movement a witch hunt may be overly sympathetic with the accused. If student groups were to have the power to decide these cases, the pursuit of justice would risk being trammeled by both kinds of ideological fervor.

Additionally, there is the problem of personal relationships biasing students’ assessment of a case. Some students may feel compelled to protect a friend who is being accused. They may think that the allegations do not fit their friend’s character and are therefore false; they may think that their friend has learned from the experience of being accused, and that the behavior in question will be reformed without punishment. This problem works the other way as well: If two students are part of a group, and a friend of one of the students accuses the other student of sexual misconduct, should the friend of the accuser have a say in whether the accused is guilty?

Rather than let these matters be decided by students, the University alone should investigate allegations and determine what punishment, if any, is warranted. Total objectivity may be impossible, but the existence of a fixed standard by which to judge these cases helps to limit human subjectivity. It is best that this standard for determining guilt be applied by people who are not personally involved with the accused. Obviously, this system is imperfect and will not always deliver a just result. But it is free from many of the imperfections plaguing the alternative, and should be favored for that reason.

This topic calls attention to the difficulty of sexual assault cases. While justice would ideally be delivered for all victims, the limits of our knowledge combined with the need to ensure fairness for the accused combine to restrain this ideal from being actuated. As is too often true, the best we can hope for is amelioration and to not make anything worse. The radical may not agree, but that is precisely why we need moderates.

Above my right shoulder floats an avowed pragmatist; over the left, a rabid communist. The pragmatist tells me to regard capitalist ventures like Walmart as exploitative of workers, but also as a probable net good for the poor. Meanwhile, my acromial comrade would like to raze every Walmart to the ground for the wholly sufficient reason that each is joined to a parking lot, and parking lots privilege those of us who can afford cars.

As should be obvious to all, this dynamic extends beyond my conscience, with moderates and radicals regularly engaging each other on various issues. Note that these two archetypes are applied more accurately by issue than by person, for the simple reason that a typical person tends to be moderate on some issues and radical on others.

Shane Brasil-Wadsworth is a junior in Columbia College. He’s studying history and philosophy and is currently awaiting a normative revolution to address the practice of cutting the line by joining friends who are already in line. Please direct all animadversion to sb4056@columbia.edu.

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By SHANE BRASIL-WADSWORTH

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many groups are seeking to extract themselves from a culture of complicity that keeps sexual predators in power. Student organizations at Columbia have not been exempt from the effects of this reckoning. If this toxic culture is to ever be eradicated completely, these groups must implement zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault.

At our Discourse & Debate meeting, a couple of my colleagues suggested that if both the Complainant and the Respondent are in the same student organization, then, for the safety of the survivor of the alleged assault, the Respondent should be swiftly suspended from the club while the officers determine the best course of action. I agree with that suggestion. However, the problem then becomes determining the length of the suspension, especially in the case that a formal complaint to the University is never filed. Is it fair for the Respondent to exist in a perpetual limbo? Is suspension based on informal claims of sexual assault, without due process, a form of gender-based discrimination that could then be used to file a Title IX claim?

When a club member is charged with sexual assault, indefinite suspension should be the norm. Therefore, when it comes to facing sexual assault, student groups should be given the power to take matters into their own hands—which would require the Office of Undergraduate Student Life to revise its policies so a clear penalty of suspension exists for any member who is accused of sexual assault, whether or not the claim comes from a fellow member of the organization.

In the meantime, student organizations should be able to use informal, but well-defined, methods to isolate members who pose a threat to the safety of other group members by giving the Respondent a choice: They can leave the group voluntarily, accept an indefinite suspension, or agree to inform members that they have been accused of misconduct. Yes, false claims of sexual harassment can permanently damage an innocent person’s reputation. But only 2 to 8 percent of sexual harassment claims turn out to be either partially or completely fabricated. The safety of the student organization’s members is the most important factor to consider when navigating these complex situations.

Student groups must do their part to respond immediately to claims of sexual harassment among their ranks. However, the organizations do not bear the responsibility of teaching their members what constitutes proper sexual conduct. Proper sexual conduct should be learned years before a student steps foot on Columbia’s campus. If students do not have a comprehensive consent education, then Columbia’s Sexual Respect Initiative, which is mandatory for new students, dispels any legitimate grounds for claims of ignorance regarding consent and sexual assault. Sexual assault is so heinous a crime that, if the Respondent is found guilty, then they should be immediately terminated from the University and all University-affiliated activities. Student groups should not waste their time, while simultaneously putting their members at risk, trying to rehabilitate a sexual predator.

Attempting to develop comprehensive legislation regarding sexual assault is a difficult thing to do, especially at the University level. Proper responses will take time, as the rights of both Complainants and Respondents must be balanced. In the interim, student organizations at Columbia must revise their bylaws to include clear hard-line policies regarding sexual assault claims.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many groups are seeking to extract themselves from a culture of complicity that keeps sexual predators in power. Student organizations at Columbia have not been exempt from the effects of this reckoning. If this toxic culture is to ever be eradicated completely, these groups must implement zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault.

At our Discourse & Debate meeting, a couple of my colleagues suggested that if both the Complainant and the Respondent are in the same student organization, then, for the safety of the survivor of the alleged assault, the Respondent should be swiftly suspended from the club while the officers determine the best course of action. I agree with that suggestion. However, the problem then becomes determining the length of the suspension, especially in the case that a formal complaint to the University is never filed. Is it fair for the Respondent to exist in a perpetual limbo? Is suspension based on informal claims of sexual assault, without due process, a form of gender-based discrimination that could then be used to file a Title IX claim?

Mimi is a junior in Columbia College studying creative writing. She likes to write opinion pieces, satire, and thinly-veiled autobiographies. Love letters can be sent to mae2160@columbia.edu.

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By MIMI EVANS

The current “#MeToo” social media movement has shone a light on the widespread occurrence of sexual assault, and as a result people have begun to publicly address this dilemma more than ever. This movement, along with the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, has incentivized the Columbia community to join in on these discussions as well. Yet, despite consensus of the issue’s relevance, students and the administration still seem to fail to conclusively act when presented with situations involving sexual assault.

As pockets of the greater Columbia community, student groups have the same obligation to contribute to the combattance of campus sexual violence. Allegations made within these groups involve individual members of the student body, and their management directly influences campus culture surrounding sexual conduct. Because of this, students groups must address these situations in a manner that not only holds the accuser accountable, but also educates other group participants on ways they can contribute to the prevention of campus sexual assault.

During the entirety of our undergraduate experience, Columbia students are only presented with one—albeit, mandatory—workshop during orientation, a workshop done through the Sexual Respect Initiative in which the topics of consent and proper sexual conduct are discussed. These minimally-nuanced discussions at the beginning of freshman year may introduce students to fundamental concepts, but in no way do they adequately cultivate a continued understanding of, and adherence to, proper sexual conduct. The constant recapitulation of proper sexual conduct by student group leaders could safeguard against the initial introduction of sexually-inappropriate behaviors to the group’s environment. Sexual assault allegations, meanwhile, offer the opportunity for student groups to reiterate their values and ensure the general understanding of the alleged behavior’s inadmissibility.

Beyond addressing the group at large, student group leaders should also hold the accused directly accountable for their actions. Recently, a Varsity Show writer was accused of sexual impropriety by a fellow team member and, out of consideration for the cast’s “safety and comfort,” voluntarily stepped down from his position. While this specific example does not involve the student group taking direct action, it alludes to the priority of members’ safety that should exist in every student group. Some would argue that without proof of the alleged harassment, the creative team member’s departure was unfair. However, in cases of any sort of violence, the safety of a survivor should not be compromised at the expense of an alleged perpetrator’s comfort. In the event of allegations of this nature, student groups should be allowed to suggest a mandatory probationary period or suspension of the accused member from the group.

The most essential role of a student group when faced with sexual assault allegations should be the consideration and accommodation of the survivor’s wishes. In the event that the accusation comes directly from a group member, student group leaders should first consult them before taking any definitive action and offer the survivor emotional support, as well as direct them to campus resources. As of now, the only campus resource specifically tailored for sexual assault survivors is Sexual Violence Response (SVR), which has three on-campus locations with restricted hours. No Red Tape, a student-run organization that advocates for the eradication of sexual assault and domestic violence, has recently petitioned for SVR to serve as 24/7 crisis centers. This proposed resource—beyond providing comprehensive care and support for survivors of sexual abuse—could redirect some of the burdens placed on student groups, which are not comprised of experts on gender-based misconduct.

Presently, student groups and sexual assault survivors are fettered by the University’s gender-based misconduct policies and stripped of agency over the resolution of these cases within their organizations. But even so, the continued advocacy and support on behalf of sexual assault survivors, from celebrities on social media to student activists on campus, sets a precedent for the kind of action student groups must take, independent of University delegation. As individual students and a part of the greater Columbia community, members of these organizations can still actively combat sexual violence and its consequences, not only with advocacy and education, but by also renouncing the behaviors that contribute to the toxic environment in which it thrives. Students on this campus, whether members of organizations or not, must passionately embrace this social change—by learning about the issues, by following the lead of campus activists, and, most importantly, by uplifting the voices of survivors—in a quest to eliminate sexual violence from the Columbia community. Proactive participation in this crusade may not be easy—nor should it be—but complacency with the knowledge of ongoing injustice is nothing short of neglect.

The current “#MeToo” social media movement has shone a light on the widespread occurrence of sexual assault, and as a result people have begun to publicly address this dilemma more than ever. This movement, along with the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, has incentivized the Columbia community to join in on these discussions as well. Yet, despite consensus of the issue’s relevance, students and the administration still seem to fail to conclusively act when presented with situations involving sexual assault.

As pockets of the greater Columbia community, student groups have the same obligation to contribute to the combattance of campus sexual violence. Allegations made within these groups involve individual members of the student body, and their management directly influences campus culture surrounding sexual conduct. Because of this, students groups must address these situations in a manner that not only holds the accuser accountable, but also educates other group participants on ways they can contribute to the prevention of campus sexual assault.

Avah Toomer is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in medicine, literature, and society and concentrating in Francophone studies. She hopes that she broached this subject respectfully, without presuming or invalidating anyone’s experiences. She urges you to email her at ast2166@columbia.edu about any and all issues you may find with her piece.

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By AVAH TOOMER

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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