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As the new academic year begins, sexual respect is front and center in discussions on- and off-campus, as allegations regarding sexual misconduct pervade the news in all sectors, from media and the arts to government and academia. The good news is that we, as a community, are talking about these issues more than ever before—and that much of the conversation on campus is about how best to make positive change.

Just last week, students from nearly every Columbia school signed up to be ambassadors for the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative, which launches today—and with the initiative’s start, every student on campus has a chance to get involved.

You probably already know that Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement in 2006, well before there were Twitter hashtags. Her point? To seek empowerment through empathy—to show the world how widespread and pervasive sexual violence is and to let those who have experienced abuse know they are not alone.

Here at Columbia, the question is how we, as a community, can put an end to gender-based misconduct both on campus and beyond. Sexual respect, after all, is a fundamental University value: It is a commitment to communicating and acting with integrity and respect for others.

And as brave individuals of all ages and from all walks of life are speaking out about their experiences, we can take this as our own call to action—to learn how to stop gender-based misconduct and where to go for help, whether for ourselves or for a friend or classmate.

The dialogue around gender-based misconduct and consent is multilayered and ever-complex, as Columbia’s Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation research study teaches us. Recognizing this, the Sexual Respect Initiative prompts us to look not just at how to give and get consent, but why. Put simply, sexual respect is about being there for each other, with knowledge and with respect. This is where the community citizenship part of the initiative comes into focus.

Every year, I see students across campus stand up to be catalysts for change and advancement in gender-based misconduct prevention, sexual respect, and community citizenship. You might find your place in a task force, as a student ambassador or peer facilitator, or simply as a friend.

Wherever you enter this conversation, know that you can make an enormous difference, whether in the life of one person or many. It is this type of community-building that reminds us just how interconnected we are at the University, and that together we have the responsibility—and the opportunity—to create a campus culture that prioritizes caring for each other’s well-being.

Participating in the initiative is required for all new students at Columbia, and everyone is strongly encouraged to take part. Choose from workshops in your school, the sexual respect ambassador program, and more on Columbia’s sexual respect website. The initiative runs through October 28.

The author is the executive vice president for University Life and the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical professor of law at Columbia Law School. She directs the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and co-chairs the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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