After Criticism, Columbia University Revamps Sexual Misconduct Policy

Columbia University has revised its sexual assault misconduct policy to allow lawyers to attend a student’s hearing and/or disciplinary meeting.

Students will also no longer be able to serve on hearing panels that determine whether a policy violation has occurred.  In their place will be three trained staff members chosen from a group of 12 student affairs administrators.  Students involved in the case will be allowed to bring a lawyer.  Those found guilty will need to complete an sexual assault class in order to remain a student at the school.

Previous accusations will not be allowed in current proceedings unless that student was found guilty or is it “similar to the present allegation.”

“Our goals underlying the new policy are principally these: to strengthen confidence in the university’s handling of reports of sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct, to ensure fairness for all parties involved, and to provide more assistance to students in need,” Columbia President Lee Bollinger said in an email to the student body. “The changes we’ve made also reflect recent guidance from the White House, the US Department of Education, and federal legislation, as well as our own community’s recommendations.”

Earlier this year a case was filed against Columbia University for its inappropriate response to sexual assault cases by 23 students after Columbia student Anna Bahr published a story on Bwog, the campus news site, pertaining to a previous rape case in which a man, accused of sexually assaulting three women, was not punished and was allowed to remain on campus.

According to Tyler Kingkade for The Huffington Post, students are claiming the new policies were put in place after administrators refused to meet with them concerning the previous policy earlier this summer.

“We were explicitly told there would not be a policy review over the summer, even as we asked to be involved in conversations over the summer,” said Sejal Singh, a rising senior who pressured the university to disclose information on how students found responsible for sexual assault were punished.

A small group of students met with the university president’s special adviser earlier this week, and was told of the new policy.  The students were not given a copy of the policy nor were they allowed to offer feedback.

The new policy needed to be in place prior to the start of the school year per new regulations under the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, part of the Violence Against Women Act enacted in 2013.  Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby said the university created many of the provisions “as a direct response to student concerns expressed during the last academic year through a series of formal and informal meetings.

“Still, as the policy’s first page states, student comments and suggestions will be welcome throughout the school year,” Hornsby said.

The University has added six staff members to its Office of Sexual Violence Response and increased training on the topic for incoming freshmen.  A larger support center on campus is also in the works.  However, the school will continue to update and improve the policy as it sees fit.

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