Columbia University to revise sexual assault policy

Columbia University announced last week it will revise its campus sexual assault misconduct policy in September.

The new policy will list New York’s statewide affirmative consent definition as “a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision.” Affirmative consent, or “yes means yes,” indicates that two individuals must provide verbal affirmation during a sexual rendezvous or be at risk of violating campus sexual assault policies.

The policy will also include provisions to comply with the “Enough is Enough” initiative, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in July in an effort to increase fight sexual assault on college campuses. Similar laws are also in place in California and Connecticut and colleges in states like Alaska have also instituted independent campus policies.

For Columbia University, the policy change will build on the school’s most recent sexual misconduct policy, which favors the victimized student, by including protections for the accused, such as allowing the accused student to have a lawyer present during hearings pertaining to sexual assault. The policy also serves as a way to fulfill the university’s Title IX compliance.

“The gender-based misconduct policy that was introduced last year is a very strong policy. The work this summer involves refinement based on a year of experience with the policy in practice as well as other changes required by new law,” Suzanne Goldberg, Columbia’s executive vice president for university life, said.

The university emphasizes “Enough is Enough” through class work, workshops, and freshman orientations. Columbia has even gone so far as to hold special sessions for incoming freshman to educate them on the details and process of affirmative consent.

"The new state law recognizes what has been a well-established part of Columbia's policy that sexual contact requires affirmative consent at all times, and that silence is not consent,” Robert Hornsby, Columbia’s associate vice president of media relations, told Campus Reform,

Hornsby went on to say that Columbia has made large investments in professional staff and data transparency to comply with federal mandates, and enhanced procedures to ensure fairness to all students involved in incidents.

“We have also committed our academic expertise in evidence-based research to gain new insights into both the causes and most effective responses to this issue," he said.

Columbia University has found itself in the national spotlight recently over the issue of sexual assault. Most notably, former student Emma Sulkowicz, better known as the “Mattress Girl,” carried around the mattress upon which she claimed she had been raped as a way of protesting the school’s handling of her sexual assault case.

The Department of Education is also currently investigating Columbia for Title IX violations. The investigation could lead to a loss of federal funding if the school does not comply with the Department of Education’s recommendations, The Columbia Spectator reports.

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