Many colleges across the nation have slowly started to invite students to claim a seat as a part of their incoming freshman class, the class of 2019. These high school seniors are starting to receive acceptance letters and are revisiting the idyllic campuses they fell in love with months ago.
They’re comparing dorm rooms, sitting in on lectures, and eagerly immersing themselves into the everyday shuffle of existing college students. At Columbia University, current students want these high school seniors to also consider one extraordinarily important question — “Will I be safe on this campus?”
“Columbia has failed to take concrete action to make this campus safe,” reads a letter addressed to prospective students and families, written by student advocacy group No Red Tape Columbia. “Adjudication processes retraumatize survivors, fail to hold perpetrators accountable, and do not deliver justice. The campus resources available for survivors are underfunded and difficult to navigate, and the current prevention education programs are completely insufficient.”
The letter depicts the real intersection in which campus life and campus sexual assault meet, a concept that has been perpetuated and brought to life in the news in recent months, and well in cultural outlets such as the documentary films It Happened Here and The Hunting Ground. Both films tell the stories of students who have been sexually assaulted and have failed to be protected by institutions that had an obligation to do so.
“Administrators continue to make symbolic but meaningless changes and prioritize their image over the well-being of students,” states the letter, about Columbia University.
Columbia is currently one of close to 100 colleges and universities being investigated for potentially violating Title IX by mishandling sexual assault cases on campus.
As students prepared to enter a prospective students session at Columbia University, members of Red Tape handed them and their parents the letter, in an effort to encourage the high school students to hold Columbia accountable.
Groups like Red Tape understand that prospective students, and parents, hold some leverage over colleges that the students already attending the university do not.
Application to Dartmouth College, a prestigious Ivy League institution, dropped 14 percent after multiple sexual assault controversies hit campus last year, ThinkProgress reported.
One of the major concerns the letter addresses is Columbia’s lack of financing and commitment to implementing an educational program that would require between 6 and 10 workshops on the topic of sexual assault. The current iteration of Columbia’s preventative program is not mandated throughout the University, and the decision of whether students are required to participate is left to each College to decide. If the assignment is required, it is as of now limited to viewing a relevant TED Talk and then writing a reflection on it.
“Colleges have a responsibility to educate students as responsible global citizens and keep us safe; part of this responsibility is effective prevention education,” states the letter.
The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault says that 6 to 10 workshops were “the absolute minimum amount of programming necessary to prevent sexual and dating violence,” as cited by the letter.
The conversation around campus sexual assault has gotten loud enough that its challenge to the status quo of how Columbia educates its students regarding sexual assault has moved beyond the ivy walls and into the homes of high school students.