Student’s Suit Alleges Columbia University Mishandled Sexual Misconduct

By | April 28, 2014

Columbia University and Barnard College mishandled incidents of sexual assault and misconduct on campus, according to a complaint filed yesterday with the U.S. Education Department by 23 students.

The complaint alleges violations of Title IX, the law that bars sex discrimination in education, the Clery Act, which requires schools to report campus violence, and provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a statement from students at the two New York City schools.

Students from across the U.S. have filed complaints with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights saying that their access to education has been impaired by poor responses to sexual assault and harassment. Even after campus activism and discussions, conditions at the schools, affiliated since 1900, haven’t changed, Rakhi Agrawal, one of the students who filed the complaint, said in a telephone interview.

“I’ve been doing sexual-assault work here on campus for years and I wanted to make sure that something was done before I graduate,” said Agrawal, a senior at Barnard, an all-women’s college.

Violations of the federal laws can result in fines and the loss of eligibility for federal student financial aid.

Columbia’s administration has been told that a complaint has been filed, but the school hasn’t seen it, said Robert Hornsby, a spokesman. The school is taking new measures to prevent sexual misconduct, support survivors and improve adjudication of cases, he said.

Other Universities

“That process of action and reform will continue in the months ahead because we are committed to protecting the health, safety and well-being of every member of our university community,” Hornsby said in an e-mail.

Other colleges where students have filed Title IX or Clery Act complaints include Harvard University, Yale University, University of Michigan and Dartmouth College.

Among the allegations in the complaint against Columbia and Barnard are: assault survivors are discouraged from formally reporting; serial offenders are allowed to remain on campus; assault survivors have been retaliated against and discriminated against in housing; and students aren’t reliably informed of campus violence.

The case demonstrates “Columbia’s pattern of mishandling sexual violence that results in a distinctly hostile environment,” according to the students’ statement.

The Office for Civil Rights doesn’t confirm the receipt of complaints as a matter of policy, said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman. If after evaluation the office opens an investigation into a complaint, the office will inform the institution, complainants, and the public, as appropriate, he said.

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