Addressing Gender-Based Misconduct: Support, Policies and Practices

Friday, August 25, 2017

Dear Members of No Red Tape and other supporters of the SAAFE petition,

Thank you for your petition and recommendations. When Suraiya Baluch, Interim Director of Sexual Violence Response, and I met with some of you a few months ago, we discussed several of these points at length. The responses below reflect the conversation we had at that time as well as the supplemental contributions of Sexual Violence Response, Counseling and Psychological Services, Public Safety and the Gender-Based Misconduct Office.

As you know, I am happy to continue to talk with you about these issues.

Professor Goldberg
Executive Vice President for University Life
Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law


Jump to:  Accessibility | Accountability | Funding | Enforcement

Support

1. Increase culturally responsive mental health services and trauma response staff by requiring safe space training.

Sexual Violence Response (SVR) staff has participated in myriad trainings including Safe Zone (Parts 1 & 2), Under One Roof, and The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, and has also brought in expert trainers from outside Columbia (e.g., Monroe France, NYU Assistant Vice President for Student Diversity).

SVR is a diverse staff: Staff members identify as African American, Latina, White/Caucasian, South Asian, multiracial/multiethnic, immigrant, heterosexual and LGBT, and are diverse socioeconomically as well as in gender, religion and spirituality.

Cultural sensitivity and competence is a core value of Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) and is a required part of the training for every psychologist and psychiatrist on staff. CPS is open to all appropriate opportunities to further enhance staff awareness and respect for cultural, individual and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language and socioeconomic status.

In addition, issues of diversity and cross-cultural counseling are regularly addressed as part of CPS in-service training and case conferences. In recent years, professional development sessions have specifically addressed particular interests and needs related to students of color; international students; students with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and multiple other queer identities; students of various gender identities; issues of immigration in psychotherapy; spirituality and religion in psychotherapy; social justice; and numerous other related issues. Postdoctoral fellows who work with CPS receive training in diversity, cross-cultural counseling, working with international students, and working with LGBT students as part of their orientation to CPS, as well as the professional development provided to all staff.

CPS has a dedicated Trauma Support Team that includes experts in the field, and all staff members receive ongoing professional development in working with survivors.

Beyond these specific professional development opportunities and others like them, some of which are facilitated by outside experts and some by content experts on the CPS team, clinical and interpersonal considerations in working with cultural, individual and role differences are routinely part of the ongoing case conferences, supervisory sessions and clinical consultations in which every staff member participates throughout the year. Finally, the CPS staff brings a wealth of personal lived experience that enriches discussion of all of these issues: Forty percent of CPS clinicians are people of color; ten percent are out as gay, lesbian or transgender; and around a quarter immigrated to the United States from abroad. The cultural diversity of the staff is reflected in the languages in which we are able to provide counseling including Chinese, Danish, Farsi, Filipino, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Urdu.

2. Have professional staffing at a Rape Crisis Center on campus 24/7.

SVR's professional survivor advocates are available 24-hours/7 days a week/365 days a year for immediate crisis counseling, accompaniment to on and off-campus resources including the hospital, NYPD, District Attorney's office, courts, medical services etc. In short, SVR offers comprehensive rape crisis services. We have great concern that the current inaccurate representation that SVR does not offer 24-hour services is harmful to survivors seeking support. To misrepresent what SVR offers also is a disservice to the many student activists, student peer counselors and advocates who helped create, build and staff Columbia's Rape Crisis Center for the past 24 years.

Additionally, SVR has responded to demands for longer hours in the past. During the 2014-2015 academic year SVR was open until 10 p.m.; utilization during the extended hours extremely low. SVR peak utilization times are generally 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and, in particular for walk-ins, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The current best practice for sexual assault advocacy is for advocates to be on-call and available to respond immediately. This is the protocol SVR follows because it allows for a personalized, private response; we meet the survivor when and where they are most comfortable, which is the definition of a trauma-informed response. Community and hospital-based sexual assault services use this model as do other university advocacy programs. Our peer institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown utilize similar 24-hour advocacy services initiated through a helpline. This is in keeping with the industry standard, which, as just described, is a 24-hour hotline with immediate phone access to certified counselors/advocates who can then respond on-site.

SVR has not had survivors request to meet at the SVR office in-person when calling the helpline overnight. Overnight calls are typically for crisis counseling, information about resources and options and/or accompaniment to off-campus resources such as the hospital or NYPD. Most importantly, this current demand for on-campus 24/7 staffing is not a trauma-informed best practice. A trauma-informed response takes into account the need for survivors to first name their experience as a violation, which does not usually happen in the immediate aftermath of an assault. Additionally, seeking services can be very anxiety provoking. Providing survivors with immediate access via phone to an advocate aids in providing a sense of connection to university services and resources. Both anecdotal and research evidence demonstrates that survivors will disclose first to friends. In fact, students are most likely to disclose to a friend rather than to seek services in the immediate after an assault. According to a Department of Justice survey, two-thirds of survivors disclosed to a friend, not to their family or school (Fisher, Cullen & Turner, 2000).

We have done due diligence in exploring the question of a brick-and-mortar 24-hour rape crisis center including reaching out to the executive director of NYS Coalition Against Sexual Assault and to a researcher (Bein, 2010) who examined the best practices of rape crisis centers in 20 states. This research identified no 24-hour brick-and-mortar rape crisis centers in the United States. Additionally, we did a benchmarking study of our peer institutions which revealed that no university has a brick-and-mortar 24-hour rape crisis center.

SVR has taken steps to enhance our after-hours call answering protocol based on feedback from the SAAFE petition and our own benchmarking of best practices. We concur that survivors should always speak with someone who is trained to be a sexual violence first responder when calling the SVR helpline. With our implemented changes, when a student does call the helpline, the call is transferred to the SVR professional advocate on-call (24/7/365) immediately. The SVR professional advocate on-call is then always available to meet with a student in-person, either on campus or at an off-campus resource (e.g., hospital, NYPD, court).

SVR is also exploring improving access and service provision through technology (e.g., an online chat system, an app with Health resources and information).

3. Allow students to have both moral and legal support throughout the reporting and adjudication process. Students should not have to choose between having a loved one or lawyer by their side.

It is important for students to have support throughout the reporting and adjudication process, if they choose. For this reason, students have the right to an advisor of their choice to provide support throughout the investigation and adjudication process. This includes a right to have an attorney advisor provided at no cost. If a student chooses to have an attorney, they can also bring a loved one or other supporter with them to the Gender-Based Misconduct Office. This person can be present in the Office throughout any stage of the process, and students are permitted to take breaks throughout the process to speak with their support person. The Office has made the professional judgment that this practice enables students to receive support while also enabling the authentic exchanges of information that are essential to the investigation and adjudication process.

4. Remove the exception for GBM that requires the Office of Disability Services, Health Services, and all other normally confidential services to report cases of GBM. Survivors should be able to request accommodations without triggering an investigation.

Regardless of whether a report results in an investigation, Case Managers are happy to work with students to discuss accommodations, including class schedule adjustments and connections to partner offices. Case managers regularly liaise on students' behalf with faculty and academic advisors and other appropriate university offices to address housing concerns. We empower students to make their own decision about their level of participation in any disciplinary process,and when appropriate, enable students to play an active role in deciding whether to pursue an investigation at all. For more on this, see the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students. None of these decisions has any effect on a student's ability to work with a Case Manager to obtain accommodations. While the Office of Disability Services is not a confidential resource, Health Services is a confidential resource and is not required to report gender-based misconduct incidents (there are narrowly limited, legally-mandated exceptions to this confidentiality, such as incidents involving minors).

5. Educate all first responders to be culturally sensitive and aware of resources on campus, including immediate support to feel safe navigating campus, STI testing and reporting options.

SVR professional survivor advocates are New York State-certified rape crisis counselors whose essential function is to inform survivors of all options and resources including medical, psychological, adjudication, criminal and legal (e.g., NYPD, Orders of Protection), and academic and housing accommodations. SVR professional survivor advocates can serve as a source of ongoing support and provide ongoing assistance to students who pursue any of the above-mentioned options.

Testing for STIs is available on campus at the various health services offices and from off-campus resources.

SVR also offers first-responder training to members of the Columbia University community so that students, staff and faculty are equipped to respond sensitively to disclosures.

Public Safety staff members undergo first-responder training as well. Included in this training for uniformed staff is training about gender-based misconduct and Title IX from experts in and outside the University and training about SVR's services and resources from SVR staff members.


Accessibility 

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1. Revise the policy language to remove unnecessarily complex and inaccessible legal jargon. The policy's language should be clear and easily understood by any student.

The Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students has been written in a way that aims to be clear and easily understood by every student. The Policy's very first page invites students and all community members to share comments: "Comments and questions, which are always welcome, may be directed to studentconduct@columbia.edu." The update to the Policy for this academic year incorporates numerous comments and suggestions from students and other community members. Clarity remains a priority and we continue to welcome both comments and suggestions.

2. Provide students, especially those who cannot afford an attorney advisor, with more options for legal representation, such as alumni, members of the campus legal community or other volunteer attorneys.

The University will provide an attorney-advisor at no charge to all students who request one, as detailed in the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students. To provide this service in a high-quality and evenhanded way to all students, the University has partnered with highly-trained lawyers who have specialized expertise in our policy, our process, and the issues involved in gender-based misconduct investigation and adjudication. The policy also makes clear that students can elect to work with any lawyer they choose and are not limited or obligated to work with an attorney provided by the University.

3. Make aggregate data about processes available to all students, including instances of repeat offenders and specific information about accommodations granted.

The University has, for the past two years, issued an extensive report on Gender-Based Misconduct Prevention and Response, and will continue to issue a similar annual report going forward.The reports for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years can be found on Columbia's Sexual Respect website. Each report provides information about resources, training, incident reports, and cases.

The reports also explain that, in sharing information about cases, they are careful to provide only anonymous data and to not disclose information that might indicate the identity of any students who brought or who were the subject of complaints. There are very few reports of incidents involving the same respondent; treating those reports differently from others by providing additional information about the respondent would carry a significant risk that the identities of students could be discerned by those familiar with the report.

The reason for taking care to avoid disclosing the identity of students involved with the gender-based misconduct office is to make clear that students can report gender-based misconduct without concern that the University will share identifying information or comment publicly on their individual reports. Without this clarity, we know that some students will be reluctant to file reports.

The Policy is the location for specific information about the accommodations that are available to students both in and outside of the investigative and disciplinary process. (The term "interim measures," sometimes used interchangeably with "accommodations," refers to measures put into place during the course of an investigation or disciplinary proceeding and describes a subset of all accommodations.) Under appropriate circumstances, accommodations may include, but are not limited to: moving a student's residence; adjusting a student's work schedule for University employment; changing a student's academic schedule; allowing a student to withdraw from or retake a class without penalty; providing access to tutoring or other academic support; and issuing a "no contact" order. The Gender-Based Misconduct Office will evaluate any request for accommodations in light of the circumstances and information available at the time of the request and will liaise with the relevant offices to facilitate responses to these requests. The University will reveal information about the accommodations only to those who need to know in order to make them effective.

Students seek and are granted accommodations - one time or ongoing - through a variety of resources committed to such support. Because the Gender-Based Misconduct Offices is one resource that facilitates accommodations through partner offices, it cannot tally all accommodations that are granted. Students may also seek assistance on their own or directly through a particular office; through a confidential resource; or with the assistance a Case Manager.

Revise policy language to clarify procedures for requesting academic and other interim and post accommodations and grant students more agency over academic and other accommodations by:

4. Removing the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office from the decision-making process around academic accommodations, such as exam extensions and course withdrawals.

Students regularly work with the Gender-Based Misconduct Office's case managers or SVR for assistance with accommodations.The case managers serve as liaisons to various departments to facilitate requests for assistance and accommodation; ordinarily, it is these departments that make the decision on the request.The protocol is that all reasonable requests are granted.

5. Allowing for increased coordination between the Office of Gender-Based Misconduct, Disability Services and the various CU schools to increase access to accommodations for student survivors. Academic accommodations should be handled by same university offices that handle these issues in other, non-sexual misconduct contexts.

There is substantial coordination already in place among the Gender-Based Misconduct Office, the Office of Disability Services, and schools within Columbia. The Gender-Based Misconduct Office's case managers facilitate accommodation requests for student who make them. The same university offices that make the decisions regarding accommodations in non-sexual misconduct cases make the decisions for gender-based misconduct case (e.g. the academic department, the Center for Student Advising, or an individual faculty member will handle the decision at issue, as appropriate).


Accountability

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1) Allow a wide variety of students to be consistently involved in the revision and oversight of campus policies and programs.

A wide variety of students from nearly every school is consistently involved in campus policies and programs. Many students belong to the Gender-Based Misconduct Task Force; students also serve on the President's Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault. In addition, students work with SVR, provide feedback to the Gender-Based Misconduct Office, and continue to be instrumental in contributing to the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative. As noted above, numerous students were also involved in providing ideas and guidance for the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy as issued in 2014 and 2015, and the Policy continues its open invitation to all community members to pose questions and provide comments.

2) Revise Clery Crime Alert protocols to include information about on-going threats posed by university-affiliated individuals. Additionally, revise language of the alerts to include trigger warnings and replace victim blaming "tips" with resources for survivors.

We continue to work on developing and refining language within Clery Crime Alerts to best serve all members of our community.

3) Explicitly recognize students' right to record all interviews and meetings with Student Conduct and Community Standards staff to ensure the accuracy of all parties' accounts and the legitimacy of the overall process.

Students have the ability to take notes, just as the Gender-Based Misconduct Office does, during any part of the process. Any record created by Office staff for the purpose of the student file is reviewed directly by the student (and the attorney advisor) and the student has the ability to propose additions/modifications to any written documents. The Office has made the professional judgment that recording has the potential to distract from the authenticity of the conversation in interviews and meetings, and that note-taking, together with the opportunity for students to review any notes included in the records of the discipline process, has proven sufficient to ensure accuracy.

4) Increase transparency around employee training and qualifications, especially for legally mandated reporters, GBM investigators, and hearing panelists.

Existing reports already include information about employee training and qualifications. We will find ways to further expand that information for sharing with the University community.

5) Establish a feedback mechanism that allows students to share their experiences with Columbia's prevention programs, resources and adjudication processes. This survey should be widely publicized and received by an independent body that does not control any of the previously mentioned programs, potentially composed of faculty, to avoid further conflict of interest.

The Gender-Based Misconduct Office provides all students who are parties in the disciplinary process with a link for anonymous feedback. Students receive this link regularly in communications from the Office and can complete the survey at any time. In addition, anyone can submit feedback to the President's Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault via the Sexual Respect website. The Office of University Life also welcomes all feedback about students' experiences with Columbia's prevention programs, resources and adjudication process. For the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative in particular, students are invited and encouraged to complete an evaluation, and we have received more than 3,000 evaluations to date. In addition, the Office has conducted and will continue to conduct independently-run focus groups regarding the Initiative. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to write to universitylife@columbia.edu.


Funding

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1) Increase the number of investigators and case managers to ensure appropriate responses to conflicts of interest requests. For example, a student should never be reassigned to his or her alleged assailant's case manager after submitting a conflict of interest request.

Resources have been allocated so that the Gender-Based Misconduct Office is appropriately staffed to ensure that students do not share the same Case Manager as the other party in their case. Additionally, the current staffing model was designed to handle effectively the number of reports and cases reviewed by the office.

2) Make the SVR peer advocate and peer educator jobs paid positions of at least $15/hour to reflect their value in our community and increase accessibility for low-income students.

Historically, rape crisis centers have been staffed primarily by volunteers. In New York City, rape crisis advocates are primarily volunteers who respond to hospitals upon request. Rape crisis centers typically rely on on-call staff/volunteers for coverage outside of regular business hours.

SVR has asked our peer advocates and educators their opinion on the question of volunteer pay. The foremost peer response has been that their fellow students making demands on behalf of the peers have not asked the SVR student volunteers their opinion. Within our SVR student volunteer cohort, there is a range of opinions regarding volunteer pay from supporting the idea to being adamantly opposed to being paid for a cause they believe in.

Additionally, SVR currently employs seven student interns. The interns have been trained in sexual violence first-responder skills and have participated in parts of the 40-hour volunteer training. These interns greet and triage survivors, plan and host outreach events and lend their voices and perspectives to the work of SVR. They are all paid $15/hr.

3) Fund mental and physical health services so survivors don't have to face weeks of wait times.

Counseling and Psychological Services has substantially expanded its staffing at the beginning of this academic year and has a substantial trauma support team. For more on CPS, please see above. We have not received reports about weeks of wait times for survivors seeking physical health services. If you have those reports, please do share them.

4) Institute and publicize regular support groups for survivors of varying kinds of violence.

A host of support groups are available to survivors both on and off-campus including groups serving survivors of childhood sexual abuse (through Counseling and Psychological Services), sexual assault (CPS), domestic violence (Crime Victims Treatment Center [CVTC at 1090 Amsterdam Ave], PTSD (CVTC) and holistic healing (CVTC). This information is available from both SVR and CPS; information about off-campus support groups is also widely available online. Case managers can also assist survivors in accessing this information.


Enforcement

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1) Clarify enforcement mechanisms to ensure the policy works as written.

It is not clear what is intended by this request. The Gender-Based Misconduct Policy has clear provisions regarding its rules and procedures.

2) Remove conflict of interest from adjudication by appointing objective administrators or faculty.

The University's priority is to have the adjudication process be fair for all students involved and sensitive to the array of issues that may arise in connection with a report, investigation or adjudication. For this reason, all involved with administering the process receive ongoing training to insure that their ability to perform their roles fairly, effectively, and with sensitivity to the issues involved.

3) Include a process for the investigation and removal of investigators, case managers and other employees, who fail to adequately and appropriately carry out their duties on behalf of survivors.

The Gender-Based Misconduct Office informs students, in writing, that they may request a staff member be removed from a case and substituted for another professional staff member. Students may, with appropriate cause and during any point of the process, describe the reason for requesting a change to AVP Jeri Henry, for consideration.

4) Create and require more robust prevention programs with professional oversight to ensure all students participate in a meaningful way.

From the moment students enter Columbia University, there are opportunities to participate in robust interactive prevention programs from Step Up! bystander intervention training during NSOP to the various Sexual Respect Initiative offerings to programming throughout the academic year sponsored by SVR and many other campus departments and student groups. Genuine participation in these activities, as in others, is ultimately incumbent upon the student who is participating.

5) Allow students to file an anonymous report so it can be counted in Clery Crime Statistics without initiating an investigation process.

Students can always file an anonymous report with the Gender-Based Misconduct Office (including via the Sexual Respect website), but it would be more helpful if they work with a confidential resource, such as SVR or Counseling and Psychological Services, to better understand how they might obtain further assistance or access to resources, if necessary.


References/Resources:

Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., & Turner, M.G. (2000). The Sexual Victimization of College Women. National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Bein, K. (2010). Core Services & Characteristics of Rape Crisis Centers: A review of State Service Standards http://www.ccasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Core-Services-and-Characteristics-of-Rape-Crisis-Centers.pdf