Why Sexual Respect?

Monday, September 19, 2016

As Columbia’s Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative begins, every student here is invited to reflect on the link between sexual respect and membership in the Columbia community.  Workshops, documentary film screenings and discussion, multiple online options, resources for healing and resilience, and independent projects are all ready for your engagement.  

But what is sexual respect anyway?  And why should you care? 

Sexual respect at Columbia is a commitment to acting with integrity and respect for others, and is a responsibility to do what we can, individually and collectively, to reinforce an ethic of care and mutual respect in our community, even amidst our differences. It is also the unequivocal refusal to tolerate sexual harassment, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based misconduct. 

Here’s why you should care:  Most basically, we are in a community together and the way we treat each other matters.  But also, data coming directly from Columbia students via a major survey shows that many of you report being sexually harassed by your peers. Some have also reported nonconsensual sexual contact by another Columbia student, often (though not always) after having been drinking together.

Not surprisingly, this harassment and contact can interfere profoundly with academic success, student organizations and teams, and everyone’s well-being.

So, as we start this academic year, we can reshape our community and the ways we treat each other.  The Sexual Respect Initiative, created for you by students along with faculty and administrators, gives you a ready path to gain skills and knowledge – and to contribute to making a difference.

But, you might say, I already treat my friends with respect – why should I do this too?  The answer is in the title – it is the Sexual Respect AND Community Citizenship Initiative. 

How many of us can say we don't know anyone who has been harassed or subjected to dating violence or assault, or can say we don't know anyone who may have crossed the line of harassment or other gender-based misconduct? And, importantly, how many of us feel equipped enough to step in or get help for a friend, even in our own community

Simply put, the Sexual Respect Initiative is about understanding and responding to the links among us and doing what we can to create change, not just in this moment but throughout the year and beyond.


Here are the basics:

Who participates:  All students are encouraged to take part.  Students new to Columbia are required to participate.

When is it:  Monday, Sept. 19 through Sunday, Oct. 30.

What is it:  The Sexual Respect Initiative offers many options to choose from: workshops, documentary film screenings, online video collections with Q & A, independent projects, and resources for healing and resilience.  Many are new this year, and popular workshops and films are back again! 

Who created this, anyway?  Students, faculty and administrators created it and evaluate the offerings each year.

Where do I learn more?  sexualrespect.columbia.edu – click the Sexual Respect Initiative link.


Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg is Executive Vice President for University Life and the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. She directs the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law there, and serves on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault.