Sexual Respect: It’s Time to Take the Initiative

Friday, October 25, 2019

As we head into the last days of the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative, I find myself thinking a lot about the number of students in our community who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or stalking. I’m also thinking about the knowledge that our community has gathered in our ongoing efforts to understand and prevent the spread of all forms of gender-based misconduct.

I want to share some of that data here, but first want to remind you that the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative is happening now through Oct. 27 — it is part of a Columbia-wide effort to create a commitment within our community to always act with integrity and respect for others.  

Now to the data: Nearly 30% of students who participated in the Spring 2018 Student Well-Being Survey said they had been sexually harassed during their time at Columbia, most often by other students. Nearly 10% of students said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, and 4% said they had experienced stalking.

What does this say about our community? Each of us might have a different answer to that question, but two things are certain: First, these experiences can significantly affect the lives of individual students. They can also have wrenching effects on friendship circles and student organizations, teams and others. And second, there is more work to be done to ensure that every one of us helps to create a community free from gender-based misconduct of all kinds.  

These survey data also prompt a question: What can every Columbia student do to help create a better environment for all? Learning more about affirmative consent, the power of bystanders, the dynamics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, warning signs of abuse, and how to help a friend are five concrete steps that everyone can take.  

And if you already have that information and those skills, then learning more about gender norms, Title IX and campus resources may be your next best steps. Indeed, a 2017 report on the Sexual Respect Initiative by the Mailman School of Public Health showed that a majority of students who took the Sexual Respect Initiative cited new skills and knowledge as among the benefits they received. 

Even if you've already taken the Initiative, there is plenty more to experience and learn — including workshops, discussions and opportunities to talk with Marjy Fisher, Columbia's Title IX Coordinator. Check the schedule here.

Or maybe you have a better idea — something you learned before arriving at Columbia or in a student organization or class since you've been here. Share it with your classmates and with us at University Life. As the #MeToo movement has shown, change takes many voices. Make sure your voice is part of the conversation. 

Suzanne Goldberg is the executive vice president for University Life and the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical professor of law at Columbia Law School, where she co-directs the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.


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