Columbia University Revises Policy on Sexual-Assault Misconduct

Columbia University students who are parties to hearings and disciplinary meetings on sexual misbehavior will now be able to have a lawyer accompany them under the school’s revised policy on gender-based misconduct.

In another change, students will no longer serve on hearing panels, which determine whether policy violations occurred, Columbia President Lee Bollinger said today in a statement. They will instead comprise three “specially trained” student affairs administrators, according to the 28-page manual.

“Our goals underlying the new policy are principally these: to strengthen confidence in the university’s handling of reports of sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct, to ensure fairness for all parties involved, and to provide more assistance to students in need,” Bollinger said.

Columbia updated the policy to reflect guidelines issued this year by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, as well the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and recommendations from the university community, Bollinger said. Colleges across the U.S. are revising policies in response to student complaints to the Education Department that their schools failed to comply with federal laws to prevent and appropriately respond to campus sexual assault.

Students filed such a complaint against New York-based Columbia and affiliated school Barnard College earlier this year.

To help prevent and respond to sexual misconduct on campus, the university has added six staff positions in its Office of Sexual Violence Response and expanded mandatory training for incoming undergraduates on consent and bystander intervention, Bollinger said. The campus is also opening a new and larger support center later this month in Lerner Hall.

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