Message from Provost John Coatsworth Regarding Report on Gender-Based Misconduct Prevention and Response

September 23, 2014

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

Over the past year, the issue of sexual assault has gained a new level of attention and engagement on campuses around the country. We are committed to providing a national model of the best policies and practices to help ensure that members of our University community feel safe and respected. As one part of that commitment, we are publishing Columbia’s first annual Report on Gender-Based Misconduct Prevention and Response. The report can be accessed here from Columbia’s Sexual Respect website.

Included in this report are substantive steps taken in recent months, including major revisions to the University’s Gender-Based Misconduct Policy and Procedures for Students, the opening of an additional Sexual Violence Response and Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center at Lerner Hall, and enhanced consent and bystander training. These are all aspects of the significant progress we have made on this issue.

The report includes aggregate data on possible violations of the policy by Columbia, Barnard, or Teachers College students reported during the 2013-14 academic year to the office previously known as Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct. We are one of very few peer institutions to publish such information. We do so as one more way of expanding discussion and understanding of the scope of gender-based misconduct and how to better prevent its occurrence.

It is important to note that the data provided – based on recommendations from President Bollinger’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault – reflect policies and procedures that have since been significantly revised and enhanced. This report is, by its nature, a look backward. While the data on student cases is an important step, we anticipate continued activity and improvement in the year ahead.

It also should be acknowledged that no one set of numbers gives a complete picture of the experiences of our University community. In future years this report will include the results of a climate survey that will provide a deeper understanding of attitudes and experiences of students on our campus. We hope that a combination of growing awareness about preventing sexual assault and new policies for addressing it when it does occur will have an impact on such data in future years.

For the present, we urge everyone interested in this vital topic to consult the Sexual Respect website,, for relevant resources – including resources for members of the community who feel the need to speak privately about personal concerns related to this report. The website also outlines important University initiatives that have responded both to student requests and to changing guidelines under Title IX from the U.S. Department of Education in recent months. We believe that common ground exists for further action in the year ahead.

A final point about the importance of maintaining student privacy in providing anonymous data: our University is committed to protecting the privacy of students participating in gender-based misconduct investigations and disciplinary proceedings. Without confidence that their privacy will be protected, students in need are less likely to confide in the medical personnel, psychological counselors, and student conduct professionals who can help them. For this reason, as well as considerations related to federal student and health privacy laws, the University does not comment on specific cases, and the report has been careful not to include information that identifies specific individuals.

We are committed to taking the steps within our authority to ensure that members of our community can feel a sense of safety, respect, and fairness in preventing and addressing gender-based misconduct in all its forms.


John Coatsworth