Colleges and universities have a reputation for sweeping sexual assault under the rug because they want to avoid negative publicity. That tactic has been biting Columbia University in the ass over recent months, as their administration's responsibility dodge has led to a barrage of bad press. And now, a smattering of bright red protest tape during its annual commencement exercises.
According to the Columbia Spectator, last week many students received an anonymous email urging participants in graduation to voice their support for victims of sexual assault by affixing a small amount of red tape to their mortarboards. Here's part of that letter:
To the graduating students of Columbia's Class of 2014,
This week, we celebrate all that we have accomplished at this University — and all we have endured. As you may know, this semester, students have demanded that the University take several important steps to reform a woefully inadequate set of services, policies, and procedures dealing with sexual violence that students face on campus.
Although we have been promised some reforms, there has been no significant change to our level of community safety, to the pain and trauma survivors must endure when they see their perpetrators on campus, to the rape culture that pervades this school. [...]
As we prepare to walk across our stages and accept our diplomas, we cannot forget that the responses we've gotten remain insufficient and inadequate. The longer we wait for these changes to come about, the more our fellow students remains vulnerable to assault. It is our responsibility to leave a lasting mark on the community we have been a part of for several years.
We ask that you join us this week in an act of solidarity with survivors (your friends and peers), faculty who have shown support for this very important issue, and for the community members who have been hard at work at reforming campus life. By placing a piece of red tape on your cap (ideally parallel to the right side), you will demonstrate and signal to the University that you do not accept your degree lightly, that you understand the culture that they have been complicit in perpetuating, and that you will not stand for it, and that you demand justice and support for all survivors, even as a graduate of this institution.
Sexual violence, and all violence, should not be tolerated. By coming together this week, we will use our voices to assert that it will not be tolerated within these gates. Join us in this act of solidarity and support.
Your fellow 2014 graduates
A postscript provides instructions on how to acquire short lengths of red tape to wear during the graduation ceremony as protest.
Quite a few people joined in. According to images gathered by Rega Jha at Buzzfeed, the red protest tape is visible in many shots of the commencement stage.