Like so many colleges and universities in America, Columbia has an egregious sexual assault problem. Fortunately, the administration has come up with a totally sufficient and effective means of eradicating sexual violence on campus once and for all: they're canceling a semi-annual concert over "safety concerns associated with drinking and sexual harassment." Way to go, guys! You did it! You vanquished rape culture!
This April, 23 students filed a federal lawsuit against the school alleging that the administration had systematically discouraged students from reporting sexual assault, discriminated against LGBTQ students in offering counseling services, failed to adequately punish students found responsible for rape and permitted serial rapists to remain on campus, among other allegations. So inadequate was the administrative response to sexual assault that students began restoring to vigilante justice, distributing copies of a "rapist list" containing names of repeat offenders whom the school had failed to expel.
Serious action on Columbia's part is long overdue. To start, the administration needs to rewrite its sexual assault policy, implement effective consent education and better train its counseling staff. None of that has happened yet. So, what action has been taken? Well, uh, on Monday, the Columbia Lion obtained a press release from the board of the university's annual spring concert, the Bacchanal, announcing that the event had been canceled — even though the performers had already been booked to the tune of $55,000. Although no specific reasons were given for the cancellation, administrators made "general comments about safety concerns associated with drinking and sexual harassment" in a meeting with the Bacchanal Committee.
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Obviously, this is not a reasonable or serious way to combat sexual assault and harassment. In a statement, several student organizations voiced their dissent, arguing that canceling the event is a "misguided way to fight sexual assault" because it "simply distract[s] from and disguise[s] the underlying causes of sexual violence, rather than creating a campus culture in which students could safely participate in schoolwide, community events."
The Columbia Coalition Against Sexual Violence also released a statement, calling the decision troubling:
The Coalition Against Sexual Violence is deeply troubled by the Columbia administration's choice to cancel the Fall Bacchanal concert and to place the spring concert under review. We feel strongly that this is a band-aid, not a solution, in the fight against sexual assault on Columbia's campus. The goal of our work is and has always been to create a culture of consent on campus which makes all events and spaces safe for students — cancelling Bacchanal sends the false message that the concert is the cause of sexual violence.
Harassment and assault at Bacchanal may be more visible, but sexual violence is prevalent throughout the year, and will happen in Columbia residence halls, buildings, and events whether or not this event takes place... Cancelling the event only serves to ignore and distract from the true reasons for sexual violence on campus — inadequate consent education, a lack of accountability, and rape culture. Bacchanal does not create these conditions, and we feel strongly that cancelling it is a misguided decision which restricts students' choices rather than working towards a community where we can all safely interact, learn, and grow together.
No Red Tape, another anti-sexual violence group on campus, further stated that "the administration's idea that canceling Bacchanal will eliminate violence shows their complete misunderstanding of the root of violence and places blame on alcohol or drugs instead of a culture in which we do nothing when those around us are hurt." Yep. This is an obvious and lazy example of treating the symptom, not the cause. Doing away with the most visible instances of sexual assault doesn't stop rape — it just allows inept administrators to feel that they've taken a stand and accomplished something while the policies and procedures that permit sexual assault remain in place.
The administration at Columbia have been saying since January that they're serious about making change, but they have little to show for it. And, frankly, if they sincerely believe that canceling an event is the best way to combat sexual harassment and assault, it's hard to have faith in their ability to create a non-hostile campus environment for students.
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