Columbia University may be compelling students in the next month to complete a sexual assault education program or else lose the ability to register for classes or even receive their diploma, according to the Columbia Spectator.
The initiative will reportedly be announced next week, but has been leaked by several of the school’s undergraduate residential advisers, who have already been briefed on the program.
Students will have a host of options for how to complete the requirement, including attending an hour-long workshop, watching and discussing a series of short films on the matter or even crafting works of art and poetry to engage with the topic. They will be expected to have complied with the school’s demand by March 13, just one month following its announcement.
The requirement is planned as the first of what could be several “community citizenship initiatives.”
Initially, it appears the university planned for the sexual assault education to be optional, though strongly encouraged, but this provoked oppositions from some of the RAs.
“Someone who doesn’t understand what rape is and thinks this is bullshit would most likely not participate—and those are the people that need to be reached,” one anonymous RA told the Spectator.
Those complaints appear to have made the university re-evaluate, and RAs who attended later briefings on the initiative say it is now being described as mandatory.
Notably, while participation is expected of all students in Columbia’s undergraduate and graduate programs, students at Barnard College, Columbia’s all-women affiliate, will not be required to take part, suggesting the target of the initiative is actually Columbia’s men.
If the effort is deemed successful, the school is apparently considering mandating participation in additional “citizenship initiatives” going forward.
“It is my understanding that this year focuses on sexual respect and consent. But in the future, it could be subject to diversity or another topic focus,” an RA said.
Columbia has been enmeshed in controversy over sexual assault in the past year, after student Emma Sulkowicz made very public allegations that she had been raped by a fellow student and then denied justice thanks to a bungled investigation by the university. Last fall, she drew national attention when she started to carry a mattress with her around campus. On Tuesday, a Spectator writer wrote an opinion piece condemning the paper for helping to stoke an uncritical, witch-hunt attitude towards those accused of sexual assault.
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