As Law School professor Suzanne Goldberg took on two new positions created to address sexual assault, the University saw reform to the gender-based misconduct policy as well as the opening of Title IX investigations of both Barnard and Columbia.
Goldberg, the director of the Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, was first appointed as special advisor to University President Lee Bollinger on sexual assault prevention and response in August 2014.
"There are tremendous resources and activities already in place,” Goldberg told Spectator in August. “My aims are to leverage those efforts across the University to focus on prevention and training throughout the school year and to support a climate on campus where each of us feels responsible to create a respectful and safe community.”
In August, Goldberg said that she was not looking to fill the executive vice president for Student Affairs position—which was announced in 2014 along with the restructuring of student life administration. But in January, she took on this new position after overseeing several notable reforms to Columbia’s handling of sexual assault.
The news of Goldberg’s appointment as special advisor came only weeks before several changes to the University’s handling of sexual assault—including the announcement of new gender-based misconduct policy, the opening of a new location for the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Center, and the implementation of a new sexual assault training that was unveiled during the New Student Orientation Program.
Based on recommendations from the federal government as well as concerns raised by students, the new policy expanded supporters to include lawyers, added case managers as resources throughout the adjudication process, and mandated education for students found responsible and allowed to remain on campus.
Despite the policy addressing many of students’ key concerns, activists said they were concerned about some policy points regarding the deans’ role in the appeals process—as well as the way in which the policy was drafted.
“It is misrepresentative for Columbia to characterize these reforms as a response to student concerns,” a statement from No Red Tape released in August said. “[We] have been stonewalled, misled, and deliberately excluded from the revision process.”
In September, the University released aggregate data on sexual assault adjudication, including the number and type of sexual assaults reported on campus and how reports of gender-based misconduct were resolved over a one-year span.
But students were unsatisfied with the data’s exclusion of data on sanctioning.
“We cannot know if our administration is appropriately punishing people, and we cannot know if our campus is safe if we do not have this information on sanctions," Columbia College Student Council Vice President of Policy Sejal Singh, CC ’15, said in September.
After a group of student activists met with Bollinger in September to ask for more prevention education and a review of the new policy by the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault, Goldberg sent them a memo in October where she addressed key criticisms from activists, including why the report lacks sanctioning data.
On Oct. 29—the same day as the “Carry That Weight” National Day of Action inspired by Emma Sulkowicz’s, CC ’15, senior thesis, Bollinger and Goldberg also published an article in the New Republic, where they addressed the issue of campus sexual assault.
Over winter break, activists saw a major victory as the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened investigations into Barnard and then Columbia in response to a federal complaint filed last April alleging that both schools violated Title IX, Title II, and the Clery Act.
While OCR investigators began conducting open sessions on campus in April, legal experts interviewed by Spectator in January said that it would be unlikely for the investigation to enact concrete change on campus for another two years at the earliest.
Days after news broke about the investigations, Goldberg was named executive vice president for University life during the first week of the spring semester in January.
While the position was initially called “EVP for Student Affairs,” the announcement of her appointment also brought a change in title to “EVP for University life.”
Though Goldberg said the position’s new name more accurately reflects her vision for the job, some students said this change reflected less of an interest in students. “It's indicative of the position itself, moving away from having a closer interaction with students,” CCSC VP of Communications Abby Porter, CC ’17, said in January. “I think it’s increasing the bureaucracy of Columbia, which I don't think anyone wants.”
Since becoming EVP, Goldberg oversaw the creation of the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative and has also begun leading a student-faculty committee on race.