Opinion | Staff Editorials

Convincing our community to care about the sexual respect requirement

Last Friday, many Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science students who had not yet completed the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative were surprised to hear about a new consequence for their lack of participation. A week from the deadline, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm announced that her office would begin implementing registration holds as punishment for failing to complete the SRI. The new punishment was largely effective—it increased the student participation rate from 55.7 percent to 95.4 percent.

At a university whose students should be deeply invested in maintaining a culture of sexual respect, the administration’s need to force students into completing the SRI is deeply concerning. Combating sexual assault is a community effort, one that requires our participation in order to make our campus safer for our friends, teammates, and classmates. So why, after all that we’ve demanded from the administration, did we need to be forced to complete the SRI?

It is an unassailable and unfortunate truth that sexual assault happens here. Last September, Spectator broke the American Association of Universities survey indicating that one in four female seniors at Columbia have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact in college. The SRI, which was first announced by Kromm and rolled out by Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldbergs office last February, can be seen as a real attempt by the Columbia administration to respond to this reality. The SRI also aligns with student, administrator, and expert sentiments about the need for mandatory sexual respect education. And there’s no denying that the SRI is one of the first and most comprehensive programs of its nature in the nation.

To be sure, as with any new initiative, the SRI is far from perfect. Students can feel vindicated in their efforts to push the administration to make the SRI better—their voices are crucial to the success of programs like SRI. But although some students may take issue with certain aspects of the SRI, they shouldn’t feel justified in ignoring it.

But as last week’s low participation rate indicates, many students did ignore the SRI. These students need to realize that their initial lack of participation indicates their unwillingness to serve our community. It’s counterproductive to recognize the importance of sexual respect while dismissing the SRI as unworthy of the little time it actually takes to complete. Furthermore, this dismissal directly contradicts the urgency with which students have advocated for robust sexual respect programming.

The administration shouldn’t have to threaten students with registration holds to get them to complete the sexual respect requirement on time in the first place. Penalty or no penalty, we should care.

Caring starts at the interpersonal level. Club leaders can remind their fellow club members to complete the SRI; they can even attend workshops together. And while students who feel like they already know everything there is to know about sexual respect may not be swayed by frequent personal reminders, they should feel swayed by community obligation. Our values must be reflected in both the steps taken by our administration and what we, as students, prioritize.

In writing this, our intent is not to guilt our fellow Columbians into participation. We understand that, more often than not, forgetting to complete the SRI on time is more so an indicator of a busy schedule than of bad character. But administrative action is useless without active student participation. We urge the student body to keep this in mind as the administration rolls out future iterations of the sexual respect requirement.

The authors are members of Spectator’s 140th editorial board.

To respond to this staff edit, or submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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