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Columbia University Refuses To Say How Many Students Were Punished For Sexual Assaults

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COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY CAMPUS
People walk past the Alma Mater statue on the Columbia University campus in July 2013 in New York City. Columbia has so far denied requests to disclose the number of students punished for sexual assaults and harassment. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) | Getty

NEW YORK -- Columbia University is not disclosing the number of students found responsible for sexual misconduct and sexual assault, and how they were punished, but the school is being pressured to change its mind.

More than 650 students have signed a petition, drafted by the Columbia Democrats student organization, calling on the Ivy League university in Manhattan to disclose information about how the school adjudicates sexual offense cases.

The petition, addressed to Columbia administrators, requests the "number and nature of sexual assaults, rapes, and incidents of gender-based harassment and misconduct reported to Columbia University and Barnard College," as well as the number of cases addressed with campus-judicial proceedings, the number of students found responsible and the types of sanctions levied.

The Clery Act requires colleges to disclose how many sex offenses were reported on campus, but not whether they led to any sort of investigation or punishment. Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte called the omission a "significant weakness" of the Clery Act. Columbia's latest Clery report shows 16 forcible sex offenses in 2012.

Sejal Singh, a junior and Columbia Democrats president, said they don't want names -- only statistics.

"We make it very clear to them we're not asking for any information that could identify anyone," said Singh. But so far, she said the university administrators have "dragged their feet" in responding.

Members of the Columbia Dems said concerns about other colleges botching their reports on sexual assaults coupled with concerns about Columbia's policies, spurred them to request more information about how the university handled them.

The petition was endorsed by the Columbia Political Union, the Columbia University College Republicans, the Roosevelt Institute, Take Back the Night, the Muslim Students Association and the Columbia Queer Alliance, according to the Columbia Daily Spectator.

"I think it's a pretty reasonable thing to ask. You shouldn't wait until something horrible happens that makes you adjust [school policy]," sophomore Sarah Weinstein said. "We want to prevent that in advance from happening."

Weinstein said she was troubled after she attended Consent 101, a program during freshman orientation to teach incoming students about sexual relationships.

"It really concerned me that the way we were instructed to facilitate it was to not be very serious," Weinstein said. "Instead, it takes on this very joking tone, laughing about what are the different ways you can give consent. The way in which Columbia students are educated about these issues is not in a way that conveys the seriousness of sexual assault on college campuses."

Columbia denied The Huffington Post's request for the number of students accused and punished for sexual misconduct, initially citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal privacy law. But that's "absolutely, positively" not true, according to the SPLC.

"It's hard for me to imagine the university could look a student in the eye and say 'how many rapists are on campus is none of your business.'" LoMonte said. "It's just not even a good faith argument at all. There's no way that statistics are [federally protected] information because they don't lead to identifying anyone."

The SPLC also denied on its blog that the information was protected when in July other universities made similar claims that the number of expulsions for assaults is private. The group noted that Yale University releases this type of data on its own accord, though it opened the school to criticism. Similarly, the University of Connecticut recently released a tally of how many students were accused of and punished for sexual misconduct.

Weinstein said Yale's semi-annual reports on the judicial outcomes for students accused in such cases are similar to what her organization would like to see at Columbia.

Yale Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler previously told HuffPost that the university's reports are an effort to "generate discussion." In the latest report, Spangler wrote that the school's goal is to "engage community members in efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and promote a campus culture of respect and responsibility."

When HuffPost followed-up with Columbia about Yale's reporting policies and SPLC's comments, the university declined comment. A spokesman also repeated that the university would not release the statistics.

Singh said they are working with student government members and deans at the university to build support and pressure Columbia administrators to address their concerns.

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