Content warning: sexual violence
On October 7, 2016, Columbia University closed their investigation into my rapes without interviewing a single person. They never acknowledged the fact that my rapes were hate crimes, nor the fact that my rapes happened and were not just “alleged incidents.”
The head of Student Conduct and Community Standards, Jeri Henry, did make sure to tell me to “put [my] phone down” during my meeting with her. Apparently she was less concerned about my physical safety than she was about the possibility of me recording our meeting due to a petition I helped create against Columbia.
Some important context: in New York state, where Columbia is located, we have a “one-party consent” law, which means people have the legal right to record conversations they are part of without the other person’s consent. In addition, Title IX and Enough is Enough both state schools must give students access to accurate records of all gender-based misconduct proceedings, such as transcripts, note-taking, and audio recordings.
Given the inaccurate note-taking that plagues Title IX investigations at many schools like Columbia, audio recordings are the only way to give students accurate records of proceedings.
However, before Columbia interviewed me about my rapes, they made me sign a form threatening me with disciplinary action if I recorded meetings with them.
I now fear suspension or expulsion if I record meetings with administrators.
Recording interactions is crucial for proving those in positions of power are exploiting those who lack it. Take the audio recording released on October 8, 2016 of presidential candidate Donald Trump laughing about sexually assaulting women. Or the infamous moment in the 2015 TV documentary series The Jinx when wealthy real estate heir Robert Durst admitted, when he thought his microphone was turned off in the bathroom, to murdering three people. And Donald Sterling, the now-former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was banned from the NBA for life in 2014 after an audio recording of him going on a racist rant was made public.
In the example of universities like Columbia preventing students from recording gender-based misconduct proceedings, the unequal power dynamic between students and administrators makes recording necessary for a fair response to sexual and dating violence. Columbia in particular has a well-documented history of Title IX violations. From multiple Title IX complaints to lawsuits by students who claim they were unjustly accused of assault, the fact that Columbia’s gender-based misconduct process fails students is clear.
But until students like myself are given the right to record gender-based misconduct proceedings at Columbia and beyond, we cannot prove our schools are failing us. Ending sexual and dating violence on college campuses involves more than a fair gender-based misconduct process, but a fair process is necessary for preventing serial perpetrators from assaulting other students.
There is no reason for schools to ban recording gender-based misconduct proceedings unless they are planning on violating Title IX or hiding something.
So what are you hiding, Columbia?