Frustrated with the lack of action from school administrators on the issue of sexual assault, some students at Columbia University are taking matters into their own hands. Over the past week, someone has started publicizing the names of alleged sexual predators on campus, warning other students to stay away from them.
The list first appeared on the wall of a women’s bathroom in the academic building Hamilton Hall. According to the Columbia Lion, someone wrote the names of four “sexual assault violators on campus” on the side of the stalls. The names appeared to be written in different handwriting, suggesting that more than one student had participated in the effort. After the school’s maintenance staff quickly scrubbed off the list, it reappeared in several other bathrooms on campus.
On Tuesday afternoon, students took it a step further. They printed the list onto fliers and distributed them to the most widely used bathrooms on campus. The fliers list the same four men, asserting that three of them remain on campus even though the university found them “responsible” of sexual assault. The fourth is identified as a “serial rapist.” The hand-outs urge the campus community to “stay safe”:
University officials have refused to wade into the current controversy. “To avoid chilling complainants from coming forward and to respect all parties involved, the University does not comment on the particulars of disciplinary proceedings regarding sexual misconduct,” a spokesperson said in a statement provided to the Columbia Spectator.
The tensions over sexual assault have recently reached a boiling point at the college. Just last month, a group of 23 Columbia students banded together to accuse the Ivy League institution of dissuading victims from reporting sexual assault, handing out lenient punishments to rapists, and failing to address the needs of LGBTQ students. Columbia is one of the 55 schools across the country that are currently the subject of federal investigation over their sexual assault policies, an issue that’s recently gained federal attention.
Some students at the university say that, thanks to the inadequate policies on campus, students are resorting to vigilante tactics because they feel like it’s the only option left.
“If we felt protected and safe, this wouldn’t be an issue,” Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a Columbia junior and a survivor of sexual assault, told PIX11 News. “The fact that so many students are really vocally saying ‘we feel unsafe, we feel scared enough to have to scribble on bathroom stalls to try to get justice, or to just try to keep other people safe from going through the pain that we’ve gone through,’ that demonstrates the climate here.”
Other people on campus are more skeptical about the public shaming tactic. “I think it’s really hurting the people that actually want to help the victims and get policy changed across campus,” Leila, a junior who asked to withhold her last name, told the New York Times.
Back in 1990, students at Brown University also scrawled the names of alleged rapists on a bathroom wall. That controversy helped spur the university to update some of its policies related to sexual harassment, but also resulted in several individuals at the university being falsely accused.
In general, sexual assault prevention activists have pushed for more transparency on these issues so students can make informed decisions about how to keep themselves safe. The feminist group UltraViolet is currently running a campaign to target high school seniors with information about which colleges have “rape problems,” to help prospective students take sexual assault policies into account when choosing their school. A group of lawmakers has also asked U.S. News & World Report to update its influential college rankings to include more information about how schools are handling rape.