UPPER WEST SIDE — Amid an ongoing outcry from sexual assault survivors and activists, the president of Columbia University has announced a series of changes in the way the university handles its response and investigation into allegations of sexual violence.
In a letter emailed to students, faculty, and staff Thursday night, President Lee Bollinger announced that professional staff from the university's rape crisis center would now be available 24 hours a day rather than up until 11 p.m. as they had been previously.
The university is also adding an additional rape crisis center in the student center, Bollinger wrote.
He added that prevention and bystander training would also be beefed up during orientation and throughout the year — another demand of student activists. He also reiterated his promise to release statistics on the number of rapes and sexual assaults each year, statistics advocates had hoped would have already been released by now.
Bollinger's promises gave many advocates hope that the university was moving in a positive direction.
"This was a request that student activists made directly to the administration. And this was a direct response," said Erik Campano, a student and activist with the group No Red Tape, which is fighting to end sexual violence at the university.
The letter "represents progress" and is a sign that the university is taking the problems on campus seriously, he said.
Bollinger's letter comes on the heels of an escalating series of student actions to raise attention for what they call an extensive series of problems in Columbia's handling of sexual assaults and rapes on campus.
On April, 23 Barnard and Columbia students filed a federal complaint alleging the university regularly violated Title IX and the Cleary Act by brushing sex assaults and rapes under the rug and failing to properly discipline students found responsible for the assaults.
In early May, the names of four male students accused of being "rapists" and "sexual assault violators" began appearing on bathroom walls and on flyers plastered around the school.
But advocates said they were disappointed that Bollinger said nothing about what kind of punishment Columbia plans to dole out in cases where they find a student responsible following an internal investigation.
Students and activists have complained that the university has never expelled a student as a result of its investigations, and that typically they only suspend students for a semester or two.
Advocates say the system places an incredible burden on victims, who face a very high likelihood that they will run into their attacker again on campus.
"In the absence of an adequate institutional response, survivors and students have to take their own measures to protect one another," Campano said previously, adding that No Red Tape was not responsible for posting the names of the accused.
The university will also be adding Title IX investigators for the adjudication process, Bollinger wrote in his letter, although the letter did not indicate how many would be added. The university did not release any additional details regarding the investigators.
Bollinger also said in his letter that the school is currently undergoing a search process with the help of an executive search firm to find a new executive vice president for student affairs, who they want to "help ensure that our campus culture does not tolerate sexual assault and that our adjudicatory process is responsive, sensitive, efficient, and fair."
"Columbia is rightly known as the place of strong and deeply held core academic and community values. We have to deal with the issues of sexual assault and related misconduct consistent with those value," he wrote.