The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Feds Open Investigation Into Columbia's Handling of Rape Complaints

By Emily Frost | January 14, 2015 10:05am
 The schools are being investigated by the federal DOE for violating Title IX. 
Columbia, Barnard Under Title IX Investigation
View Full Caption

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Columbia University and Barnard College are under investigation by the federal Department of Education for their handling of sexual assault and rape complaints on campus.

Students at both schools filed a federal complaint last April calling for a probe into how university officials handle sexual violence allegations, claiming the schools mishandled past cases and that their punishments are too lenient, among other concerns.

The U.S. DOE has now launched two separate investigations into the allegations that the universities violated Title IX, a law that prevents discrimination based on gender. The investigation started at Barnard on Dec. 29 and at Columbia on Jan. 8, according to the Columbia Spectator. 

Additionally, Columbia is under investigation for violating Title II, a law that protects students from discrimination based on their abilities, the Spectator reported. 

Throughout the spring and fall, students have led rallies calling for changes to the way their schools handle sexual assault claims. One student who claims she was a victim of rape by a fellow student began carrying around a mattress in protest of him not being removed from the school, culminating with students leaving dozens of mattresses in front of Columbia President Lee Bollinger's home. 

Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a senior who has led protests and pushed for change at the schools, said she hoped the investigation would mean significant changes on campus. These include "issuing meaningful sanctions against rapists and abusers, removing biased deans from the disciplinary process, revising the sexual misconduct policy with student involvement, expanding consent education through mandatory, in-person workshops, and improving the system through which survivors can get help like academic accommodations and other resources," she told DNAinfo New York. 

In response to student criticism, Columbia has taken some measures to improve its handling of campus sexual violence, including adding a new rape crisis center and three counselors to handle complaints. In a statement, a spokeswoman said the school will cooperate with the investigation.

"We are committed to complying with Title IX and have no higher priority than protecting the safety and well-being of all who are part of our university community, and we will fully cooperate with [the DOE's Office of Civil Rights'] inquiry," the statement said. 

Amy Zavadil, Barnard's associate dean for equity and the school's Title IX coordinator, said in a statement: "Senior administrators are carefully reviewing the OCR inquiry and will respond in accordance with applicable law, and in a manner consistent with our own core values as an institution."

The federal DOE did not respond to a request for comment.