COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY — Columbia University student-activists barged into an admissions information session Tuesday to protest a new university policy regarding rape prevention that they said won't do enough to prevent sexual assaults on campus.
Stunned parents and prospective Columbia students looked on as members of the group No Red Tape held signs and chanted before reading a statement regarding the school's response to sexual assault on campus.
Columbia's new consent education policy — which hasn't been publicly unveiled but which protesters involved in a task force with administrators have seen — is aimed at preventing sexual assaults through student education. It's focused on teaching students about the need for mutual consent for sexual activity between partners, said Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a senior at the university who participated in the protest and has led past student protests.
The university's policy would require students to watch a 10-minute video about consent and write a paragraph of reflection, an exercise she described as a "meaningless" commitment from students and a far cry from the more intense training No Red Tape and other advocates have suggested.
"It's going to do nothing," she said. "All students know that."
Instead, her group is suggesting in-person workshops with a trained Columbia staff facilitator and a student so that conversations and deeper engagement on the issue are promoted. The group is also suggesting the sessions happen twice a semester, as members believe it's important to make rape prevention education an ongoing effort rather than a one-time occurrence.
The new policy would also leave it up to individual schools within the university to decide whether they want to conduct consent education trainings, which activists see as a major loophole, Ridolfi-Starr said.
Barnard sophomore and No Red Tape member Michela Weihl told dozens of parents and high schoolers at the admissions session Tuesday that the policy was unacceptable.
The prospective students and their parents looked stunned by the surprise visit from protesters, but a few of them clapped in approval at the end of their statement, which did not elicit comment from the admissions session leader.
By invading an admissions session, the group hopes to pressure university administrators to heed students' demands regarding its policies on sexual violence, No Red Tape members said. It's a protest tactic they said they'll use again.
"It's not just about making a scene... we want to arm prospective students with information they won't be getting in info sessions," Ridolfi-Starr noted.
For Weihl, prevention education is just as important as a new rape crisis center, which the university announced last spring, because it gets to the root of rape culture on campus, she said.
Workshops must be "interactive and engaging" in order to change that culture, and it's important that they be done in person because "these are deeply personal issues," Weihl explained.
Columbia declined to comment.
The federal Department of Education is currently investigating both Columbia University and Barnard College after students filed a complaint that the schools were mishandling claims of sexual assault and rape on campus. No Red Tape has refused to share a copy of the complaint with DNAinfo New York.
For more than a year, No Red Tape and other student groups, including Carry That Weight, have engaged in campus protests, calling on the university to involve them more in drafting new policies regarding sexual violence and for swifter action in creating them.
In September, the university released data showing there were 29 reports of sexual assault filed between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, by undergraduate, graduate or professional studies students attending Columbia, Barnard College or Teacher's College.
Students have also called for the release of data from previous years.