A Letter to Columbia’s Dean of Undergraduate Student Life

Content warning: sexual and dating violence

Dear Dean Kromm,

I was disappointed to see that in a March 2, 2016 article in The Columbia Daily Spectator, you defended the right of perpetrators found responsible for gender-based misconduct to become TAs and orientation leaders. You said we need to give perpetrators room to make a “mistake,” and that committing an act of violence is an opportunity “for learning, growth and change.” This sparked the creation of a petition demanding an apology, ultimately leading you to write a statement “clarifying” your thoughts while still failing to acknowledge your problematic views and rhetoric.

A mistake. Like getting caught trying to buy alcohol with a fake I.D. or cracking your phone screen. So my perpetrator mistakenly wandered into my dorm room, mistakenly pulled down my pants, mistakenly ignored my tears.

It’s also funny how you, and other Columbia administrators, appear to be defining “learning, growth and change.” It’s important he stay in school so he can learn and get his degree; it doesn’t matter if I drop out. It’s important he be given a chance to grow without his actions impacting his reputation; it doesn’t matter that being forced to speak out about my experience has probably hurt mine. It’s important he be able to move on from who he was in college; it doesn’t matter that I’ll never forget who he was.

I’ve been used as a teaching tool a lot of my life. I was that gay kid in middle school, the one who people would turn to if anyone said something homophobic because as that gay kid, it was apparently my job to explain why slurs were hurtful. Then in college this year, I became that survivor, the one who’s expected to represent the pro-trigger warning perspective any time they come up and politely explain in my English seminar that twelve-year-old Lolita couldn’t consent. And now my body is apparently a teaching tool — a sex toy there for people to use if they have the accidental impulse to learn what it feels like to assault someone.

I’m not content with your apology. You were quick to clarify that “the most severe violations of the gender-based misconduct policy” would be taken into consideration when evaluating students for leadership roles. Your classification of “severe,” it appears from your statement, is pretty limited to rape. You fall into the trap so many do: deciding some survivors are more worthy of support than others. As a survivor of rape, the violent kind people are more likely to believe, I find your hierarchy ridiculous. Some survivors of assaults Columbia would classify as “sexual exploitation” have a harder time coping than some survivors of assaults Columbia would classify as “sexual assault.” Being assaulted in any way sucks. It’s intentional and deprives survivors, particularly those who identify as members of one or more marginalized groups, of their rights and bodily autonomy.

Orientation leaders and TAs should be people who have a heightened understanding of boundaries. I don’t see how students Columbia found responsible for gender-based misconduct fit that description, regardless of the perceived “severity” of their actions.

Rather than explain your same views using less controversial language, I want you to transform your ignorance into action and promote policies that emphasize student safety. You made a mistake, Dean Kromm. But unlike my perpetrator, you have the power to fix your mistake. Learn from it, grow from it, and most importantly, change from it.



Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

San Francisco, CA

Amelia Roskin-Frazee is a student at Columbia University where she is an organizer with No Red Tape, Columbia Queer Alliance, and the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network. Outside of school, she is the Founder and President of The Make It Safe Project and serves on the National Advisory Council for The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. When not doing activist-y things, Amelia can be found writing, playing steel drums, and getting her butt kicked at badminton.

Amelia is a student at Columbia who loves writing and pissing off school administrators.

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