What to Know
A former student is suing Columbia, accusing the university of violating Title IX by brushing off her reports of rape and sexual harassment
The student says she was raped and harassed even after reporting the incidents to university officials and seeking medical treatment
Title IX is a federal law that, among other things, requires schools receiving federal funds to respond swiftly to reports of sexual abuse
A former Columbia University student is suing the college in federal court, alleging school officials were largely apathetic and unresponsive after she reported being raped and harassed multiple times on campus.
The Title IX lawsuit, which was to be filed Tuesday in federal court in the Southern District of New York, alleges the sexual abuse began in October 2015, just months after the plaintiff enrolled at the Ivy League school in Upper Manhattan.
A man believed to be another Columbia student “viciously raped” the plaintiff in her dorm room after slipping in through an unlocked door, the suit alleges.
Although the student sought immediate medical help and counseling, and contacted the campus Sexual Violence Response hotline, Columbia told her she could contact police and use birth control, but didn’t advise her of her rights under federal law, according to the lawsuit.
Title IX protects students against discrimination based on gender at the federal level. It also prohibits sexual harassment and assault at academic institutions receiving federal funds and mandates schools respond quickly to reports of such incidents.
The civil suit alleges the executive vice president of Columbia’s Office of University Life, Suzanne Goldberg, was “completely disinterested” when the plaintiff told her story in December 2015. The suit also claims Goldberg failed to report the complaint to the Gender-Based Misconduct Office as required by the university.
A spokesman for Columbia University says it does not comment on pending litigation, adding, "None of this diminishes the deep concern we feel about any allegation of assault on our campuses."
Within weeks of telling Goldberg about the first rape, the plaintiff was raped again by the man in her dorm room, the lawsuit says, adding that she was treated at St. Luke’s Hospital for vaginal tearing, cuts on her thighs and bilateral wrist sprains.
The plaintiff, who is gay, says notes appeared on the dorm’s common bulletin board, with statements like “still a dyke?” and “Isn’t it fun to wake up to someone f------ you?”
About eight months later, in August 2016, Columbia’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards allegedly told the student her report would not be investigated unless she could identify her assailant, a violation of university policy and Title IX, according to the lawsuit.
In addition to complaints of discrimination and negligence, the suit claims the rapes wouldn’t have happened if the plaintiff’s door had automatic locks with key card access, as other dorms had. The university did eventually install the automatic key card lock, the suit says.
The months-long ordeal has left the plaintiff emotionally scarred and debilitated, the suit says.
“Columbia’s failure to investigate and take action subjected this student to continued harassment, personal risk and ruined her educational experience at the university,” attorney Alex Zalkin writes in the lawsuit.
The suit asks for damages, punitive damages and expenses for medical and psychological treatment.