Frequently Asked Questions

General Information Regarding the Gender-Based Misconduct Office

1. What is the Gender-Based Misconduct Office?

The Gender-Based Misconduct Office is the office at the University responsible for referring students to available medical, counseling, and other resources, arranging for appropriate protections and accommodations, and coordinating investigations and the disciplinary process related to gender-based misconduct complaints against students at Barnard College, Teachers College, and all Columbia schools. (For purposes of the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy, the term “University” includes Columbia University, Barnard College, and Teachers College.)

The Gender-Based Misconduct Office can provide support and assistance immediately following an incident, during the investigation and disciplinary process, and throughout a student’s time at the University. In addition to the Gender-Based Misconduct Office, there are numerous other resources both on and off campus for students who seek support and services related to gender-based misconduct. (Some of these are described below; the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy includes an extensive list.)

Students at Barnard College and Teachers College also can report complaints directly to the Title IX coordinators at those schools. If an incident of gender-based misconduct is reported in this manner, the Gender-Based Misconduct Office will be notified.

2. Where is the Gender-Based Misconduct Office located, and what are its hours?

The Gender-Based Misconduct Office will operate out of Lerner 609 until the new location is announced. The office is open between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

3. What is the Sexual Violence Response & Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center, where is it located, and what does it do that is different from the Gender-Based Misconduct Office?

Sexual Violence Response & Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center (SVR) offers advocacy, training, education, and other forms of support for sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and gender-based violence to all University students.

SVR has staff and peer advocates available 24/7 (via 212-854-4357 [4-HELP]) to help students in need, including assisting survivors with obtaining medical attention. SVR advocates are confidential resources. (For more on confidentiality and privacy, see the answers to questions 10 and 11.)

Sexual Violence Response & Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center operates two locations, one on the seventh floor of Lerner Hall and the other at Hewitt Hall on the Barnard College campus. Both offices have extended walk-in hours: Lerner Hall from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and Hewitt Hall from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. SVR advocates are available at these two locations, as well as via 212-854-4357 (4-HELP).

4. Who at the Gender-Based Misconduct Office assists and supports students?

The Gender-Based Misconduct Office makes case managers available to help students: (a) navigate the investigation and hearing process; and (b) secure accommodations regarding their academic work, residential living arrangements, and other University activities. All students seeking support services, including students who file a complaint (known as complainants) and students who have been accused of gender-based misconduct (known as respondents), will be assigned a case manager. Separate case managers are assigned to the complainant and respondent involved in the same incident.  Case managers do not investigate cases; that is the responsibility of specialized investigators in the Gender-Based Misconduct Office.

5. What accommodations can the Gender-Based Misconduct Office help students obtain?

Available accommodations include:

  • providing an escort for the complainant;
  • moving the complainant’s residence;
  • adjusting the complainant’s work schedule;
  • changing the complainant’s academic schedule;
  • allowing the complainant to withdraw from or retake a class without penalty; and
  • providing access to academic support, such as extra time to complete an assignment or withdraw from a class.

Other types of accommodations may be appropriate and available in particular cases.

6. Can students go the Gender-Based Misconduct Office if they need immediate medical attention or counseling in the aftermath of a sexual assault or other instance of gender-based misconduct?

Any student needing urgent attention should call 212-854-4357 (4-HELP); this number will connect the student with a peer advocate or staff member of the Sexual Violence Response & Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center.

Students in need of medical services can also call 911 or go directly to the St. Luke’s or University Medical Center (CUMC) emergency rooms or to the Health Services on the Morningside, Barnard College, Teachers College, or CUMC campuses. Students can also contact University Public Safety for help, including for assistance in contacting the New York City Police Department. 

The staff of the Gender-Based Misconduct Office does not directly provide medical or counseling services. A student who goes to the Gender-Based Misconduct Office and seeks medical attention or counseling will be directed by a case manager to these resources.

7. Where can a student go to lodge a complaint against a staff member or faculty member?

A Columbia student with any complaint concerning gender-based misconduct, regardless of the identity of the respondent, can bring the complaint to the Gender-Based Misconduct Office. Complaints against a Columbia employee (including faculty) will be directed to Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action for investigation and further proceedings. For every complaint, a case manager at the Gender-Based Misconduct Office will be assigned and will guide the student throughout the investigation and disciplinary process, remaining the student’s main point of contact, even when the process is not led by the Office.

Students at Barnard College and Teachers College may contact their respective Title IX coordinators to file a complaint against a staff or faculty member and request support and assistance without going through the Gender-Based Misconduct Office. Complaints against Barnard College or Teachers College employees will be directed to the appropriate office at those schools, as set forth in the Barnard College and Teachers College policies.

Reporting, Privacy, and Interaction with Law Enforcement

8. What is Title IX, and what does it require universities and colleges to do in response to reports of gender-based misconduct?

Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. Colleges and universities, including Columbia, Barnard College, and Teachers College, have an obligation under this law to investigate and respond to reports of gender-based misconduct, including conduct that also constitutes a crime a under local, state, or federal law. Under Title IX, the complainant has the choice of going to the police or pursuing a report through the University or both.

9. Who are the University personnel who will be notified when a student files a report with the Gender-Based Misconduct Office?

Depending on the nature of the incident, University Public Safety may be informed. If a student requests accommodations, University personnel in academic advising or residential life may also need to be informed in order to implement accommodations. The Title IX coordinator(s) from Columbia, Barnard College, and Teachers College are also informed of incidents involving their students. Other University personnel may need to be informed on a need-to-know basis in order to carry out their responsibilities in connection with the incident. In all of these instances, a student’s name and specific information about the student’s experience of gender-based misconduct will be provided only when necessary.

10. University personnel (including some mentioned in the answer to question 9, above) may have legal reporting obligations to share information with government authorities, University Public Safety, or others at the University when they learn of gender-based misconduct. Will these individuals respect students’ privacy?

Yes. Even when an office is described as “non-confidential” under the Policy—meaning the staff must in some instances notify others within the University, law enforcement, or other government authorities—University employees will protect students’ privacy to the greatest extent possible and will reveal information about investigations and disciplinary proceedings only to those who need to know it in order to carry out their duties and responsibilities.

11. Are there instances when University officials have to share a report of gender-based misconduct with the New York City Police Department? If so, what triggers that obligation?

The University will engage the New York City Police Department when a report of gender-based misconduct identifies an individual who appears to pose an imminent danger to anyone within or outside of our community. The University may also be required to notify the New York City Police Department when it receives a report of certain “violent felonies,” which include some forms of gender-based misconduct under the Policy.   

Investigation and Hearing Process

12. How does the investigation process work?
  • When a complaint is reported, the Gender-Based Misconduct Office will assign an investigator (or two investigators) to interview the complainant, the respondent, and any witnesses, and to gather any evidence related to the complaint. After doing this “fact gathering,” the investigator(s) will prepare a report that: (a) describes all facts that are relevant to the complaint; (b) indicates the investigator(s) judgments about the credibility of the parties (the complainant and respondent) and witnesses, if any; and (c) makes a recommendation about whether the respondent should be held responsible for violation(s) of the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy. The complainant and respondent will have an opportunity to review the investigation report at the Gender-Based Misconduct Office.
  • After the report is completed, the Gender-Based Misconduct Office provides it to a specially designated hearing panel that is responsible for deciding whether the respondent is responsible for violating the Policy.
  • If the respondent is found responsible, a designated sanctioning officer will determine the sanction(s) to be imposed.
13. What is the time frame for investigating and resolving complaints of gender-based misconduct under the Policy?

The University will seek to resolve reports of gender-based misconduct within approximately sixty (60) calendar days of an initial report, not counting an appeal. Generally, this is the timeline:

  • investigation begins within 5 days of initial report;
  • investigation completed within 30 days;
  • hearing held within 15 days of investigation’s completion;
  • determination of panel issued within 5 days of hearing;
  • notice of sanctions issued within 5 days of panel’s determination;
  • notice of appeals (filed by either complainant or respondent or both) within 5 days of notice of sanctions received by parties; and
  • decision on appeal within 10 days of notice of appeal.
14. The Policy says that hearing panels can make a decision based on the investigation report and written submissions without an actual hearing. When would that happen, and why?

For this to occur, all three panelists must agree that the information available from the investigation report is sufficient to make a determination. This could be the case, for example, if the complainant and respondent agree about relevant facts. In large measure, this alternative has been made available to serve the interests of those students who would prefer to avoid the stress and anxiety that many students associate with a hearing. This option addresses those interests without sacrificing the proceeding altogether or forgoing the benefits of having a matter heard by a separate panel of decision makers.

15. What training do hearing panel members receive?

All panelists will receive training from experts in the field at least once a year. In addition to instruction on how the adjudicatory process works, the training will include specific guidance on how to approach students about sensitive issues that may arise in the context of gender-based misconduct. Experts in the field have been retained as outside advisers to the University, and they are involved in providing this training.

16. Can a student choose to be accompanied by an adviser at hearings and meetings related to an incident of misconduct? What is the role of an adviser?

Yes, both the complainant and the respondent may be accompanied at any meeting or hearing by the adviser of their choice, including an attorney. Advisers may support the student and provide advice about the investigation and disciplinary process.

A student’s adviser is not permitted to question witnesses or address the hearing panel. This is appropriate because hearings held as part of the University’s disciplinary process are not legal proceedings. Hearing panelists are responsible for overseeing the process and asking questions they believe will help them reach a proper determination, and students are expected to interact directly with the panel. Notwithstanding the limits on an adviser’s role, an adviser to a complainant or respondent can provide guidance that helps a student be fully informed about available options and potential outcomes. 

17. What if a complainant or respondent wants to be accompanied and advised by an attorney but cannot afford to retain one?

The University will arrange for a volunteer attorney-adviser if the student so requests. If the University is asked to arrange for a volunteer attorney for either the complainant or the respondent, it will notify the other and arrange for a volunteer attorney-adviser for the other person upon request.

18. Will the complainant be required to come into direct contact with the respondent at any stage of the investigation or disciplinary process?

The disciplinary process does not require a complainant and respondent to come into direct contact with one another. Only the person testifying (and that person’s adviser, if applicable) is in the hearing room during his or her testimony. The complainant and the respondent are each able to view testimony from a separate, private room via closed-circuit television. The hearing is a closed proceeding.

19. Are complainants, respondents, and their friends prohibited by law or University policy from speaking publicly about the hearing process or the facts of a case?

There is no prohibition against speaking publicly about the hearing process or facts of the matter at issue. Community members are reminded that all participants in the process are entitled to privacy and to be treated with respect, dignity, and sensitivity, and that the University strictly prohibits retaliation and intimidation.

Sanctions

20. How are sanctions determined?

Sanctions are determined on a case-by-case basis to fit the misconduct for which there is a finding of responsibility. Information is centralized within the Gender-Based Misconduct Office and shared with sanctioning officers in keeping with the University’s commitment to issuing sanctions that are fair, consistent, protective of campus safety, and responsive to the seriousness of the misconduct at issue. The Policy also makes clear that the facts of a case are paramount in determining a sanction and that the most serious offenses warrant the most serious sanctions.

21. What factors are considered in determining the sanction in a given case?

The factors considered in determining the sanction in a given case include:

  • specific gender-based misconduct at issue;
  • circumstances accompanying the lack of consent;
  • respondent’s state of mind;
  • impact of the offense on the complainant;
  • respondent’s prior disciplinary history;
  • safety of the University community; and
  • respondent’s conduct during the disciplinary process.
22. What happens if a student wants to appeal the sanction that has been assigned?

Both complainants and respondents have the opportunity to appeal a finding of responsibility and the sanction(s) imposed based on the grounds set out in the Policy. The Dean of the respondent’s school will decide the appeal; if the complainant is from another school, the respondent’s Dean will consult with the complainant’s Dean. The Dean will also consult with the director of the Gender-Based Misconduct Office before changing a finding of responsibility or a sanction. Deans have a duty to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory campus learning environment and are in the best position to evaluate student misconduct and the appropriateness of sanctions consistent with the University’s academic and community values. Deans, like others who render decisions in gender-based misconduct cases, receive specialized training for their role.

Additional Information Regarding Changes from the Previous Policy

23. Why did the University develop this new Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students?

The Policy was developed to enhance the University’s handling of reports of sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct, to ensure fairness for all parties involved, and to provide more assistance to students in need. Additionally, this new Policy incorporates recommendations from students and others in our community and reflects the most recent guidance from the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and new statutory requirements.

24. Why doesn’t the Policy mention SSGBSM (Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct), the office that handled complaints against students under the previous Policy?

SSGBSM has been renamed the Gender-Based Misconduct Office to align the office’s name with its governing Policy and to provide a name that the University community can recall and identify more easily than the SSGBSM acronym.

25. Why do students no longer serve on hearing panels convened under the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy?

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has recommended that students not serve on college or university hearing panels for cases of sexual assault. This guidance is intended to ensure that members of hearing panels have the necessary professional experience and training to render fair and appropriate judgments, and that students are not deterred from bringing complaints in order to avoid discussing the issue with a peer.