The news: In the past week, Columbia University has been hit by a wave of graffiti — but it's a far cry from the juvenile scrawls and doodles you'd expect in the average college bathroom.
Throughout the campus, female students have been writing the names of alleged student rapists on bathroom stalls. According to Columbia student blog Bwog, the first graffiti was discovered last Wednesday. Since then, similar lists, some on fliers, have been sighted in various study halls and libraries.
University administrators have quickly had these bathroom stalls scrubbed clean, and student publications have agreed not to publish uncensored pictures of the graffiti, because "publishing the list would violate Title IX as well as FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act)."
"That, and the desire to be responsible and not start a witch hunt, are the reasons that the uncensored list will never be published by the media. In addition, perhaps writing this list (and publishing the work of a campus 'vigilante') is not the best way to create a safer campus environment for victims," writes Bwog. Another campus publication, the Columbia Lion, confirmed that the names from the original list all matched up with current Columbia undergrads.
Image Credit: Bwog
Also, while some lists labelled the names as "Sexual Assault Violaters on Campus," others were more specific, calling the listed "Rapists on Campus."
Image Credit: Bwog
Why this is important: There are undoubtedly serious ethical repercussions to an anonymous act of vigilantism like this; after all, anyone could put any name on a bathroom stall and tarnish someone's reputation. But this ongoing campus trend does help to spotlight a serious problem the Ivy League school is having.
Last month, 23 students from Columbia and Barnard, Columbia's affiliated women's college, filed a Title IX complaint against their respective schools, "charging systematic mishandling of assault claims and mistreatment of victims." Fifty-four other colleges are facing similar suits.
"At Columbia, students complain that the university doesn't provide enough education about what constitutes consent to their students, hands down too-lenient sentences to alleged assailants and prioritizes its reputation over the safety of its students. Students have accused the school of burying cases so as not to be known as a campus plagued by sexual assault," reports TIME.
The school was also roundly mocked last month when its dining hall offered a bizarre "sexual violence prevention" cake. "The cake was a well-meant but inappropriate gesture by an employee in recognition of this important cause. The cake was removed almost immediately," said Columbia dining director Vicki Dunn. "We believe sexual violence is a serious issue not to be taken lightly in any form."
So while bathroom graffiti may not be the best avenue to report and substantiate rape claims, the episode demonstrates how little faith students have in the school system. And perhaps after witnessing such a publicized stunt, victims of sexual assaulted at Columbia might find the courage to file their complaints, with their names attached.
At this time, the school is simply classifying the incident as normal graffiti, which, according to the Columbia Lion, "raises the possibility that the students who wrote the list will face judicial repercussions from the university, while those listed will not." They clearly have their priorities straight.