Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students

Columbia University, Barnard College, and Teachers College are committed to fostering an environment that is free from gender-based discrimination and harassment, including sexual assault and all other forms of gender-based misconduct. The University recognizes its responsibility to increase awareness of such misconduct, prevent its occurrence, support victims, deal fairly and firmly with offenders, and diligently investigate reports of misconduct. In addressing issues of gender-based misconduct, all members of the University must come together to respect and care for one another in a manner consistent with our deeply held academic and community values.

Download the printable PDF: Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students

Columbia’s Gender-Based Misconduct Policy prohibits these forms of conduct:

Sexual Assault:  Intercourse
Sexual Assault:  Contact
Domestic Violence
Dating Violence
Sexual Exploitation
Sexual Harassment
Gender-Based Harassment

For definitions of each, click here

AFFIRMATIVE CONSENT is required for all sexual contact.

Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.

  • Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions express willingness to engage in the sexual contact or activity. It is important not to make assumptions.  If there is confusion or ambiguity, participants in sexual activity need to stop and verbally clarify each person’s willingness to continue.
  • Consent cannot be procured by the use of physical force, compulsion, threats, intimidating behavior, coercion, or from a person who is incapacitated.
  • Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.
  • Consent to engage in sexual activity with one person does not imply consent to engage in sexual activity with another person.
  • Silence or the lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. Again, it is important not to make assumptions; if confusion or ambiguity arises during a sexual interaction, it is essential that each participant stops and verbally clarifies the other’s willingness to continue engaging in the sexual contact or activity.
  • Consent may be initially given, but can be withdrawn at any time. When consent is withdrawn or can no longer be given, sexual activity must stop.
  • Previous relationships or previous consent for sexual activity is not consent to sexual activity on a different occasion.
  • The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or relationship status.

Under the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy, a person who is incapacitated cannot consent to sexual contact of any sort. Incapacitation occurs when an individual lacks the ability to knowingly choose to participate in sexual activity. A person who is incapacitated cannot make a rational, reasonable decision because the person lacks the ability to understand his or her decision. 

  • Depending on the degree of intoxication, someone who is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants may be incapacitated and therefore unable to consent.
  • How drugs and alcohol affect consent: The impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person. Warning signs that a person may be incapacitated or approaching incapacitation as a result of alcohol or drug use may include, but are not limited to slurred or incomprehensible speech, vomiting, unsteady gait, combativeness, or emotional volatility.
  • Individuals should be aware of, and carefully consider, the potential consequences of the use of alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs can lower inhibitions and create an atmosphere of confusion over whether consent is freely and affirmatively given.
  • Whether sexual activity with an incapacitated person constitutes gender-based misconduct may depend on whether the Respondent knew or should have known of the Complainant’s incapacitation, based on objectively and reasonably apparent indications when viewed from the perspective of a sober, reasonable person in the Respondent’s position.
  • Being intoxicated, impaired, or incapacitated by alcohol or other drugs is never an excuse for committing a policy violation and does not diminish anyone’s responsibility to obtain informed and freely given consent.
  • The use of alcohol or other drugs never makes someone at fault for experiencing gender-based misconduct.

Check the Policy for more information about consent, incapacitation and many other important related concepts.



These scenarios help illustrate some applications of the Policy.

  • Pat and Dana met at a party. They spent the entire party getting to know each other and dancing. Dana had four shots of tequila and four beers over the course of the evening. At one point, Dana went to the bathroom. Pat noticed that Dana staggered upon returning from the bathroom. Dana’s friend informed Pat that Dana had been vomiting. Pat volunteered to take Dana home. When they arrived at Dana’s dorm room, Pat began kissing Dana and proceeded to have sexual intercourse with Dana. Upon waking up in the morning, Dana asked Pat what happened that evening. Pat told Dana that they had sex and that Dana had asked to have sex. Dana began crying and said, “I didn’t want to have sex with you.”

    This is a violation of this Policy. A reasonable person could have concluded that Dana was incapacitated due to her alcohol use because Pat saw Dana stumbling and knew Dana had vomited in the bathroom. Dana was therefore not able to give consent.
  • Taylor and Hong have been dating for a few months. On several occasions, Taylor and Hong have engaged in consensual sexual intercourse. One night, Hong and Taylor were making out when Hong said, “I don’t feel like having sex tonight.” Taylor continued to kiss Hong and took off Hong’s clothing despite Hong’s verbal and physical objections. Eventually, Hong became silent and submitted to Taylor’s insistence to have sex.

    This is a violation of this Policy. Hong objected to having sex and Taylor ignored these objections. Although Taylor and Hong have previously had consensual sexual intercourse, Hong did not consent to sexual activity on this particular evening. In addition, silence does not imply consent.
  • Peyton and Jordan were in the hallway of their residence hall with a group of their neighbors on the floor, joking around and telling stories. Peyton placed her arms around Jordan’s waist as they continued their conversation and then touched Jordan’s breasts. Jordan removed Peyton’s hands from her body. A few minutes later, Peyton stated she did not understand why Jordan was making such a big deal about Peyton touching her.

    This is a violation of this Policy. Peyton had not obtained Jordan’s affirmative consent and, as such, this behavior constitutes intentional, nonconsensual physical contact of a sexual nature.
  • Kai and Lee met at an off campus location and quickly realized they were both Columbia students. Lee asked Kai for hir number and suggested that they meet for lunch on campus. A few hours later, Lee began to call and text Kai, asking Kai out on a date. Kai told Lee that ze is not interested and did not want to date hir. Lee found out Kai’s campus address and began to deliver cards and flowers to Kai’s room. One day, Lee waited for Kai outside of hir class to invite hir to dinner. Kai was very clear in telling Lee to leave hir alone and to stop visiting hir dorm or going to hir classes.

    This is a violation of this Policy. Kai declined Lee’s multiple requests to go on a date. Additionally, Kai explicitly asked Lee to leave hir alone and to stop visiting hir dorm. This behavior constitutes stalking.
  • Melissa and Joe are married and live in off-campus housing. After a stressful meeting with his advisor concerning his PhD dissertation, Joe came back to the apartment and berated Melissa about the apartment being messy. Joe grabbed the dinner that Melissa ordered and threw it in her direction, though he did not hit her. When Melissa tried to leave the apartment, Joe grabbed her by the wrist. In the struggle to get away from Joe, Melissa fell and hit her head on the table.

    This is a violation of this Policy. Any use of physical force or emotional abuse and/or behavior toward a spouse that results in physical injury constitutes domestic violence.
  • Bette and Tina had been dating for a few months. Tina, an aspiring photographer, asked Bette to pose in the nude for her portfolio. Bette and Tina got into an argument regarding Tina’s photography. Shortly after they broke up, a mutual friend informed Bette that Tina had posted Bette’s nude photographs on Facebook.

    This is a violation of this Policy. The use and distribution of photographs of another person’s unclothed body or body parts, without permission, regardless of whether they originally consented, is sexual exploitation.