Like many colleges around the country, Columbia University is trying to raise awareness about sexual assault on campus. But unlike other colleges, Columbia did so by making a sheet cake adorned with red roses and the caption "Sexual Violence Prevention."
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After undergrad Anna Bahr tweeted a photo of the cake and it went viral, campus officials had the offending pastry removed from the dining hall. But it was too late. Reporter Allie Jones posted the cake photo on The Wire, setting off a wave of responses on Twitter.
— Anna Bahr (@anna_bahr) April 23, 2014
— Footybedsheets (@_shireenahmed_) April 25, 2014
— Ruth Michaelson (@_Ms_R) April 24, 2014
"sorry about the rape. Here's a cake. We're good now?" http://t.co/rm5179eO6K
— Citrus-Arrow EDUC (@CitrusArrowEDUC) April 25, 2014
Columbia's cake could have been a minor gaffe if it wasn't for one other factor – the university is currently being sued by students who say the school did not properly investigate their claims of sexual assault. Three women claim that they were all raped by the same student athlete, but say that the school did little to discipline the accused. He was still permitted to live on-campus and to enter the same buildings as his victims, who suffered from trauma of having to see their attacker.
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Twenty-three students filed a federal lawsuit against Columbia alleging that the university failed them during the investigations of their rapes. "The more-than-100-page complaint alleges that perpetrators of sexual assault have been allowed to remain on campus, that survivors are often discouraged from reporting assaults, that some survivors were not treated fairly because of their gender identity, and that individuals who protest against the school’s response face retaliation, among other claims," Meredith Clark reported at MSNBC.
According to a representative from Columbia, the cake wasn’t intended to be a substitute for an actual awareness-raising campaign. The cake was reportedly made by one of the campus employees who were observing Denim Day, an annual event held every April 23 to stand in solidarity with sexual assault victims by wearing jeans and buttons about the campaign.
“The cake was a well-meant but inappropriate gesture by an employee in recognition of this important cause,” a representative from the university’s press office told Yahoo Shine. “The cake was removed almost immediately. We believe sexual violence is a serious issue not to be taken lightly in any form.”
But not everyone believes in the veracity of that statement. Columbia was recently accused of shutting down a peaceful protest against sexual assault on campus. The protesters put red tape over their mouths to symbolize the way that they felt they were being silenced by the university. The protest took place on a day that prospective students were visiting the school.
Columbia may be able to keep protesters from handing out flyers about campus sexual assault to prospective students. But they won't be able to control what happens when an embarrassing cake photo goes viral online.
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