Toxic Masculinity Reigns at Columbia University

CW: Sexual Misconduct

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This is not a cancel culture article, but rather an Op-Ed calling for accountability. Last year, several Health Policy and Management students and I dropped out of Todd Richter’s healthcare consolidation course at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. While I enrolled in the course to gain a perspective on healthcare that I am generally unexposed to, it did not take long for me to learn how many actors in our healthcare system are power-hungry men who disregard principles of equity and inclusion. While initially I dropped the course over Richter’s use of the acronym “R.A.P.E,” I soon learned that Richter is all too well-known for being a perpetrator of sexual misconduct. I found an article describing in detail the insidious ways in which Richter manipulated a young Intern at a former place of employment: https://ffj-online.org/2020/08/09/wall-streets-silence-the-intern-fights-back/?fbclid=IwAR1WNOS3J4DiPezJ9T5Q_6z1BMNtHbrsLa9Vd-Qty6H3BUsXMV1kLIwViII.

Richter is an adjunct at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Upon finding this article, I immediately contacted a few administrators, who quickly assured me that they already handled the situation — and that Richter was a “good guy.” Although this may have dissuaded someone from pursuing the concern, I found the administration’s fixation on putting this problem to bed to be more provocative than anything. When a few colleagues and I finally secured a meeting with the Department Chair and Senior Director of Education, they made their stance clear: Richter is a “good guy,” and we could drop the course if we wanted. Pushing back on his “good guy” reputation, we established that his use of the acronym “R.A.P.E” in conjunction with his problematic past is a valid concern, and perpetuates rape culture at large within healthcare.

We were met, however, with gaslighting tactics from the administration. The Director of Educational Programs in HPM even tried to claim that Richter saying “I used a terrible acronym” promptly before was considered a trigger warning. Appropriately, I laughed in her face.

Adjuncts are fired all the time for unionizing, so why can’t we fire a problematic man-boy who is now in the position to teach hundreds of young women? In my opinion, the answer was clear: fire the adjunct. Whether or not the claims are true, it remains a fact that this womanizer is a liability to Columbia University.

Ultimately, my concerns were invalidated due to “lack of evidence.” I find this silly because in my opinion, the evidence is clear that Richter is a problematic middle-aged boy who takes advantage of young women — particularly women who are fighting to get their foot in the door. The Administration’s disregard for this toxic power dynamic is striking, yet revealing in the context of Columbia’s storied history of sexual misconduct. This is certainly a case where we can see the nuanced dynamics that play into systemic bias, and how cowardly individuals, like my Department’s administrators, can perpetuate harm. While I hope that Richter will not take advantage of another young woman, his track record and current behaviors makes clear that he has no plans to change his behavior. Richter remains employed at Guggenheim Partners after being relieved of his duties by Barclays because of the incident. Clearly, neither Columbia nor Guggenheim Partners view this behavior as an issue. Columbia University must take action, and I am ashamed to call this school an alma mater of mine until this issue is properly addressed.