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Columbia MBA Says She Was Drugged & Raped By Classmate

The Jane Hotel bar (photo courtesy of the Jane Hotel)

Not long after Katie Brehm, a first-year MBA student, realized that she had been drugged and raped by a classmate at Columbia Business School, she did something extraordinary. The 31-year-old young professional wrote an email to the 70 fellow students in Cluster A, one of several groups assigned to take all of the first-year core classes together.

She wrote the Nov. 7th letter as much for clarity as anything else. She had little memory of the night she was assaulted at a social at the Jane Hotel to celebrate the end of mid-term exams, instead relying on the recollections of other classmates and friends. But from what she could piece together, Brehm had become convinced that a tall, white male classmate had slipped a date-rape drug into the Bulleit Bourbon she ordered at the bar and taken advantage of her blackout.

That night ended with a sidewalk spill that led to the diagnosis of a concussion, a rape kit assessment in a New York City hospital that found bruises on her inner thighs and vagina, indicating signs of forced penetration, and endless questioning of friends about what exactly happened at a private party attended by hundreds of Columbia Business School students.


Columbia Business School MBA student Katie Brehm

“I have been MIA since the Jane Hotel because I am on short-term medical leave,” she told her classmates. “While it is partially for a concussion, it is predominantly because a fellow CBS student has drugged me three times this semester. I have spent the last two weeks in and out of the hospital, NYPD, and Columbia University gender based misconduct offices. At the Jane Hotel, three female students sustained concussions. If you want to believe that is a coincidence, that is your choice. Not only was I drugged, but I was sexually assaulted. I am not letting whoever did this to me get away with it…”

Brehm, who had been a senior manager of digital marketing at New York & Co., came to Columbia to pursue a dual master’s degrees in international affairs and business.

She wanted an MBA to transition her career to luxury marketing or a women’s advocacy group. Friends describe her as an outgoing, highly likable person. Starting the MBA program in August after being named a Lord Irvine S. Laidlaw Scholar, she hoped to add to her existing degree in business from the University of Texas at Austin.


Instead, Brehm now finds herself immersed in the emotionally churning aftermath of the attack, the frustrating back-and-forth with university administrators, the replaying in her head of just what happened and why, and fear for herself and others that at least one and possibly two sexual predators are on the loose at Columbia Business School. After initially withdrawing from her fall classes and facing the loss of her prestigious Laidlaw scholarship, she obtained a “no contact” order this past week against the classmate she is accusing of rape. She has now asked for a plan to re-enroll and complete the remainder of this semester.

But Brehm is especially angry with the way Columbia Business School has reacted to her complaint. There was no follow-up from Dean of Students Zelon Crawford after a 20-minute meeting on Nov. 7, shortly after sending the email to her Cluster A classmates. The dean, she says, never even sent a follow-up email or made a phone call to check up on Brehm to make sure she was okay.

She believes the school is protecting and harboring two criminals. ”They have sat on allegations of drug assisted sexual assault for over three weeks,” says Brehm. She recently hired a law firm that is exploring the potential of a civil suit against the school for failing to promptly and adequately deal with her serious charges and to protect her and the other female students at the school. A spokesperson for Columbia Business School declined to comment for this story.


Her allegations come at an awkward time for Columbia Business School. Only this summer, the school and one of its professors was the subject of a highly publicized trial in New York District Court that ended with a $1.25 million judgment in favor of a former assistant professor who said she was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation at CBS. During that trial, it was revealed that the university investigated three separate harassment cases involving male professors at its business school simultaneously in 2014, including an allegation that a Columbia Business School professor had sex with a female student in his faculty office.

The law firm that won the judgment, Sanford Heisler & Sharp, now represents Brehm in her Title IX investigation and claims against the university. Meantime,  Columbia has hired a high-powered litigator, Roberta Kaplan of Kaplan Hecker & Fink, to handle the Brehm case in pre-suit negotiations.

Most nagging in this new case is the fact that there was no DNA left after the attack. The clothes and underwear she wore that night have yet to be tested for possible DNA evidence. An NYPD investigation is underway, but far from complete. And her own recall of exactly what happened is clouded because she believes she was drugged, possibly with the popular date-rape drug rohypnol.


“We don’t know what happened because there hasn’t been a thorough investigation,” says Brehm, who consented to using her name in this story.  “There isn’t enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion.” That is also why Poets&Quants is not identifying her assailant nor the other male classmate who she believes drugged her at an earlier CBS party in Sag Harbor on Aug. 8th and, she says, sexually assaulted another female MBA student at Columbia.

“In all likelihood,” she says with resignation, “nothing will happen. “It makes me want to try to change how rape crimes are investigated and prosecuted because victims are set up to fail.”

In her email to her fellow students, Brehm acknowledged that the odds are not in her favor. “It is next to impossible to convict a rapist in this country,” she wrote. “Out of every 1,000 rapes, only six rapists actually go to jail for their crimes. The fact that I have no memory of the sexual assault will make it very difficult for me to prosecute. Fortunately, when you’re at a party with 300 of your closest friends, people see, hear, and notice things. I am appreciative of all of the love and support I have felt in this community so far this semester, and thank you in advance for helping me through this difficult time.”


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.