Students should engage in sexual assault dialogues on campus

The Office of Civil Rights submitted a “Dear Colleague” letter in April 2011 with about 70 mandates for the adjudication of sexual assault cases on university campuses across the nation. In response, UNC-CH released a new sexual assault policy on Aug. 1, 2012.

University administrators received feedback from students, faculty and staff regarding the policy and were working to consider revisions when members of the University community submitted an Office of Civil Rights complaint in January.

Concerns have been raised in the past, as highlighted by the Office of Civil Rights complaint, about the University’s treatment of sexual assault survivors.

However, Chancellor Holden Thorp has brought on Gina Smith, an expert on sexual misconduct, to review and improve the University’s policy, its implementation and campus culture surrounding sexual assault.

We acknowledge that the University has historically not been as responsive as students would have liked.

However, Smith’s previous efforts at Amherst College shows she is committed to listening and affecting change.

Smith has held one large student dialogue and several smaller student dialogues with a diverse group of campus organizations.

Any response by the University will take time and incremental steps.

Thus far, Smith has been listening to students and faculty looking for consensus on what issues need redress to see how she can remedy those concerns with the Dear Colleague letter.

The University’s response to the complaint has shown a dedication to improving the policy and its implementation. Through these open dialogues, students have shared their experiences, concerns, questions and solutions to prevent and address interpersonal violence on campus.

Now is very clearly the time to be discussing sexual assault and its implication to our individual and collective safety. We therefore strongly encourage all students to participate in the formal dialogues with Smith and the UNC administration.

We encourage all students to critically think about the policy, its implementation and the campus culture to come up with both concerns and solutions.

For example, we believe the policy should have a more detailed definition of consent that explicitly states that prior consent does not equal current consent.

We also believe the policy should have a clear list of the rights of the accused and the complainant.

In terms of the administration putting the policy into action, we believe the policy should contain FAQ sheets and other resources to make it more accessible to students.

In regards to campus culture, we believe interpersonal violence education should be mandatory for all staff and students.

Now is the time for us to go to the drawing board and ask ourselves, how do we want reports of sexual assault or sexual misconduct to be investigated and processed? How do we want survivors to be treated? What do we envision a safe campus looking like, and how do we get there?

Every student has the opportunity through dialogues hosted on campus to provide a unique perspective.

Students are highly encouraged to come to a solutions-oriented dialogue today at 5 p.m. in the Anne Queen Lounge of the Campus Y.

Additionally, students can participate in less formal and public ways such as submitting anonymous questions, stories, or concerns to www.tinyurl.com/uncsexualassault.

While these dialogues and the website are official opportunities for discussing sexual assault on campus, we encourage every student to reflect on his or her experiences and create informal spaces for dialogue within friend groups and communities.

Although sexual assault can be difficult to discuss, reflection on our own strengths and weaknesses as a community is the first step to creating a policy and campus culture that is safe and supportive.

Because these dialogues can be sensitive, we encourage students to practice self-care and visit safe.unc.edu for available resources.

Now is the time to challenge ourselves and the University to have the best policy, implementation and campus culture possible.

Thanks for reading.

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