Systemic sexism hurts students
Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence against women and other men. But physical violence is reinforced and sometimes surpassed by another kind of violence that is even more pervasive.
In a 1968 speech given the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Robert F. Kennedy called it “…the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay.”
Institutional violence is reflected in the actions of those in positions of power and policies implicitly and explicitly designed to protect male privilege, even protecting perpetrators of sexual violence.
This University, sadly, is no exception. Since a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights was submitted by three current students, one former student and former assistant dean Melinda Manning, the UNC community has woken up to the reality of sexual assault.
But we have not yet addressed the central role played by the actions of administrators, particularly Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp, the University Counsel’s office and the policies they made.
Since December, survivors of sexual violence have come forward saying they were mistreated by administrators and their cases mishandled by judicial boards that had not received sufficient training to hear sexual assault cases.
According to the complaint, Manning, a long-time advocate for survivors of sexual violence, was subject to a hostile work environment under Sauls because of her advocacy.
Institutional violence isn’t perpetrated through actions alone, it is written into policy.
The University’s current policy was written without input from experts in interpersonal violence, even though the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Training and Education Committee, composed of such experts, wrote a letter to the chancellor asking for input over a year ago.
Instead of utilizing their expertise, Sauls, Crisp and Ann Penn from the Office of Equal Opportunity and representatives from University Counsel wrote it. And according to the complaint, Sauls threatened Manning because of the letter.
While UNC administrators acknowledge an imperfect system, they have not admitted the ways they directly and indirectly harm student survivors and enable perpetrators of sexual violence.
The recent hiring of a Deputy Title IX Coordinator with interpersonal violence prevention experience was a good first step, but ending and reversing years of institutional violence will take much more.
Students and faculty should push for a new policy rewritten by a public committee that includes students, faculty and interpersonal violence experts. Additionally, they should call for reviews of key administrators — especially Sauls, Crisp, Penn and Leslie Strohm from University Counsel — and for the establishment of an independent, centralized department for sexual violence response.
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