UNC releases new sexual assault policy

UNC released its new policy on discrimination, harassment and related misconduct — such as sexual assault — today.

The policy includes definitions on consent, harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual contact. 

It also outlines the process for students reporting and responding to cases of sexual assault, regarding the investigation phase, the adjudication process and sanctioning.

STORY SO FAR

December 2012: Two UNC female victims of sexual assault speak up about what they said was a deeply rooted problem with the University’s handling of sexual misconduct — one that they said was inappropriate, time-consuming and traumatic.

March 2013: Ew Quimbaya-Winship starts as UNC’s Deputy Title IX Officer, or student complaint coordinator. Quimbaya-Winship is the initial contact for sexual assault victims.

May 2013: The University's Sexual Assault Task Force convenes for the first time to address changing the University's misconduct policies related to sexual assault.

January 2014: Howard Kallem, the District of Columbia Enforcement Office’s chief regional attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, is hired as UNC’s Title IX officer. 

June 2014: Cassidy Johnson starts as UNC’s gender violence services coordinator. Johnson is a specially trained counselor to turn to for confidential advising after experiencing sexual assault.

July 2014: A U.S. Senate report found widespread deficiencies in nearly every stage of college campuses’ handling of sexual assault.

Christi Hurt, chairwoman of the task force, said in an interview one of the most important aspects of the new policy is clarity. 

“One of the things we heard very early before the task force started is that folks really wanted to see a policy that was easy to use and easy to understand,” Hurt said. “We made sure that the bones of the policy, in terms of every word that was selected, was something that would be digestible by students or community members.”

The policy was released more than a year after the 22-member Sexual Assault Task Force began its work in May 2013. The task force intended to have a stronger policy addressing sexual assault enacted before the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year.

“The task force was deeply committed to building everything from scratch,” Hurt said. “The process is an outcome of an incredible process, and I’m proud of that process.”

More clarity

The University’s old misconduct policy had a paragraph-long definition of consent. The new policy describes consent in several paragraphs.

“Consent is the communication of an affirmative ‘yes.’ And that is a huge hinge inside our policy,” Hurt said of the change. 

“There are new terms that are defined, that students asked for — they wanted to see stalking, for example.”

The policy states that consent can not be given when an individual is incapacitated, which it defines as a point beyond intoxication, impairment in judgment or drunkenness.

The University launched a website that includes links to resources, such as where to report a sexual assault.

The policy clarifies which areas of campus are confidential places to report, such as UNC Counseling and Psychological Services, and formal places to report, such as UNC's Title IX Office. 

“Folks will know where to turn when they first crack open the policy or the website,” Hurt said.

Changes in the process

The investigation phase of cases has also been altered. Investigators will submit a preliminary judgment to the students determining whether a University policy was violated. If the investigator says a policy violation has occurred, the case could be appealed to a hearing panel.

“The benefit of an investigator making a finding, is that after an investigation is completed, students will have information right away about where their case sits,” Hurt said. “That will hopefully give people a decision point early in the process.”

Students will no longer sit on hearing panels, a decision that was made in 2013. Hearing panels will only include faculty and staff, who will be trained in a two-day program and ongoing training, Hurt said. Three people will sit on a panel at a time.

Under the former policy, students could be appointed to sit on grievance committees, which used to be able to determine responsibility and recommend sanctions to the University for policy violators. Four students, three faculty members, three faculty members and a committee chair were members of the grievance committees.

A yearly review

Chancellor Carol Folt, who received a draft of the policy before school started, said the policy would be reviewed yearly by an advisory group of faculty, students and community members. 

She emphasized the importance of preventative programs, such as the new module for students on sexual assault.

“People would very much like to see no sexual assaults ever on campuses,” Folt said in an  interview in her office Thursday. “The more that we can do in advance of that is important.”

Folt said when she received the policy she did not change anything.

VIEW THE POLICY:

UNC's updated sexual assault policy

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