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UNC honor system no longer to be in charge of sexual misconduct cases

For the past year, students and administrators have been lobbying to change the way cases of sexual assault are handled on campus, calling it unfair, taxing and ineffective.

In response, and prompted by a change in federal policy, the University’s Faculty Council voted unanimously on Friday to remove cases of sexual misconduct from the jurisdiction of the student-run honor system, effective Aug. 1.

Exactly what will replace the system in these cases is unclear. But it will likely take the form of a board that will deal with all sexual grievances on campus — “any kind of anything on campus having to do with cases of sexual misconduct,” said Morgan Abbott, vice chairwoman of the Honor Court.

The University’s priority on changing its policies was sparked in January, when the federal government circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter instructing institutions in higher education to bring their policies on sexual misconduct up to date.

“The best way to comply with them is to redo the whole thing,” said Chancellor Holden Thorp at the meeting Friday.

The letter prompted the University to adopt a set of interim procedures, which will govern cases of sexual misconduct between now and Aug. 1.

Though some student leaders in the honor system had been advocating for change before January, the issue of federal compliance required action on the part of the University.

“This is federal law,” said Abbott, who is part of the group working to establish the new system. “We had no choice.”

“It’s not just a matter of us feeling incapable.”

Students charged with hearing cases of sexual misconduct are often inadequately trained and inherently biased, Abbott said.

“When you’re hearing about the most sensitive issues in people’s lives — we just weren’t qualified,” she said.

Student leaders in the honor system have been staunch supporters of its autonomy this year as it undergoes substantive reform. But they acknowledge the necessity of Friday’s change.

Student Attorney General Amanda Claire Grayson said the system has to pull together more resources when addressing cases of sexual misconduct.

“We’re not going to have that burden anymore — not to call it a burden when one of these gets reported, but it does occupy a lot of resources when that happens,” Grayson said. “And I think that when they get reported to this new body they won’t have such a crisis when one gets reported.”

The new group will likely be made up of students, faculty, staff and administrators. More complete training will be an important feature, Grayson said.

Sexual misconduct cases are rarely referred to the honor system because victims are often reluctant to relive the incident with other students. Grayson said the change aims to reverse that trend.

“I think part of the goal of this whole change is for there to be more cases that are being adjudicated, for victims and complainants to have more trust in whatever body comes about.”

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