Rape is a violent crime.
At UNC and colleges across the country, it is treated as an infraction.
Something so fundamentally wrong demands a principled solution.
This means undertaking a complete overhaul of the way the University deals with cases of rape. And it means forgetting for a moment the problematic requirements of federal guidelines, and instead creating a system that realizes the University’s responsibility to protect its students. A culture of false justice lies at the heart of a broken system, and should be replaced with a focus on:
1. Support for survivors;
2. Education for all students on the consequences of rape;
3. Deference in the pursuit of justice to trained law enforcement.
For years, universities have played an inappropriate role in the aftermath of incidents of rape involving students. At UNC, the Honor Court, a quasi-judicial board made up entirely of students, heard and adjudicated cases of sexual assault until last year. Similar models were used across the country, becoming the object of intense scrutiny as to whether they could effectively deal with such a sensitive crime.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education issued what is popularly referred to as the “Dear Colleague” letter. The letter included a set of guidelines for making the ways colleges dealt with sexual assault compliant with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, landmark legislation aimed at preventing sex discrimination. During the last two years, UNC and the rest of the nation’s universities have implemented the changes demanded by the letter: lowering the standard of proof required to determine guilt in rape cases and the hiring of an individual to oversee the processes, among others.
Yet despite the changes, the University’s updated procedures remain confusing, arbitrary and disturbing in the respective burdens they place on both students who file complaints and students who stand accused. Examples abound.
The very makeup of the Student Grievance Committee — the body charged with formally resolving complaints — is baffling. One-third of its members are students whose only qualifications are that they managed to be appointed by the student body president or the Graduate and Professional Student Federation president, individuals who are not elected on the pretense of expertise in the area of sexual assault.