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Sexual Assault Task Force begins discussions for reform

In the midst of a sexual assault scandal that has brought national scrutiny to the University, the UNC community is now looking to become a leader in increasing conversations about sexual assault awareness.

“Whether you like it or not, UNC-Chapel Hill, you are at the forefront of changing the conversation,” said Gina Smith, a sexual violence expert hired by the University, at the first meeting of the Sexual Assault Task Force Wednesday.

The 21-member committee is charged with reviewing UNC’s current policies and procedures and presenting its recommendations to Equal Opportunity Officer Ann Penn, who led the member selection process.

At the meeting, Smith explained how sexual assault became a nationwide discussion and how the members of the task force should approach a solution.

The scandal at Penn State University in the fall of 2011 led to widespread media exposure of the issue, she said.

“It has infiltrated our conversation.”

Smith said the conversation was also pushed forward by the accessibility of information through social media and the courage of students to share their experiences.

She added the most common complaint she hears is that universities should give the cases to the police.

But because of Title IX requirements and the recent “Dear Colleague” letters, college campuses are responsible for investigating complaints, regardless of police involvement, Smith said.

Christi Hurt, UNC’s interim Title IX coordinator and chairwoman of the task force, said her priority is gathering community input.

“We’re going to do a little bit of a deeper dive,” she said.

“I am absolutely committed to taking feedback in between meetings.”

Hurt said the group will be meeting on a weekly basis over the summer.

She said she is planning to keep their discussions public through a weekly blog on the Campus Conversations website.

Student Body President Christy Lambden, one of the members of the task force, said all the student representatives on the committee are well-qualified.

All five of them sat on the student task force he created earlier this year to investigate these issues.

Junior Sarah-Kathryn Bryan, co-chairwoman of Feminist Students United during the school year and a member of the committee, said she was thrilled to be working with the other members.

She said her priority is to focus on the responsibilities of UNC leaders.

“If we don’t have a way to hold the people in power accountable to students, no policy would help.”

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