University officials put together May 1 a 21-member task force “to review and enhance its policies and procedures for handling student-on-student complaints of harassment, sexual misconduct or discrimination.”
The task force has been given a unique opportunity for reform, and with that comes a serious responsibility. Its members have an obligation to take the lead in calling for an overhaul in the way UNC handles complaints of sexual assault.
Their deliberations should be public. They should consider not just tweaks and minor modifications to University policy but comprehensive change.
With their influence, they could initiate a shift in policy to treat rape as the violent crime it is — not as something to be tried and adjudicated only in an academic setting.
Current policies allow victims to pursue legal action in the criminal justice system at the same time as the academic system, but they are treated as distinct and separate processes. Universities should encourage students to involve themselves in both processes — not substitute their own gentle, academic justice for the real thing.
The task force’s opportunity is unique in that it is not constrained by politics. Its membership includes a wide range of voices and perspectives — including faculty, community members, students, administrators and even law enforcement officials — and many members have experience working directly with sexual assault issues.
Their independence and expertise give them authority, and they should use that to its maximum potential.
While issues will be inevitably contentious and complex, some should require very little debate. The force is joining an ongoing discussion — not starting from scratch. There is no reason to wait long to make official recommendations about issues like increased education on sexual assault.
Even the most thoughtful and intense debate about the complexity of these issues does nothing to create change without an active, public element.
This is why the task force should carry on its conversation publicly as well. The various sectors it represents can inform and drive the public debate — if it’s allowed to. The Campus Conversation website set up by the University could be adapted easily for this purpose.
The task force has a chance to play an influential role in bringing about reform, and it should take advantage of this opportunity. It should speak as a unified whole, challenging the University to make holistic protection for all students its top priority.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.