Before she filed a complaint with U.S. Department of Education over UNC’s handling of sexual assault cases, Andrea Pino fought to make survivors visible by posting their pictures and stories on the walls of the Student Union.
The smiling women and men who volunteered to be included in the Courage Project have silently shared their stories since October. Pino said she hoped the upbeat photos show that rape and abuse need not define the lives of those affected.
“The stories are not easy to read, but the people in the pictures are not sad,” Pino said. “It really put a face on sexual assault.”
But that gallery was vandalized late Thursday or early Friday morning. An unknown person wrote “whore” and “real shit” on the photo of a former UNC student who identifies as a survivor of relationship abuse.
Pino said the project still inspires her — even in the face of the vandalism. Creating the project prompted her to tell her parents about her assault. Pino said the display also marked the first time Landen Gambill, a co-signer of the Department of Education complaint, went public with her allegations of sexual assault.
The project was developed when Pino was co-chair of Project Dinah, a student group that combats sexual violence.
“This gallery is just supposed to be a place where people can feel safe,” Pino said. “If that’s not safe, what is?”
The vandalism was discovered at 5 a.m. on Friday. Scott Hudson, senior associate director at the Union, said he immediately called the Department of Public Safety and Pino.
A housekeeper was able to remove the ink from the photo, but indentations from the pen were still visible, Hudson said.
“Out of respect for the person whose photo it was, we removed the photo and left the story,” he said.
Randy Young, spokesman for DPS, said the department is investigating the incident.
“We take it very seriously just because of the incendiary nature of the text that was scrawled,” he said.
He said the department would like to hear from anyone who may have information about the incident.
Hudson said the Union does not have clear security camera footage of the gallery.
Sheena Ozaki, Project Dinah chairwoman, said she was disturbed when she found out about the vandalism.
“When I’ve told people about it, the reaction tends to be disappointment. People are shocked and horrified,” she said. “It does feel really bad that this happened, but it was just one person that did this. I don’t think this reflects our student body at all.”
Ozaki said she hoped to work on a second display later this year.
“There are some people who don’t read it, but the people who take the time to read it are comforted by it,” she said. “It’s OK to tell these stories and we’re here to listen.”
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