UNC students have never been told what “yes” is.
Some students may have thought consent was a flirtatious smile or going back to someone’s apartment after a night out.
But the University policy on prohibited discrimination, harassment and related misconduct released Thursday makes clear what was for a long time murky — that sexual consent is affirmative communication.
The report on discrimination and harassment — including sexual assault — was released Thursday after 15 months of deliberation by UNC’s Sexual Assault Task Force. Four current and former students and an administrator filed three federal complaints in 2013 accusing the University of mishandling sexual assault cases. These investigations are ongoing.
“People would very much like to see no sexual assaults ever on campuses,” said Chancellor Carol Folt in an interview from her office Thursday. “The more that we can do in advance of that is important.”
The policy outlines the process for students reporting and responding to cases of sexual assault, regarding the investigation phase, the adjudication process and sanctioning.
When the task force met, many meetings were spent defining terms like consent, sexual assault and stalking. The former policy defined it in about a paragraph; the new policy dedicates six paragraphs to defining it.
“Consent is the communication of an affirmative ‘yes.’ And that is a huge hinge inside our policy,” said task force chairwoman Christi Hurt of the change.
The new policy says no one is able to give consent when he or she is incapacitated, which the policy defines as a “state past intoxication,” where judgment is impaired.
The policy does allow for an intoxicated person to give consent as long as it is a clear and affirmative yes.
“It was the best way to define something that is difficult to define — it’s something that is different for each individual,” said Monika Johnson Hostler, executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
A changing process
Another critical change is the role of the person who investigates reports. The investigator will now make a preliminary report and provide it to the student who reported the rape and the student responding.
If a violation of the policy is found in the investigator’s report, students can then appeal to have it brought before a three-person hearing panel.
“The benefit of an investigator making a finding, is that after an investigation is completed, students will have information right away about where their case sits,” Hurt said.
“That will hopefully give people a decision point early in the process.”
The panel that hears students’ sexual assault cases has also been altered — students are no longer able to sit on panels. Hurt said the three-person panel will consist of faculty and staff who will go through a two-day training program before they serve and then will have on-the-job training throughout the year.
It was a smart move to remove students from hearing panels because of the potential awkwardness of peers deciding on one’s sexual assault case as well as liability reasons for the University, said Tracey Vitchers, a spokeswoman for Students Active For Ending Rape, a national advocacy group.
Punishing sexual violence
Other universities have faced criticism for punishing sexual assault with an essay or not punishing sexual assault at all.
UNC’s new policy includes sanctions such as expulsion or suspension but also lesser punishments such as a written warning.
The UNC Title IX Office’s spokeswoman, Hilary Delbridge, said in an email sanctioning would depend on factors such as the nature and violence of the conduct, the impact of the conduct on the victim, the impact or implications of the conduct on the community and past behavior.
Senior Landen Gambill, who is involved in three ongoing federal cases against UNC, said she is happy the policy is finally out — but it’s meaningless if students aren’t punished for committing rape.
“I know even in the last few months the way survivors at UNC have been treated when they report has been really shameful,” Gambill said. “The University is refusing to remove perpetrators from survivors’ classrooms; the University has failed to enforce no contact orders. The University needs to start finding perpetrators accountable.”
Junior Christine Allison, who is a survivor of sexual assault, said she worries about the Title IX Office both implementing and enforcing the policy.
“If they aren’t following policy, there is nothing that can be done about it,” Allison said. “I’m just worried that the same people are in charge and nothing is going to change.”
No administrator was fired over their handling of sexual assault, but six positions were added since the federal complaints were first filed. Each position focuses on Title IX issues.
Folt, who did not change anything in the policy after she received it earlier this month, said the policy would be reviewed annually by an advisory group of faculty, students and community members.
UNC would also participate in a campus climate survey put on by the Association of American Universities, she said.
As a way to maintain oversight of the Title IX Office, Gambill suggested having a panel of student survivors that could weigh in on policy issues throughout the year.
Former student Andrea Pino, who was one of the students who filed the Title IX complaint against UNC, said more survivor involvement could fill in the gaps.
“What I want to see is commitment,” Pino said. “I don’t want to see us checking off boxes. We have a Title IX coordinator, we have a confidential support person... I’m so glad we’re following federal law.
“It took us years to do it.”
For a more comprehensive view of the University's history of the misconduct policy, The Daily Tar Heel has created an interactive timeline for readers. The timeline was composed by Amanda Albright and Paige Ladisic. Email questions and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.