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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: We should know who’s found responsible for sexual assault

Jane Wester

Editor-in-chief Jane Wester

On Friday, we did something important.

The Daily Tar Heel has long argued that when someone is found responsible for sexual assault on campus, the University should release the records of the case.

There’s a specific exception in FERPA, the law that protects student privacy, that says universities can do this once the case is over.

UNC has always said no to our public records requests for this information. FERPA says universities can release the information, not that they must release it.

We say releasing the records of these cases is a public service and, quite simply, the right thing to do.

On Friday, we made another records request for the information and, this time, we were joined in the request by eight North Carolina media outlets, Fusion and the Student Press Law Center.

UNC’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office released a 2014-15 annual report that described the outcomes of sexual assault cases that year in an extremely broad way — for example, it listed all the “sanctions and corrective actions” that had been issued in the past year, but it didn’t say how many people received any of the consequences. For the outcomes of cases involving students, the report didn’t break apart “policy violations” from “voluntary resolutions.”

In the report, the University said getting more specific would risk identifying people.

We say getting more specific is essential. I badly want to know how many people my school has found responsible for sexual assault and what consequences those people are getting.

The Greensboro News and Record is one of the organizations joining us in our request. On Friday, the News and Record’s managing editor, Steven Doyle, told a DTH reporter why he believes the records should be public.

“I don’t think universities can hide behind laws to pretend to privacy when the crimes are so egregious and the dangers are so great,” he said.

He’s right. Sexual assault is a violent and serious crime. We are a newsroom full of college students at a moment when a significant portion of students will be sexually assaulted before graduation — we do not need to be reminded why this matters.

We’re taking on the fight for access because we believe you deserve to know what’s going on.

The Daily Tar Heel is one of the freest student newspapers in the United States. We don’t take any money from UNC, and we are proud of that because of moments like this — moments when we get to hold the University accountable.

UNC has an Oct. 28 deadline to respond to our request. We’ll keep you posted.

The Daily Tar Heel has been a voice for the UNC and Chapel Hill community for more than 120 years — and continues to train the next generation to enter careers in independent, thoughtful, public-service journalism. To make sure of it, we receive no money from the University.

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