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New committee looks to engage sexual assault survivors in conversation

Emma Johnson(left) and Hannah Petersen(right) were interviewed on their project "Our Story" event where survivors of sexual assault talk about their experiences.
Emma Johnson(left) and Hannah Petersen(right) were interviewed on their project "Our Story" event where survivors of sexual assault talk about their experiences.

After students called for UNC to act on sexual assault, a new committee this month will help survivors and allies find a unified voice to communicate with the administration.

Seniors Hannah Petersen and Emma Johnson said they officially got approval to run the committee last week. The committee is designed to work in conjunction with the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.

Petersen and Johnson proposed the committee as a way to continue work toward reform after they planned an Oct. 12 event called “Our Story,” in reaction to the university's handling of sexual assault cases. At the event, 21 survivors shared their stories.

“It’s easy to listen to all the stories at the event, brush your hands, and walk away,” Petersen said. “This committee is a way to carry on the conversation.”

Petersen and Johnson said the committee will focus on both policy changes and starting conversations about sexual assault on campus.

“We want to change the dialogue on campus and the culture on campus when it comes to rape and sexual assault,” Johnson said. “We can run video series and photo series that can be as bold as we want them because that’s our right as students.”

She and Petersen said they want to tackle a lot of things through the committee, but they'll let the committee decide what to prioritize once it's formed. Included in their list of goals is changing how sexual assault is discussed at orientation, making online modules about sexual assault more meaningful and creating a uniform training that more University employees would be required to take. 

An interest meeting for potential members is set to be Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. in the Carolina Union.

“Ideally, we want 15 to 20 core members of the committee — people who can meet regularly,” Petersen said. “We want to make it a majority-survivor committee, because you don’t really know what you need in the situation until you have lived experience. We want voices to be culminated into one strong voice to be heard.”

Petersen said they welcome graduate students and non-female identified students, and they would also love to have members who are allies. In addition, they hope administrators will sit in on most meetings.

“We want to cover all types of lived experiences and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard,” Johnson said.

Petersen said the student-led structure of the committee will be advantageous.

“As students, we don’t have to represent both sides in the same way that the administration would have to,” Petersen said. “Because we are partnering with them, we have access to the resources and policies that we want to change.”

Christi Hurt, assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff for student affairs, has been working with Johnson and Petersen on starting the committee.

“The administration listened to their concerns and have since been working with them to determine the next steps in this process,” Hurt said in an emailed statement.

Hurt said it’s important to reflect Johnson and Petersen’s vision while also benefiting the campus community as a whole.

“We’re also working to outline the possible scope and reach as to ensure this new committee fulfills the students’ vision while also meeting the needs of the greater campus community,” Hurt said in an email. “This ongoing discussion and the input received from Emma, Hannah and others is invaluable as the university continues to move forward on this very important issue.”

Johnson said she wants the committee’s work to continue after she and Petersen graduate in May. Petersen said Hurt has committed to continuing it past that date.

“It’s not just us, and it will continue on even after we graduate,” Johnson said. “We are seniors, but we want to make sure that this is something that continues on after we leave.”

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