Caitlin McCabe wrote for the Daily Tar Heel from August 2010 to May 2013. Currently, she is the real estate reporter for the Inquirer. McCabe reported extensively on UNC's sexual assault and Title IX cases. Summer University Editor David Saff spoke with her to gain some broader context following the conclusion of the OCR's investigation into the University.
The Daily Tar Heel: What launched you into investigating UNC's Title IX issues?
Caitlin McCabe: It started with some conversations. I initially had a conversation with Andrea Pino and Melinda Manning, and they really tipped me off to a problem that UNC was not talking about. I think, with Andrea and Annie Clark pursuing this, that really took what was a local UNC specific issue and they made it a national issue. I spoke with a number of survivors of sexual assault but really just was not quite sure what I was getting into. I really did not realize I was tapping into a conversation that so much of the campus was waiting to have and so much of the country was waiting to have. It started out with just one article, it was December 2012, in which I talked to a handful of women, and they not only described their experiences being sexually assaulted, but the difficulties in that time in their lives compounded with inappropriate handling by the University, so to not only experience the trauma but then to re-experience it in different ways just trying to pursue their case. From there it really just exploded for lack of a better word. The more that I reported, as this tends to happen, the more that came out, and there were allegations that perhaps the University had pressured folks in the administration to underreport sexual assault numbers.
DTH: Can you give a timeline of your coverage?
CM: As you know, the DTH stops publishing right up until the beginning of exams, so we had such a limited amount of time to turn this story. We published the last day of publication in December 2012 before break. and while we were gone a lot started to happen behind the scenes. Melinda, Annie, and Andrea, I think there were 5 of them in total, submitted their complaint with the Department of Education in January 2013. Through the complaint or through reporting about the complaint, we learned that there were allegations that the University had been pressuring members of the administration to underreport sexual assault numbers. I think the University was trying to grapple with what I was reporting and what other news organizations were reporting. Pretty soon after I started reporting, the News and Observer started chasing this and even the New York Times was writing about this and linking to the DTH’s coverage, and it was getting a lot of attention from radio stations. It really just became a huge news story in the spring of 2013.
DTH: Were you initially aware of how big the problem was?
CM: I certainly knew that sexual assault was happening on campus, but I don’t think I had ever understood what happens after an incident like that happens and what the process is like. I just don’t think I or many people understood just how difficult it is for survivors just to navigate that process while taking classes and working jobs, and the same for the accused. There’s been a lot of talk about their rights in this situation. It's just a very difficult time for both sides. I certainly did not know at the time that it was a national issue.
DTH: From the time you started reporting, did you notice a change start occurring in the campus culture around sexual assault?
CM: As I remembered, UNC did make efforts only months after my first story published to create and fill positions that would better address sexual assault on campus. In March 2013, I reported that UNC had filled a new position of "investigator" in the Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act Office. That person was supposed to more thoroughly look into complaints about sexual misconduct. They also hired, one month later, an interim Title IX coordinator, who was focused on trying to make sure UNC was in compliance with federal guidelines and improve the campus climate surrounding sexual misconduct. The university also hired a student complaint coordinator, who was tasked with being the first contact in university sexual assault cases. Certainly, I think a lot of this shows that the UNC administration, and especially Chancellor Holden Thorp, was taking a lot of these allegations seriously. But I also think that UNC had a lot to make up for, and clearly there was a need for these positions that UNC did not have.
DTH: What did you discover that was most shocking to you?
CM: I think what was most shocking was how much of this became bigger than UNC. What was happening with these Title IX complaints and students coming forward nationwide, it was really a precursor to what we now call the “Me Too” movement.
DTH: What do you think the conclusion of this investigation means for the University moving forward?
CM: I think it’s a good thing that UNC now has to try to be in compliance because I think that there will probably be very set guidelines that hopefully they will be complying with. Hopefully, it just makes it a better system for survivors trying to pursue their cases while also being fair to the accused. One big part of this conversation has been criticism on some sides that it’s not fair to one side or the other. I think there needs to be very clear guidelines, so both sides feel that they get due process in these cases.
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