In her testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford made a passing reference to her time at UNC as a college student, describing her first two years of undergrad as a time when she “struggled very much,” saying that she “had a very hard time...forming friendships and especially friendships with boys, and (she) had academic problems.” Ford’s time at UNC was not the subject of interest for the Senate Judiciary Committee, who were questioning Ford because of her allegation that Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, sexually assaulted her at a party in the early 1980s. For this Editorial Board, though, Ford’s mention of her time at UNC in the 1980s raised the question: how much safer is the UNC of today than the UNC of Ford’s days?
After all, the 1980s were 30 years ago. They were a different time! In the '80s, Judd Nelson stuck his head up Molly Ringwald’s skirt in "The Breakfast Club," and it was fine, probably. Kavanaugh, in his retelling of the decade, spent the better part of his time curating his love for beer. “I drank beer with my friends … I liked beer,” he said at the trial in question. “I still like beer.” We get it, Brett. You were cool in high school. Anyway. The 80s. Different time, right? We assumed so, until we started thinking critically about the state of public safety, specifically in regards to sexual assault on campus, at UNC presently.
In a 2015 survey, 24.3 percent of UNC female undergrad students reported experiencing some form of “unwanted sexual contact during their time at UNC, from kissing to sexual touching to penetration,” according to The News & Observer. So, obviously, the issue of “unwanted sexual contact” itself is still pressing. But maybe the policies, then, have gotten better since Ford’s era? Maybe UNC has taken drastic strides to better itself and its campus, protecting students from unwanted sexual advances? According to some recent examples, this would not appear to be the case, either. This past summer, UNC was found guilty of Title IX discrimination law violations by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The OCR stated UNC had “failed to adopt and publish grievance procedures that provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of student, employee and third-party complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, as required by Title IX.”
This failure on UNC’s part to promptly investigate allegations is exemplified by the recent case of Allyson Ford, a UNC senior who, last April, tweeted photos of injuries from an alleged sexual assault. Ford claimed UNC’s investigation of her took six months, even though UNC’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office website states they “seek to resolve reports within 55 days.”
The UNC-system Campus Security Committee met Sept. 26, to discuss the varying definitions of “sexual assault” between our state universities. Sexual assault can be hard to define, and therefore sexual assault regulations can be hard to implement with all the nuance. The unfortunate reality behind sexual assault cases is that there is rarely a key eyewitness that can testify alongside the victim. The cases often become a “he-said, she-said” issue. Victims of sexual assault have historically been doubted, questioned or dismissed when they report, so many people choose to side with the victim (hence the trending hashtag, #IBelieveSurvivors). When asked "With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?" at her testimony on Thursday, Ford responded with a resounding, “100 percent.” Believability is at the core of the Kavanaugh-Ford case, which the New York Times editorial board tackled in a recent piece titled "Why Brett Kavanaugh wasn't believable."
The Editorial Board can’t claim to know or understand the inner-workings of the UNC Title IX office. Undoubtedly, they are trying their best to do their work fairly and quickly. Unfortunately, the facts remain that scores of women are experiencing unwanted sexual contact on UNC’s campus, and UNC has been accused, both by offices of law and by individual assault victims themselves, of being inadequate in its response to those who report incidents of sexual assault. Ford may have attended UNC in the '80s, but we can’t imagine she’d be especially impressed by our current state of things.
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