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Look back on how Folt dealt with UNC's sexual assault lawsuit, Title IX investigation

Gaby Aleman, a sophomore representative from CHispA, speaks out against sexual violence at the Stand with Survivors Rally at the Peace and Justice Plaza on September 16, 2016.
The Red Zone Initiative, spearheaded by UNC Student Government, seeks to battle sexual assault on campus, especially during the early months of the school year.

 Carol Folt became UNC’s chancellor in July 2013. In January of that year, three UNC students, a former student and a former administrator submitted a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education claiming UNC facilitated a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.

Following more than five years of federal investigation, UNC was found in violation of Title IX in June 2018. On Monday, Folt announced she will be stepping down as chancellor in May 2019. Here’s a look back at Folt’s role in the Title IX investigation.

Original complaint

The original complaint, more than 30 pages in length, was released in 2013. This came one month after former student Landen Gambill and another former student spoke with The Daily Tar Heel about how the University handled their rape cases – including reports of unequal treatment from administrators and inappropriate questioning in UNC’s Honor Court. 

Together with at-the-time junior Andrea Pino, recent graduate Annie Clark, former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning, Gambill and the female student who requested her name not be used by The Daily Tar Heel signed the complaint which accused the University of violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This law prohibits gender-based discrimination and guarantees equal opportunity in all educational programs that receive federal funding.

#MeToo statement

Fast-forward five years after the complaint was filed, to early January 2018, Folt said in a campuswide message that the UNC administration would review its sexual harassment and discrimination policies in response to the #MeToo movement. This letter was written by Folt, Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia Washington and Provost Robert Blouin.

The message said the administration was taking steps to create a harassment-free culture on campus.

“The issue of sexual harassment is on the minds of everyone, as we have watched thousands of women across the nation courageously come forward to tell their stories,” they wrote. “We are taking a fresh and critical look at policies and procedures across the University to make sure we are doing everything we can to create an inclusive and respectful culture at Carolina.”

The Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office said it had nothing to add to the statement, The Daily Tar Heel reported at the time. The message followed the 2017 issuing of new guidelines concerning campus sexual assault cases by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the "Dear Colleague Letter" published by the Obama administration in 2011. 

Conclusion of the investigation

Following the conclusion of the Title IX investigation by U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in June, Folt sent out a campuswide email announcing the OCR’s findings.

In the email, Folt said the OCR commented on the University’s cooperation throughout the investigation and on their “efforts to maintain a campus environment free from discrimination, harassment, and related misconduct, including sexual violence and sexual assault, including through strengthening its Title IX response policies, procedures, resources, and outreach.”

The University did not admit to any violation of laws, but did sign a resolution agreement in response to the investigation.  

“We thank our students and countless others across the nation for their advocacy, the 22 members of our sexual assault task force, which was convened in 2013, and others who gave input to our comprehensively revised policy and procedures. Their work benefits our community today,” Folt wrote. “Nothing is more important to us than creating a culture at Carolina where every member of our campus community feels safe, supported and respected. While this concludes the OCR investigation, it does not conclude our commitment.”

DeVos’ proposal

In November 2018, DeVos released a proposal of new rules for universities across the country to handle Title IX policies involving instances of sexual misconduct. The proposed policies would leave universities responsible only for sexual harassment cases involving formal complaints and sexual misconduct that occurred on campus.

A 2018 article by The Daily Tar Heel included a statement from Washington, which said UNC was reviewing the Department of Education’s proposal and would assess its policies to determine if any changes would be necessary after the DOE issued its final rule.

“We take every report of sexual misconduct seriously, and we remain committed to the safety and wellbeing of our students, as well as to ensuring a fair process for all parties involved in a Title IX proceeding,” Washington said in the statement.

Folt has not released any statements regarding the University’s Title IX policies since she announced the conclusion of the DOE’s investigation in June 2018. 


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