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Tuesday September 21st

A decade of activism changed sexual assault policy, but some say UNC still falls short

DTH Photo Illustration. Students from the University of Rochester along with 33 other Universities took a Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. Students from the University of Rochester along with 33 other Universities took a Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.

The past decade has seen UNC's handling of sexual assault scrutinized by federal investigators, fed up students and a rising wave of survivor activism.

When the decade began, the student-led Honor Court adjudicated sexual assault cases at UNC. Today, the University has different policies and systems to serve students who report sexual violence.

Andrea Pino was a UNC junior when she took part in a 2013 federal complaint process that shifted the perception and handling of sexual violence at UNC. Her co-writers on the complaint at the time were alumna Annie Clark, former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning and two fellow students — Landen Gambill and an anonymous female student.

The inadequate reporting systems available at the time, Pino said, reflected campus attitudes that she experienced personally. While progress has been made, recent developments reiterate the need for more prevention and survivor support efforts in the coming decade.

2010-13

Pino, who filed an anonymous report of rape in 2012, said she found little support at UNC after going public with her story despite never naming her rapist. As a resident adviser at the time, dozens of students confided in her about similar experiences.

Pino said the Honor Court hearings for sexual assault often showed bias and victim-blamed, while also failing to discipline offenders, creating a chilling effect. 

“The Honor Court seemed more likely to expel students for cheating than sexual assault,” she said.

Manning, who held her administrative role from 2001 to 2012, said the few students who reported their sexual assault to her office were given two formal reporting options — the Honor Court and the police.

“We didn’t do a very good job getting the word out or making it comfortable for students to come in and report,” she said. “Very few students wanted to take it through the Honor system.”

In 2011, the Obama administration released a “Dear Colleague” letter clarifying U.S. university responsibilities to investigate campus sexual violence and setting guidelines based on the anti-discrimination Title IX law.

“Some of us read it and said, ‘Oh crap, we are so out of compliance,’” Manning said. “We were just not creating good ways for students to report, or holding students accountable for committing these acts.”

In 2012, UNC revoked jurisdiction of sexual violence cases from Honor Court and adopted new policies and procedures for sexual assault reports — though it still involved hearing committees with some student members.

In accordance with the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” guidelines, the policy lowered the standard of evidence for sexual assault cases and allowed both parties the right to appeal.

In January 2013, the federal complaints that Pino and Manning co-wrote claimed UNC had violated dozens of victims’ rights and created a hostile atmosphere for reporting.

In response, the U.S. Department of Education launched two federal investigations into UNC’s alleged violations of Title IX and the Clery Act.

2014-18

The federal investigation announcements were closely followed by the formation of a 24-member task force. Christi Hurt, chairperson of the task force at the time, said it built an entirely new Title IX system from scratch, which was adopted in August 2014.

Among many changes, the policy officially defined affirmative consent, removed students from hearing panels and added staff, such as a gender violence services coordinator and a full-time Title IX coordinator.

The 2013 complaints had sparked a national wave of survivors speaking out. By 2014, dozens of schools faced Title IX investigations.

“The task force would not have happened had it not been for the complaint,” Hurt said. “Our students who pioneered this advocacy revolutionized the violence response system at UNC and across the nation.”

In June 2018, the education department’s Office of Civil Rights concluded a five-year investigation and found that UNC had violated Title IX laws for years. Without admitting to the violations – which included an inability to provide prompt and equitable resolutions for discrimination complaints, lack of notice to students on where complaints may be filed and unequal opportunity for only one party to appeal – UNC agreed to a resolution.

When asked if UNC had made Title IX changes since the civil rights office’s 2018 findings, Adrienne Allison, UNC’s current Title IX coordinator, said in an email that two new sets of procedures had been established on Oct. 31 clarifying some processes of misconduct reporting. Those changes are available on the EOC website, but have yet to be publicized.

Today

In October, an Association of American Universities survey of nearly 6,000 UNC students found that nearly half of undergraduate females in their fourth year or higher had experienced non-consensual sexual touching or penetration in college.

Although multiple investigators, Title IX response coordinators and a Title IX case manager have been added to the EOC staff in the past several years, the Carolina Women’s Center has had only one gender violence services coordinator since October.

After a seven-year investigation, the education department’s Clery Act Compliance Division in August found UNC in violation of campus safety laws for much of the decade. While the violations varied widely, including a failure to report serious crimes and to properly define its own geography, many of them had a common effect: harming sexual violence victims' ability to report and find justice.

One Clery Act offense was a federal non-retaliation violation, referring to UNC's Honor Court charges against federal complainant Gambill in 2013 after she went public about her then-boyfriend’s sexual abuse and openly criticized UNC’s policies and practices.

While the federal investigations have been validating, Manning said she would like to see UNC acknowledge the harm it caused students through its past handling of sexual assault. 

An apology from the University for her treatment following her public criticism of UNC and federal complaint filing would mean a lot to her, Pino said.

“It is validating for the Department of Education to say, actually, you were right the whole time,” she said. “But, as a 20-year-old, when you have a 200-year-old university telling you that you’re making it up, that’s a level of hurt that doesn’t go away overnight."

Although Manning no longer holds an administrative position, some faculty still direct students to her to talk about their experiences reporting such incidents.

“Even though there may be a good policy in place, a lot of students have told me that they don’t feel like it’s still being implemented as correctly and fairly as it should be,” Manning said. 

Hurt said she would like to see more prevention efforts on campus, such as a more robust One Act program, better bystander intervention training for faculty and staff, and more campaigns about healthy sexuality and relationships.

Pino said she wants UNC to focus more on retention support for sexual assault survivors. She struggled with school after her rape and said she thinks survivors need more easily accessible academic accommodations and mental health resources.

“I was doing this for the Class of 2020,” she said. “(Sexual assault) is now a conversation that simply did not exist 10 years ago. A lot of it is not just because of our movement, but because of the #MeToo movement, because of everyone who fought for survivors before the #MeToo movement and who continue to fight every day.”

@eva_ellenburg6

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