After the University’s disastrous plan to cancel in-person classes, the overarching sentiment from off-campus voices has been: “Could anyone have expected this?”
Here’s the short answer: of course we could.
There was already a public health emergency on campus — and it’s woven into Carolina’s 231-year history. Sexual assault is rampant at UNC. University administration failed to comply with the Clery Act. Students like Faith Hedgepeth and Suellen Evans were sexually assaulted and murdered, and there still has not been any restorative justice. And with the recent release of sexual assault disciplinary records, coalesced with a time of chaos and confusion, it’s easy to forget about UNC’s poor record of handling crises.
Sexual assault is not an idiosyncratic issue to Carolina — but it is certainly an extremely intense one. In data released by the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey, more than a third of undergraduate women said they were sexually assaulted while at UNC — and the number rises to nearly half for those in their fourth year or higher. Women make up around 60 percent of undergraduate enrollment. When 1 in 6 people suffer from a debilitating illness, it is considered an epidemic. But when it comes to sexual assault, UNC does not consider it a matter of urgency.
These numbers come as no surprise to me, as someone who has spent my undergraduate career in a whirlwind of anxiety. My fear has manifested itself in tiny ways: I walk back to my dorm with my keys between my knuckles each night. I always wear shoes I can run in. I even resigned from my former position at The Daily Tar Heel — as a reporter on the Arts & Culture desk my freshman year — because I was too afraid to walk from Franklin Street to Craige Residence Hall alone in the dark each week. Before I even arrived on campus, I heard the whisperings from student activists and organizers: sexual assault was a deeply embedded problem, spread out so thinly across the UNC System it rendered itself opaque.