The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday May 7th

Column: UNC's inadequacy punishes survivors of sexual violence

It’s no secret that UNC has a long history of allowing, perpetuating, concealing and even protecting violence on campus. As a result, there is a gaping power dynamic between UNC as an institution and the expectations and demands it has of student survivors. This dynamic effectively punishes sexual assault survivors. 

Many of the immediate violence-response resources a student survivor would need are scattered across various offices on campus, making them exceedingly difficult to find or navigate. None of the University’s violence-response resources are centralized under one office, forcing survivors to repeatedly talk about and relive highly traumatic events with an excessively large number of administrators or staff members. 

Offices such as Carolina Women’s Center, Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office,Office of the Dean of Students and Counseling and Psychological Services all offer vastly different, yet necessary, resources for survivors — but require survivors to reach out to each office and manage communication with administrators from each. Furthermore, most of these spaces are made for white, straight, cisgender survivors, further alienating marginalized survivors who already experience violence and sexual assault at higher rates due to their race, sexuality or gender. 

After the initial shock of a traumatic event, many survivors experience significant mental health effects, such as depression, PTSD or suicidal thoughts. For many, this can understandably lead to a drastic change in academic performance. However, there are very few academic resources specifically for survivors of assault at UNC. 

UNC’s Gender Violence Service Coordinators can inform a survivor’s professors that they have been a victim of sexual or identity-based violence, but the support or understanding provided to a student after that is dependent on the professors themselves. 

Professors at UNC do not receive adequate sexual assault awareness and empathy training, and in turn, many are apathetic and lack a fundamental understanding of how sexual violence deeply traumatizes a person. These conditions fail survivors, and there is an evident absence of infrastructure to help support, heal and make survivors whole again.  

Trauma and mental illness are persistent and long-standing, and in turn, many survivors depend on “accommodations” throughout their time at UNC. Academic accommodations through Accessibility Resources & Service at UNC require medical documentation of mental illness from a health care provider, a privilege many survivors who don’t have the money, time or ability to go to therapy don’t have. This requirement for survivors to gain even the most basic and necessary accommodations is classist, once again disproportionately affecting communities who already experience violence at higher rates. 

In addition to accommodation requests, appeals for academic probation also force survivors to package and present their trauma as “evidence” of their pain and validity with no certainty that their accommodations or appeal will be granted. Survivors are continuously forced to carry out a tremendous amount of emotional and mental labor to prove that they still “belong” at UNC when, in reality, their academic performance is in no way a measure of their intellect, value or worth. 

Ultimately, there is an evident lack of infrastructure specifically for supporting, healing and uplifting survivors at UNC. Sexual trauma and violence takes years — if not an entire lifetime — to work through and heal from. Expecting student survivors to carry out an immense amount of labor to advocate for themselves in a system that doesn’t want or has the means to help them is cruel. 

We need better support structures and a better response to violence on campus. UNC needs a centralized resource that can take on and manage the labor of submitting appeals, connecting to various resources and maintaining communication with multiple offices and administrators for each individual survivor.

Survivors need and deserve empathy and care, and instead, UNC punishes them for circumstances they have no control over. The burden should not be on survivors. By building the basic infrastructure needed to support survivors, we can start to address why UNC, and college culture in general, is founded in inherent violence — and create a campus culture that not only adequately responds to violence but eradicates it in the first place.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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