After a four-year lawsuit and a petition to have its verdict reviewed, the case advocating the release of UNC’s records of sexual assault has come to a close.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied the University’s petition for writ of certiorari in the case DTH Media Corp. v. Folt on Jan. 11, 2021. This petition, filed on Sept. 28, 2020, requested the ruling for the records’ release be reviewed.
The records, released in August 2020, showed that just 15 students were found in violation of UNC's sexual assault policy since 2007.
Hugh Stevens, the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the only way to change the result of the case now that the Supreme Court has denied the petition would be either for Congress to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or for the N.C. General Assembly to amend the North Carolina Public Records Law.
He said under the current law, however, there is nothing the University can do.
“The one thing I’ve come to believe firmly is that universities, and I don’t mean just Chapel Hill, I think public universities certainly are almost singularly ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of cases,” Stevens said.
Erica Perel, general manager of The Daily Tar Heel, said the records pose the question of whether the Title IX process at UNC is fair and equitable to survivors.
“From a journalism standpoint, the information that is now public is not the full story,” Perel said. “It is really that it is more information than we’ve had in the past.”
Stevens said he believes accusations of lack of due process from students who file complaints and those who are complained about are almost inevitable.
“It just strikes me that handling what are often very serious sexual offenses is just not something that universities ought to be doing,” Stevens said. “But I guess they will continue because Title IX puts them in a position where they pretty much have no choice.”
Joel Curran, vice chancellor for University communications, responded to the verdict in a statement.
“We respect but are disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny the University’s request to review the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling in the Daily Tar Heel records case,” Curran said in the statement.
In the University’s petition for writ of certiorari, it cited the safety and well-being of students as reasons for review.
“We stand by our belief in the importance of a confidential process for everyone involved, one that protects the identities of sexual assault victims,” Curran said in the statement. “Since the North Carolina Supreme Court ruling in May, the University has fully complied with the court’s direction.”
As far as perceived implications for Title IX policy at UNC in the future, Perel said the court’s denial will allow advocates, journalists and others to see a more full picture of what is happening on campus and point to other questions that should be asked.
“It will allow us to try to figure out whether or not UNC has a sexual assault policy that is fair, that treats people respectfully," Perel said. "And maybe that begins to tackle the problem of sexual assault on campus, which we know from surveys and from talking to survivors that it’s a real problem."
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