Content warning: This article contains mention of sexual assault.
Earlier this month, UNC sent out an Alert Carolina notification regarding multiple sexual assaults reported at Granville Towers. The three reported assaults all involved the same accused person, according to the Alert Carolina.
Although the assaults span from August to October, the University sent the alert to students on Nov. 19, the day they received the third report. And even then, the notification claimed there was no immediate threat to the community, despite recognizing the pattern of behavior being exhibited by the perpetrator.
Perhaps most unusually, the Alert Carolina cited the Jeanne Clery Act and UNC’s abidance as a reason for the notification being sent widely to students. Established in 1990, the Clery Act is a federal statute that sets guidelines for how colleges and universities collect and report crime data.
The act sets a number of standards for dealing with crime on college campuses, from preventative education to ensuring that policies and procedures for dealing with crime are made publicly available.
The timely warning and emergency notification standards begin to explain why UNC sent this Alert Carolina message when it did. The Clery Act states that colleges and universities must evaluate the threat posed to students and, in a timely manner and if appropriate, issue an emergency notification.
In 2020, UNC was fined $1.5 million by the U.S. Department of Education after being cited for multiple serious violations of the Clery Act. The DOE concluded that UNC had mishandled safety claims under the Clery Act for years, according to a report published in 2019. The DOE said that these violations led to “the institution’s systemic failure to provide students and employees with important campus crime information and services essential to their safety and security.”
While we can assume UNC’s decision to alert students after repeated instances of sexual assault involving the same accused person complies with the Clery Act, the timing of this notification raises concerns over the University’s ability to gauge threats to student safety and wellness.
If history is any indicator, UNC has been less than willing to share information regarding sexual assault on campus, including disciplinary records. This lack of transparency seems to persist despite the federal laws and NC Supreme Court rulings that prevent universities from withholding such information from students.
UNC is not only evading responsibility in dealing with assault, but also the rules and laws that hold it accountable. Doing the bare minimum to comply with the Clery Act — notifying students months after the fact and ignoring the dangers of repeated assaults — is not doing enough. UNC must send campus notifications of reported assaults as they happen, in order to protect the safety of the campus community and prevent it from happening a second time — rather than a fourth.
Handling sexual assault properly doesn’t mean just checking boxes and meeting minimum compliance. Handling sexual assault means being proactive, taking preventative steps before assault occurs and providing a vast array of resources for victims.
Handling sexual assault means being as transparent as possible, not just when it is federally required.
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