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'We are here': UNC Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office to support students

20230821_Peng_university-EOC-explainer

The Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office, an office that addresses issues related to discrimination and harassment,  stands on 214 W. Cameron Ave. on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023.

The Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office exists to promote a feeling of safety at the University by monitoring identity-based discrimination and harassment, Elizabeth Hall, the office's associate vice chancellor and Title IX coordinator, said. 

The office has been fulfilling this role since 2014, when the University enacted policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and related misconduct.

“Big picture, the EOC handles everything related to federal laws addressing protected statuses like age, race, religion, disability, sex, gender — we have 13 protected statuses,” she said.

The office has three internal teams: report and response, investigations and accommodations. 

The accommodations team helps ensure that needs are met for those with disabilities, those pregnant and those practicing religion, Hall said. She said the other two teams address sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment based on protective statuses.

“Sometimes folks are just looking for support, and if they want support only, they don't want an investigation, they work only with the report and response team,” she said. “If they're looking for an investigation, and that's the right way to go, then the report and response team will connect them directly to that investigations team.”

When the EOC receives a report of discrimination, harassment or misconduct, they send an outreach email to the individual involved. Depending on the situation, the email may include reporting options, confidential resources and medical aid.

In situations involving gender-based harassment and discrimination, the EOC may connect the affected individual with Gender Violence Service Coordinators. These coordinators offer assistance with identifying reporting options and accompaniment through related processes.

Every outreach email includes the link to safe.unc.edu — a website with a comprehensive list of resources for community members.

“That has all of the resources that you could need and where to go,” Hall said. “Because we don't gatekeep those resources. If you need those, you don't have to make a formal report. Those are available to folks even if they want to be confidential.”

The EOC also works with “Responsible Employees” who are required to report anything they see or hear that constitutes discrimination, harassment, sexual and interpersonal violence or stalking.

Tessa Joseph-Nicholas, a computer science professor, is a Responsible Employee because of her role as a faculty adviser to a web development student group.

If a student reveals they have been involved in or witnessed discrimination, harassment or stalking, Joseph-Nicholas said she is mandated to report it to the EOC. 

She said she always clarifies with the student beforehand that she is required to do this. If a student decides to go forward with the conversation, she reports the incident.

“The EOC reaches out to the student, and the student gets to decide what to do,” Joseph-Nicholas said. “At that point, if the student doesn't wish to go further with it, then the EOC won’t push that.”

But not all students think the EOC is a well-known resource. Second-year law student Mackenzie Roche said the only time they hear about the EOC is in orientations, syllabi and campuswide emails.

“It just feels like every time it’s talked about, it’s a footnote,” she said.

Roche added that they have never seen a presentation by the EOC nor feels the office has a strong presence on campus. She said she recommends that the University do more to provide "a space for student voices," such as hosting a town hall to improve visibility.

While some community members may not be satisfied with the EOC’s presence on campus, the office wants to make itself more available to new and returning students.

“If we could say one thing to folks who are coming back to campus or on campus for the first time, it's that we are here if folks need support in any of these spaces,” Hall said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the EOC may connect individuals with Gender Violence Service Coordinators who provide counsel and the option to report an incident. These coordinators do not perform these duties. They provide assistance. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error. 

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@adelepmorris17

university@dailytarheel.com