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UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp Addresses Sexual Assault Investigation

By WCHL News Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

The conversation on campus surrounding sexual assault is growing louder and more passionate. Let’s talk about it.

To make meaningful changes that will improve how sexual assault is addressed at Carolina, we must have an open and honest dialogue. Those conversations are taking place across campus. Informally and formally.
In small groups and large. Among students, faculty, administrators, staff and other members of our campus community.

Sexual assault is one of the greatest challenges facing campuses across the nation, including Carolina, and it is an issue that I am committed to addressing before I leave office. We’re focused on the safety of our students, as well as faculty and staff, and have an obligation to do everything we can to provide the care and support they need if a sexual assault occurs. In those instances, we must act promptly to thoroughly investigate and address any misconduct.

This week, as expected, we were notified by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that it has opened an investigation about our handling of sexual assault complaints. The University is cooperating fully with this investigation. In fact, we welcome it. Our response will show how the University has made significant changes in the past 18 months about how sexual assault complaints are handled. They include removing sexual assault cases from the jurisdiction of the Honor System and implementing a new process that involves students, faculty and staff who are specially trained to deal with the complexities of these cases. In addition, we continue to build on our existing relationships with the University’s Department of Public Safety, local law enforcement officials and rape crisis counselors to provide a comprehensive range of support services to students who experience sexual assault.

We began making many of these changes long before the Office for Civil Rights complaint was filed several weeks ago. In fact, much of this work is in response to guidelines and recommendations issued by the Office for Civil Rights to universities nationwide in 2011.

Our system is still not perfect.

There is more work to be done, and we are committed to making additional changes that will improve the way sexual assault cases are handled at the University. This month, we brought on board two new employees to investigate sexual assault allegations and help survivors of sexual assault get the information and resources they need.

Gina Smith, a nationally recognized expert on sexual assault issues, continues to work closely with the University. She returned to campus this week to meet with students and engage in open discussions about these issues. Her work will elicit important feedback and produce clear recommendations to help us strengthen our processes.

We are also gathering valuable feedback from students and faculty in other ways. I recently received a letter from Dr. Joanne Hershfield, chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, offering suggestions on how to address sexual assault issues on campus. I look forward to evaluating those recommendations and working with Dr.
Hershfield and other faculty members to continue the dialogue about how we can do better.

Additional feedback from students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of our campus community is being collected through an online suggestion box athttp://campusconversation.web.unc.edu/suggestion-box/. It’s a website where you can learn more about the steps we are taking, find the latest news about this issue, and confidentially share your thoughts about the important work that still needs to be done.

While our students and faculty take a well-deserved break for rest and reflection next week, let me assure you that we will be hard at work, mindful that the ultimate goal is to eradicate sexual violence and misconduct from our campus. Our students and this community deserve no less.

Enjoy your Spring Break. Be safe. I look forward to continuing this conversation when you return.

Sincerely,

Holden Thorp

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