CHAPEL HILL – UNC’s new Title IX task force, which is charged with developing the University’s new sexual assault policy, has to be able to quickly get past the sensitive nature of the topic in order to efficiently cover all areas in the redesign.
“We are the group that’s charged with looking at a really sensitive issue and really sensitive human issues that we want to unpack here as a group,” says task force chair and interim Title IX coordinator, Christi Hurt speaking just after the first of many meetings of the group. “I think we need to spend some time getting to know each other so that there’s some group comfort and some relationship building that we do as a group. But we also don’t want to pretend like we’re the only people who have something to say about the issue. So, going back and engaging with our own communities on campus and off campus about how they want their issues represented is going to be really important.”
Wednesday morning’s meeting was to set the groundwork for the task ahead and inform everyone involved where the process currently stands.
Gina Smith is a former prosecutor whom UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp hired in January as a consultant to discuss with members of the campus community how the University handles cases of sexual misconduct. She says campuses across the nation are dealing with the same issue due to a recent paradigm shift.
“We have additional regulation, laws, and direction from government agencies, law enforcement authorities, state governments, the federal government, and local government,” Smith says. “The next aspect of this paradigm shift is something that was very public, and that was the conduct of Jerry Sandusky. It’s not just a Penn State issue, and it keeps us focused on the responsibility of one who chooses to act and take advantage of another human being. I take you to the next element, and that is the courage of students throughout this country to speak up and share their experience. The last one from my perspective—in terms of why this has changed—is the use of social media.”
The 21-member task force has people from all over campus, including LGBTQ Director Terri Phoenix, Deputy Chief of the Department of Public Safety, George Hare, Director of Counseling and Wellness Services, Allen O’Barr, and Student Body President Christy Lambden who says it was evident in the first gathering that there are going to be moments of discomfort that the group is going to have to get past.
**The task force is made up of 22 members. Women and Gender Studies Department faculty member, Karen Booth was added just before the meeting after a recommendation was made to include someone from that department.
“I think that will be a challenge to get over, but I think it’s one that we’re going to do really well,” Lambden says. “Looking around the room, it’s one of the moments at Carolina that I have frequently where I’m inspired and I feel incredibly confident that we are going to be able to get done what we need to get done given the personnel that we have available and who are here trying to do the work.”
Hurt says the way to do that is dive in head first from the moment the process began.
“It’s really that we’re dealing with a complex series of issues that are all really interrelated, and we have to know a lot about each one and really look at several different issues distinctly along the way but make sure we’re looking at the whole policy as a whole,” Hurt says.
The task force meets weekly throughout the summer. Hurt says there’s no defined timeline for when the process will conclude, but she hopes the group can have the new policy in place by the start of the fall semester.