UNC Sexual Assault Policy Reforms Underway
CHAPEL HILL – We should see concrete changes in UNC’s sexual assault policy by the end of this year, according to the University’s top leaders. After months of work by Carolina’s sexual assault policy task force, some improvements have already been implemented.
The group was charged with reviewing and enhancing the University’s policies and procedures on the issue. It’s a diverse, 22-member assemblage of students and leaders with in the Carolina community.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said she met with the sexual assault policy task force just last week.
“We will stay vigilant in this area, but it’s something that requires a community-side effort,” Folt said to the Board of Trustees. She added, “Nobody could be watching the news and not constantly be thinking about what we can do to ensure the safety of our communities. We have a lot of work. Just two days ago, we met with the Chief [McCraken] and went over those plans.”
Several changes outside the policy process have already been put into effect. In the coming months, faculty, staff and students will have access to online training concerning Title IX requirements, and there will be a campus-wide emphasis on preventing all forms of violence.
UNC Student Body President Christy Lambden has been working with the task force since its creation.
“We must start to implement increased training around this issue for all members of our community,” Lambden said.
Lambden and members of the Student Government began work this spring on a new Smartphone app that will allow members of the university community to report incidents of sexual violence.
“We as a community must undergo a shift in the culture surrounding this issue on our campus,” Lambden said. “We must support those who have been assaulted and continue to educate our community about how to prevent sexual assault from occurring.”
Carolina’s emphasis on improving its sexual assault policy began after Landen Gambill told the UNC Honor Court in the spring of 2012 that she was repeatedly assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. She then filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the University. Gambill and four others claimed that Carolina acted with insensitivity and carelessness when handling these cases.
As of the summer of 2012, sexual assault cases have been removed from the Honor Court’s jurisdiction.
In the wake of the Federal Investigation, then UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp brought in Gina Smith, a former prosecutor, in January of this year. She worked with members of the campus community, including the sexual assault task force, to discuss how the University handles cases of sexual misconduct.
Winston Crisp, UNC’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, has been monitoring the work of the task force. He told a Board of Trustees committee that they can expect clearer policy language about the reporting of sexual misconduct. Specifically, a more concise definition of what sexual assault is.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen almost a revolution across the country, particularly around the processes we use and how we execute the process so that it is more humane and pays more attention to the feelings and the emotions,” Crisp said.
UNC To Suspend Honor Court Hearing Of UNC Student Pending External Review
CHAPEL HILL – UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp announced Tuesday that he has asked the Honor Court to suspend its hearing involving Landen Gambill.
The hearing was scheduled to take place some time in the next couple weeks and centers around complaints made by Gambill’s ex-boyfriend that she engaged in disruptive or intimidating behavior by continually referencing the fact that she was sexually assaulted. Gambill claims she never publicly announced her ex-boyfriend’s name.
Early this week, Gambill’s lawyer Henry Clay Turner, wrote a letter to Chancellor Thorp asking that the proceedings be dismissed. It also announced that Gambill filed a formal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights claiming that she believed the University was retaliating against her for all the attention and now investigations she has brought to the University.
To see the letter from Turner to Chancellor Thorp, click here.
However the lawyer representing Gambill’s ex-boyfriend, John Gresham of Tin Fulton in Charlotte, says that can’t be true.
“The University had nothing to do with that. It was handled exactly like any other complaint,” Gresham said. “It was reviewed by a third-year law student which is exactly the way the Honor Court is supposed to work to determine if there is a basis for the charge. She determined there was a basis for the charge. So then it was in the Honor Court proceeding, exactly like any other Honor Court proceeding.”
“Ms. Gambill’s actions were affecting his ability to take full advantage of the education at Chapel Hill,” Gresham explained. “He was subject to comments, and threats of physical injury. He was facing signs across campus that said, ‘Intimidate Rapists.’”
“He was having to travel on campus with someone else to make sure that there was someone else there to observe what occurred and to also make sure that Ms. Gambill could not say in any way that he had interfered. He was under an obligation not to have contact with her. He changed a class so that he would not even be in the same area as her,” Gresham said.
Gresham says the University has to be sure it’s treating everyone justly.
“I can understand the University wanting to ensure that everything has been dealt with appropriately since the University has been under attack,” Gresham says. “However, whether the University is under attack or not, it still has its obligations to all of its students.”
Gresham told WCHL he would be in contact with the University immediately following the interview to ask what the suspension of the Honor Court proceedings mean.
Gambill’s complaint is the third filed with the OCR against UNC; it’s also investigating the University for the handling of sexual assault cases after a complaint was filed by Gambill and several other women including former assistant dean for students Melinda Manning, and for possible Clery Act violations. The Clery Act is a federal law that requires campuses to disclose crime statistics.
A representative from Turner’s office told WCHL the he would not be able to answer questions from the media via telephone due to the number of requests. She said he would be answering them via email, but WCHL has not yet gotten a response.
In part of a letter addressed to the UNC faculty, staff, and students, Chancellor Thorp said, “For several weeks, the University has grappled with how best to respond to a public claim of retaliation against the University while maintaining the autonomy and integrity of our Honor Court proceedings and the privacy of the individuals involved.”
To see the full letter from Chancellor Thorp, click here
Rally On UNC’s Campus Friday To Support Landen Gambill
CHAPEL HILL – A rally to support the dismissal of charges against UNC sophomore Landen Gambill will take place Friday afternoon.
All week, Gambill has been at the center of attention after she was informed last Friday that charges have been filed against her by her ex-boyfriend stating she has done damage to his character.
Gambill accused her ex-boyfriend of verbally and physically sexually assaulting her in the spring of 2012. The case was heard by the UNC Honor Court.
After the accused was found not guilty of rape, but guilty of verbal harassment, Gambill and others have been speaking out about how they feel UNC has not properly handled the case.
Policies have since changed and the Honor Court no longer hears cases of sexual assault. But, Gambill says that’s not enough.
And, with all the attention that has been given to her, Gambill’s ex-boyfriend says it has negatively affected the way he is able to function at UNC, therefore filing the complaint with the Honor Court.
Friday’s rally will likely speak to the fact that Gambill is now being punished for speaking out about being attacked. It will take place at 1:00 p.m. on UNC’s campus.
UNC SB President Says Charges Against Gambill Weren’t Started By Honor Court
CHAPEL HILL – UNC’s student body president Will Leimenstoll says the charges brought against sophomore Landen Gambill have gained lots of attention on campus.
“People are definitely frustrated, and understandably so,” Leimenstoll says. “(They’re) concerned about some of the allegations that have been put out there and kind of asking a lot of questions. I think that that’s completely reasonable. I think there’s definitely issues about sexual assault and safety on both UNC’s campus and pretty much campuses all across the country.”
Gambill has been charged by the UNC Honor Court with engaging in disruptive or intimidating behavior. The person who allegedly filed the complaint against Gambill was her ex-boyfriend who she says she has not named publicly throughout the entire process. When she presented her original case to the Honor Court in the spring of 2012, she named her assaulter, but all cases are private.
Leimenstoll says it’s important to know from where exactly the Honor Court charges come.
“The Attorneys General staff does decide whether the charge is worth investigating, but it’s my understanding they are not the ones who write up the charge or decide to charge someone,” Leimenstoll says.
The person who accused Gambill says she damaged his or her character by continuing to express it to the public. Late last month, Gambill and others who claimed to be sexually abused, held a press conference about how the University has been handling sexual assault cases.
At that press conference, while not focusing her attention on her attacker, she expressed the fact that she’s upset with how the University handled her case.
“The vast majority of the trial was spent on what I had done wrong or why I hadn’t left him earlier, why I was ever around him in the first place instead of why did he did this to me,” Gambill says. “So it was a really victim-blaming focus.”
Leimenstoll says the University has since made changes to its sexual assault polices.
“The student-run Honor Court system did indeed handle sexual assault cases at one time, but that’s been changed since Landen’s went through, in part because of that and in part because of a lot of other issues that are raised with students handling sexual assault cases,” Leimenstoll says. “I think that the Honor Court still does what it is meant to do very well.”
Gambill has commented on the fact that she believes these charges are in retaliation to her comments about the Honor Court. But, as Leimenstoll said, the Honor Court did not create the charges, only expressed that they will be investigated.
He says the Honor Court is simply a means for students to resolve issues they don’t want to take to a higher system.
“If they have a conduct case, they may not want to go through a criminal proceeding, but they do want some kind of justice,” Leimenstoll says. “I think that the Honor Court system is built to kind of handle that and support that because we want to make sure that students are cared for in the best way possible.”
And, Leimenstoll says charges brought against someone are not a sentencing.
“If they decide it’s worth investigating, that does not mean that they think that person is clearly guilty or clearly not guilty,” Leimenstoll says. “It means that they think there’s enough uncertainty that more information and perhaps some type of trial is indeed necessary to find out.”
In fact, a line from the note in which Gambill was informed that she was charged says “Please note that being charged with a violation does not imply guilt.”
Leimenstoll says it’s important to know processes are in place to be sure safety is upheld.
“The University does have a responsibility to protect every student here at Carolina,” Leimenstoll says. “That’s part of its job. I think its important that people keep that in mind that everyone deserves to be protected if they’re a student here at Carolina.”
UNC SB President Elect Says Confusion About Gambill Charges Fills Campus
CHAPEL HILL – The recent controversy surrounding UNC sophomore Landen Gambill has the University’s Student Body President elect pondering issues that he says need continued attention.
“I think things have already been put in place to suggest that the system’s changing,” Lambden says. “Hopefully that will indicate that the issue will be handled differently and more effectively in the future.”
Click here for the full story.
He was elected just more than a week ago to take over for Will Leimenstoll on April 2. Lambden says he has heard mixed emotions on campus about the situation.
“I think people are incredibly surprised about the charges that have been brought against Landen,” Lambden says. “I think some people are angry about the charges that have been brought against Landen. Other people are struggling to understand why it’s happened, and they’re struggling to understand where it’s coming from.”
A great bit of confusion seems to be at the heart of the matter. Was it the Honor Court that accused Gambill of engaging in disruptive or intimidating behavior? Or was it someone else? Possibly her ex-boyfriend?
“I think some of the confusion lies in the fact that not all students have a full understanding of the exact Honor Court procedure in these sorts of circumstances,” Lambden says. “There is some confusion around who has brought the charges and whether it’s the Honor Court that has brought the charges and is trying them as well. I think it’s something that the student government and the Honor Court is working very hard to try to make clear to people at the moment.”
In fact, all matters discussed by the Honor Court are confidential in nature. So, the person who officially filed the claim against Gambill cannot be announced.
Gambill actually believes it is the Honor Court attempting to get back at her for filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the University and speaking out publicly about how, in her mind, the Honor Court was not prepared to oversee sexual assault cases.
Regardless of how the charges are settled against Gambill, Lambden says the root of the matter is still the most important going forward.
“We need to be looking to get input from students, from faculty, from staff, and from administrators into the writing of the policy so that we are in compliance with our obligations under federal law, but that we are representing and giving students what they need, deserve, and want from the sexual assault policy,” Lambden says.
Of course Lambden also feels it’s very important that the charges against Gambill are properly reviewed by the Honor Court.
UNC Issues Statement Regarding Landen Gambill, Honor Court Charges
Chancellor Thorp, University issue statements about Honor Court allegation
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill today (Feb. 26) issued comments from Chancellor Holden Thorp and a new statement about an Honor Court allegation:
Quote from Chancellor Holden Thorp:
“Student well-being is one of the most pressing issues in higher education today. The Carolina community cares deeply about all of our students, including both students in this specific matter. If we are to achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating sexual assault and violence from this campus, we must all work together.”
The University’s Honor System has been the subject of Internet commentary and media attention and some of its student members have received threats to their personal safety. Sexual assault evokes passionate responses and concerns. But it is important, particularly in a higher education community, to avoid judgment based upon speculation.
Here are facts. This University works hard to encourage students to come forward and report instances of sexual violence. No student has ever been disciplined for reporting a sexual assault or any Honor Code violation. Further, no University administrator filed or encouraged the filing of charges in this case; there is no retaliation by the University.
Because of concern for our students and their privacy we cannot discuss specifics of this or any student Honor Court case. This includes allegations involving a student who has made a claim about a fellow student.
The University has a long and cherished tradition of student government, led by students for the benefits and welfare of students. We can tell you that the Student Attorneys General have, and for many years have had, the authority to decide which cases to consider independent of administrators. Further, administrators may not encourage or prevent the Student Attorneys General from filing charges. When a member of the University community reports an Honor Code violation, the Student Attorneys General determine if the evidence warrants a hearing before the Honor Court under campus policies and procedures. In deciding to charge a student with an alleged violation, the Student Attorneys General carefully consider all available evidence. Because of faculty interest in strengthening the Honor System process, the University established – with Chancellor Thorp’s support – a faculty advisory committee to be available to the Student Attorneys General for consultation in difficult cases.
Throughout a student’s involvement with the student-led Honor System, an accused student receives a number of procedural rights, including the presumption of innocence, the presentation of evidence, and a fair and impartial hearing. After the hearing, if a student is found guilty of the charge, sanctioning decisions are made by the Honor Court after a thorough consideration of all of the evidence.
The Student Attorneys General, who have been involved with the Honor System for over two years, have been trained on making appropriate charge decisions in accordance with University procedures. We are confident in our students’ professionalism and commitment.
In January, the University retained Gina Smith, a nationally recognized lawyer and consultant on sexual misconduct issues, to help guide an open and transparent conversation about how the issue of sexual assault affects the campus and culture that is focusing on education and engagement. Smith, a former prosecutor, educator and consultant, has guided other campuses including Amherst on issues related to handling sexual assault complaints.
The work ahead of us is hard and the responsibility to get it right is daunting. We are committed to eliminating sexual assault and violence from our community. We encourage you to visit our website (http://campusconversation.web.unc.edu/) and to participate in the University’s efforts to engage students, faculty, staff and alumni on these issues.