UNC system initiative to look at campus violence
UNC system President Tom Ross on Friday announced a new initiative to review whether campuses in the system are using best practices when it comes to responding to and addressing allegations of sexual assault, harassment and other violent crimes.
Called the University of North Carolina Campus Security Initiative, Ross said working groups of experts from across the university system will spend the next several months focused on three key areas to determine whether the university is on target when it comes to addressing such concerns.
“In watching the conversation at the Chapel Hill campus and other campuses where we’ve seen activity around these issues, I think what we want to do is be sure each of our campuses is following good practices around a number of areas,” Ross said.
Sexual assault became a major topic of discussion this year on the UNC campus after three students, one former student and the former assistant dean of students, Melinda Manning, filed a complaint against the university with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the university violated the rights of sexual assault victims and created a hostile environment for students who reported sexual assaults.
Manning also accused university officials of pressuring her into lowering the number of reported offenses and claims there were three fewer cases in the Annual Campus Security Report than she originally submitted, a claim the university has vigorously denied.
More recently, Elizabeth City State University found itself in the news after an investigation by local police found that campus police didn’t investigate 126 reported crimes, including several alleged sexual assaults.
The discovery led to the resignation of the police chief and the retirement of the university’s chancellor.
Officials said 100 of those cases have been resolved, and police officials continue to work on the remaining cases, which include some allegations of sexual assault.
Ross acknowledged the problems in Elizabeth City could also lead to an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights.
“We’ve opened our conversations with the Department of Education and other entities around what happened and what the next steps are with them,” Ross said. “So, we’re in that process.”
Specifically, Ross said the working groups will focus on:
Policies, procedures and practices for responding to and addressing sexual assault and harassment.
The work and functions of campus police departments.
Policies, procedures and practices for ensuring accurate and timely reporting or campus crime and security information.
“I expect that our work in each of these areas may result in a series of policy recommendations for consideration by the Board of Governors, which I hope to be able to bring to you later this year or early next year,” Ross told the Board of Governors.
While federal crimes statistics show that campus crime rates are significantly lower than the statewide rate, Ross said the university system must do everything possible to ensure that campuses are safe and the rights of individuals are respected.
“Our campuses are committed to that goal, and they have a shared resolve to identify better ways to help prevent sexual assaults and other crimes, to properly investigate and respond to allegations of sexual harassment and violence in accordance with Title IX, to accurately collect and report campus crime and security statistics, and to ensure that the law enforcement functions of campus police are appropriately carried out,” Ross said.