UNC students discuss sexual assaults

Feb. 06, 2013 @ 06:59 PM

UNC students, staff and faculty got a chance Wednesday to ask questions of a national consultant on sexual assault hired to review university’s policies and procedures that are applied when such incidents occur.

Gina Smith was asked by UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp to take on the assignment in the wake of student complaints about the university’s handling of alleged sexual assaults.

In addition to reviewing policies and procedures, Smith will be on campus in the coming weeks meeting with students, faculty and others in an attempt to learn the culture and to establish a framework for a broader conversation about sexual assault.

“Without you, the faculty, staff and administration this doesn’t change,” Smith said, referring to how sexual assaults are addressed and discussed on campus.

Smith, who stressed that the difficulty of discussing and addressing sexual assault is not unique to UNC, fielded questions and took comments from about 10 people, mostly students, during the hour-long session.

One student said the issue of student health, particularly mental health, needs to be addressed in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Another complained that the university puts a tremendous amount of pressure on victims to “push the process” when charges of sexual assault are made.

Sallie Shuping-Russell, a member of the UNC Board of Trustees, thanked those victims of sexual assault who have come forward in recent days to share their stories.

“This is a high priority for us,” Shuping-Russell said.

Thorp said the conversation that took place between Smith and students is exactly what he hoped would happen when he asked her to take the assignment.

“This is the very beginning of what we will do in the coming weeks on this,” Thorp said.

Matt Hickson, a senior from Charlotte, wanted to know why the university treats sexual assaults like a risk management issue rather than a social justice issue.

Afterward, Hickson said he thought the first conversation was a good one, but said he wished “we could have heard more from the administration.”

Sexual assaults and the university’s handling of them have been a major topic on campus in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp announced that Ew Quimbaya-Winship has been appointed UNC’s student complaint coordinator.

Quimbaya-Winship will be the initial contact for sexual assault victims beginning on March 11.

And last week, students with the SAFER Carolina Campaign, Survivors and Allies for Empowerment and Reform held a rally at the university’s South Building and called on administrators to change inadequate policies and procedures that govern sexual assaults on campus.

During that rally students who said they had been assaulted complained that administrators made them feel as though they were to blame for their sexual assaults while the alleged rapist received a pass.

Two students, Landen Gambill and Andrea Pino, both of whom are party to a complaint against the university filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, shared their stories of sexual assault and the inadequate responses and support both said they received from UNC administrators.

Gambill and Pino joined former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning, one other student and one former student in filing a complaint with the OCR.

Manning has also charged that university officials tried to pressure her into lowering the number of reported offenses and claims there were three fewer cases reported in the Annual Campus Security Report than she originally submitted.

UNC officials have vigorously denied the charge and contend the report, in fact, contained more incidents of sexual violence than Manning submitted for the report.