Panel releases campus security recommendations
Speaking before a series of recommendations were released to address campus sexual assault, violence and drug and alcohol abuse, University of North Carolina President Tom Ross told the UNC Board of Governors on Thursday that the campuses “remain safe.”
“We learned tragically this week that there’s still violence that can occur near campuses and that, as I say, is a tragedy,” Ross said. “But if you look at statistics, the campuses remain safe. And this is our effort to enhance the safety of our students, our faculty, our staff and to deal with issues we know we confront around issues of alcohol and sexual assault on our campuses.”
Ross spoke on recommendations that came out of a task force created in August of last year to address campus security policy, many of them dealing with sexual violence.
N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson, who co-chaired the task force, said the group involved students, staff, police, medical and mental health professionals and others.
The group reviewed the work of similar groups formed previously, including one launched in 2007 in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
The task force came up with 36 recommendations to address sexual violence and drug abuse, as well as campus violence.
“We’re committed to doing more to respond to sexual assault,” Tom Shanahan, vice president and general counsel for the UNC system, told the board Thursday.
He said they want to know how to report it, and that when reports come in, administrators make the right response, and that those who are handling the case have the right skills.
Shanahan also said they’re committed to evidence-based responses” to alcohol and drug abuse.
“We are long past the point where what we are seeing could ever be called a right of passage,” he said.
Among other recommendations, the task force called for a system-wide policy on sexual harassment and sexual violence that would require each campus to have a Title IX coordinator.
UNC Chapel Hill hired a Title IX coordinator last year to help the campus deal with allegations of sexual assault, discrimination and incidents of violence.
The U.S. Department of Education decided to investigate claims made last year by five women who charged that UNC-Chapel Hill routinely mishandled sexual assault cases.
Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and that requires campuses to have a process in place for responding to sexual discrimination, harassment or violence allegations.
In addition, the task force also recommended that students should not serve on campus student disciplinary hearing panels in cases involving sexual violence, and that reports or complaints involving series offenses including sexual misconduct should be investigated by individuals with appropriate professional training and investigative experience.
It also recommended that each campus police department should provide basic law enforcement training for new campus officers as well as advanced sexual assault and interpersonal violence investigator training for police investigators.
And it recommended that the system should look for resources to create and fund victim assistance positions at each campus law enforcement agency.
At the presentation of the findings, the board heard from Gina Smith, a former prosecutor who said she’s handled child abuse, rape and homicide cases. She started working at UNC-Chapel Hill last year to make sure the school’s policies, training and resources are adequate.
Smith said that often sexual assault cases on campuses don’t go through the criminal justice system because police investigations or reports do not determine whether sexual harassment or violence violates Title IX.
“Complainants can choose to go to the police and to not go to police,” she said. “Victims have the right to decline to go to law enforcement. Then you have a Title IX, civil responsibility to adjudicate it under the federal laws that give you federal funding.”