UNC-Chapel Hill releases new policy on sexual assault, violence

Aug. 29, 2014 @ 11:16 AM

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a new sexual assault and violence policy Thursday, more than a year after a task force including students, faculty and staff began working on it.

The new policy re-defines what constitutes consent, and changes the process for handling sexual assault cases, including removing students from hearing panels that can judge cases.
The 28-page policy comes as an investigation of the university’s handling of sexual assault cases is still pending. The investigation followed a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights by five women who alleged that the school violated the rights of sexual assault victims and created a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.

“A group of advocates had been calling for policy change for a few years, prior to even filing the complaint, so this new policy has been a long time coming,” said Annie Clark, a former UNC-Chapel Hill student and one of the women behind the complaint. “I’m glad the university is starting to take the issue seriously, and I look forward to UNC being more proactive in the future."
The new policy covers sexual assault and violence as well as discrimination, harassment and related misconduct, interpersonal violence and stalking. Chancellor Carol L. Folt said that she told the campus in a letter Thursday that the policy is now in effect. She also said the university is equipped to implement it.
“The policy is part of a comprehensive, thoughtful approach to addressing sexual violence and is a critical component of our commitment to student well-being,” Folt said in a news release. “We are not done – we will continue to identify ways to provide a safe place to learn and work.”
The policy includes a definition for what is considered “consent” to sexual contact, stating that it’s not “to be inferred from silence, passivity or a lack of resistance.” It also states that relying on “non-verbal communication alone” could result in a violation.
In addition, the policy aims to be more precise in what’s prohibited, distinguishing between conduct such as sexual violence, exploitation, stalking, and “complicity” -- defined as an act that aids, facilitates, promotes or encourages prohibited conduct by someone else.
A major change is how sexual assault cases will now be judged: Students have been removed from the process.
Christi Hurt, assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff of student affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill, the director of the Carolina Women’s Center and the chair of the task force behind the new policy, said that change was made in-line with what students asked for and federal standards.
Previously, sexual assault cases were judged through the student-run Honor Court. In 2012, school officials removed those cases from that system, and put an interim process in place in which sexual assault cases were handled either by the dean of students or by a separately run student grievance panel that included faculty and staff.
With the new policy, an alleged victim can choose between either “voluntary resolution” such as mediation or a process in which an investigator would work with the Title IX compliance coordinator or another officer to make a finding. The victim could choose to challenge the investors’ finding through an administrative review process or a hearing before a panel of faculty, and staff.
Hurt said the panel members will be well-trained.
Generally, she also said they tried to make the policy user-friendly. The university also created a website http://sexualassaultanddiscriminationpolicy.unc.edu to help explain the policy.
“Overall, what you see is a whole process and product that is entirely user-friendly, accessible to students, and easy to sort out,” Hurt said.
In addition, the school will also be providing training sessions beginning next month on the policy and on the reporting responsibilities for individuals required to report potential violations.
The school will form an advisory committee of faculty, staff and students to review the policy’s implementation.
The university is not alone in grappling with sexual assault. UNC-Chapel Hill is one of 76 post-secondary education institutions that have Title IX sexual violence investigations pending with the departments’ Civil Rights Office, according to a department spokeswoman.
“I think Carolina, like every school in America, has cared about sexual assault and discrimination, but we also have a number of activists at our campus, and at campuses across the nation, that has added focus and given impetus to our work here,” Folt said in an interview Thursday. “Virtually everyone I know in higher education – this is something we applaud.”

CORRECTION:

The second paragraph has been changed to reflect students' roles under the new policy. It also corrected a quote from Christi Hurt to note that they wanted a process that was accessible to students.