CHAPEL HILL — UNC-Chapel Hill students spoke out Wednesday to demand that campus administrators do more to be supportive of survivors of sexual assault.
At a rally in front of the main administrative building, students said the university’s procedures for dealing with sexual offenses are inadequate and foster a climate of fear on campus. The event was held by a group called the SAFER Carolina Campaign; SAFER stands for Survivors and Allies for Empowerment and Reform.
The group is pushing for change following a federal complaint by several students, a former student and a former administrator, who have asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate UNC-CH’s handling of sexual assaults.
“It’s time for this university to listen to women, to trust us and to believe us,” said Landen Gambill, a sophomore from Mooresville and one of the students who filed the complaint. “We will not be silenced.”
Gambill described how her abuser, an ex-boyfriend and fellow student, had been found innocent last year by an honor court that she said seemed to blame her for what had happened. She said the student voluntarily withdrew from the university, returned, and then was allowed to move into a dorm across the street from her.
“There are rapists on this campus, and the university knows it,” Gambill said. “They’ve been through the university processes. The university knows who and what they are, but they’re still here as a direct result of specific administrators protecting them. It’s an outrage. This is an outrage because it puts students in direct danger. It’s an outrage because I and other survivors should not have to walk around our campus each day with the fear of seeing the men that raped us.”
Behind her stood about two dozen students, some holding signs. One poster said, “It happens here.” Another said “We’re not numbers.”
The students called for action on a number of fronts:
• A new sexual assault policy to be crafted by specially trained faculty and students.
• Better training for administrators.
• More accessible and centralized resources for victims.
• Creation of a new department to handle sex-based violence response and prevention.
• Review of four administrators who have been involved in the handling of sexual assault.
The students sent their list of demands to Chancellor Holden Thorp.
A university spokeswoman said officials had no comment following Wednesday’s rally.
Allegations against UNC
University leaders have said they take the issue seriously. But they dispute an allegation that the campus underreported sexual offenses in 2010. Last week, Thorp announced that the university was planning to bring in Gina Smith, an outside expert on campus sexual assault policies who helped Amherst College review procedures after widespread negative attention about problems there.
Tim Longest, a senior from Greenville, criticized UNC-CH’s sexual assault policy, which was revamped in the past year by administrators. He said it was written without public input or public scrutiny.
“We must do what we can to prevent the injustices of sexism at this university,” Longest said. “We must take sides. Choosing neutrality means siding with the oppressors at this once-great institution.”
Andrea Pino, a junior from Miami who joined the federal complaint, said a consultant won’t be able to solve UNC-CH’s problems. What changed the culture at Amherst, she said, was the fact that students came forward and were listened to by the administration.
A survivor’s story
Pino said UNC-CH is focused on compliance with federal crime-reporting laws instead of supporting students.
“This is not a story about numbers,” she said. “This story is about survivors who are being silenced. I am one of them, and there are many of us.”
Pino said she was sexually assaulted in March of last year by an unknown attacker. She suffered a concussion and still has daily headaches, she said. Because she could not remember the details of the assault, she did not report it to police and only put forth an anonymous complaint to the university. When she struggled in class, she said, an academic adviser suggested she couldn’t make it at the university.
Since speaking out, she said, she has heard from dozens of current and former students with their own sexual assault stories.
In a process that could take weeks, federal officials are reviewing the complaint to determine whether to investigate. Campus officials have not commented fully because they have not seen the complaint, which has only been detailed by the Daily Tar Heel student newspaper, which obtained a copy.