For the past year, much of our campus has been engaged in a major dialogue about the implications of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. Title IX protects people in educational settings that receive federal financial assistance from being discriminated against on the basis of their sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.
Though Title IX has existed for more than forty years, it has sparked the current dialogue because of additional guidance set forth by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Education in 2011. In its “Dear Colleague” letter of April 4, 2011, OCR emphasized the steps that schools need to take in order to end gender-based harassment and discrimination, address their impacts, and prevent their recurrence. In the wake of this guidance, schools across the country are working to determine the best ways to address discrimination and harassment based on gender, including sexual harassment and sexual assault.
At UNC we have been working to adapt our policy and response system to meet the needs of students directly. Our Task Force (more information available at campusconversation.web.unc.edu) continues to work to identify both the definitions of different types of prohibited conduct and to make recommendations about how the campus-based response system should work to support individual students and create a culture of campus safety for everyone. While the Task Force’s work is ongoing, the individual members of the Task Force have been working tirelessly to bring forward feedback from individuals and groups throughout the campus about what values we want to see embedded in our policy and our practices.
Beyond the emerging policy work, our campus Title IX team, including our Deputy Coordinator Ew Quimbaya-Winship and Investigator Jayne Grandes, has already implemented changes to our response protocols. The team is working closely to make sure that reporting and responding students have information about their rights and options within the University, from the time of the initial report through the resolution of the case. The team always highlights the availability of confidential resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the Ombuds, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, the Compass Center for Women and Families, and medical services.
While we still have work to do, there are systems and services in place that assist students, faculty, and staff throughout the campus community. It is our hope to create a community that is safe for everyone and we will continue our prevention, education, and social change efforts until we reach that goal.
Individuals on our campus and in the surrounding community often ask us, “Why does the campus even get involved in these cases? Isn’t sexual assault a crime that should be handled by the court system?” The answer to the question is important and has several parts:
* Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects (Dear Colleague Letter, 2011). A single instance of rape is sufficiently severe to create a hostile environment (OCR’s 2011 Guidance). Therefore, schools are federally required to respond to sexual assault cases.
* Schools have different resources at their fingertips that they can use to support students who report sexual assault cases. Schools can offer to rearrange students’ class schedules, housing assignments, and other logistical needs in order to support students’ safety.
* Schools have codes of conduct and access to sanctions that law enforcement and/or prosecutors don’t. For example, schools can suspend and expel students who commit acts of sexual assault, and can often do so more quickly than a prosecutor might be able to take a case to trial.
It is important to note that students bringing complaints forward can choose to pursue criminal cases and/or university based remedies. Pursuing one course of action does not preclude the other; the student bringing the complaint forward can choose to pursue either remedy or both.