Published: May 22, 2013 Updated 3 hours ago
By Jane Stancill — firstname.lastname@example.org
CHAPEL HILL — As a UNC-Chapel Hill task force begins to rewrite the university’s policy on sexual misconduct and harassment, a national movement is gaining momentum to demand that universities be held accountable for their students’ safety.
On Wednesday, students from four universities held a news conference in New York to announce a new round of federal complaints against campuses under the Title IX gender discrimination law and the federal campus crime reporting law. The new complaints are against Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, University of California-Berkeley and University of Southern California.
A UNC-CH student and an alumna of the university, who have become informal consultants to students at universities across the nation, were at the news conference wearing Tar Heel T-shirts. They were introduced by Gloria Allred, a well-known civil rights lawyer who has taken on cases involving women’s rights.
“We have hundreds of survivors coming together, filing these complaints. They’re all reaching out to us, and their stories are all the same,” Annie Clark, a 2011 UNC-CH graduate, said in a telephone interview after the news conference. “It’s not just, there’s a rape or a sexual assault. It’s the university’s response.”
In her prepared remarks, Clark, who called the national coalition the Title IX Network, said the movement has reached a critical mass that cannot be ignored.
“As a country, we need to have a conversation, and it should not take a group of mostly undergraduate students to hold our rapists, universities and the U.S. Department of Education accountable for their actions through federal legal action,” she said. “This past weekend, 1 in 4 women graduated with both the title of rape survivor and a degree, many of them graduating alongside their rapists.”
Clark is one of five women, including students and a former administrator, who filed a complaint in January against UNC-CH over its handling and reporting of sexual assaults. They alleged that the university mishandled complaints of sexual misconduct and improperly reported campus crimes, violating federal law. Federal officials are now investigating, and a university-appointed task force will spend the summer crafting recommendations for a new policy on sexual misconduct and harassment.
That panel met Wednesday to hash out ideas for what it wants in a new policy to replace the current one, which critics say is legalistic and hard to decipher for students in crisis.
“I’m not going to say I’m glad to be here, because I wish we were way past this,” said Karen Booth, a task force member and professor of women’s and gender studies.
She described how she asks her students in class to describe what they do to protect themselves from sexual assault. The male students mostly say they’ve never thought about it, she said. The female students cite a long list of behaviors, including thinking about what they wear, how they hold their keys in their hands, where and what time of day they walk on campus.
“Women and men live in really different worlds, and this brings it home to them,” Booth said.
At Wednesday’s event in New York, Dartmouth students talked about why they decided to file a complaint against the New Hampshire college.
In a telephone interview afterward, Lea Roth, a Dartmouth senior, said the complaint includes 37 testimonials about how the college has failed survivors of sexual violence.
“I think that Dartmouth needs to be honest with itself about the fact that something significant needs to change before it becomes the institution that it really can be and the institution that it advertises itself as,” Roth said.
Like UNC-CH, Dartmouth has seen protests in recent weeks about the issue of sexual assault.
Carol Folt, Dartmouth’s interim president, will become chancellor of UNC-CH on July 1, which means she will be responding to the issue of sexual assault on two campuses at the forefront of a growing movement.
Dartmouth released a statement saying it is not complacent about issues of sexual assault and discrimination.
“At Dartmouth we care deeply about the harm that sexual assault and discrimination cause to a campus community,” the statement said. “In recent years, we have implemented numerous new initiatives and are committed to finding effective ways to make lasting and positive change. Our efforts include prevention, education, increased accountability, increased staffing and resources, better coordination, and strengthening of guidelines.”