Campus Harrassment in Spotlight

 

 

The Investigative Journalism class from Spring 2016 contributed to all the stories and research for the first Fall issue of the Pine Needle. From left: Terrence Jefferies, Colin Kellermeyer, Brandon Blakney, Christophe Van Ende, Anastacia Alvarez, Autumn Scott, Elizabeth Gagne' and Tomeka Sinclair.

 

 

Before 2014, there were few reported cases of sexual misconduct on campuses nationwide. The report due this year for 2015 will see that number surge. Even here at UNC-Pembroke, the number will more than triple to 29. What is causing this?

     

Have college students gotten more aggressive? Are students being targeted?      

 

Actually, there’s no evidence of either. The increase comes from universities and colleges having to follow new federal legislation. The new laws, which bring together Title IX and the Clery Act, are changing not only what is reported, but also how it is reported and what is considered sexual misconduct.      

 

“This whole area is important to me as chancellor because when parents bring their students here there are factors that they take into consideration. One is cost, but perhaps the number one is safety,” said Chancellor Cummings in an interview. “If they come here and we are rated as not a safe campus or we don’t deal with issues like this in a quick and efficient way, that is going to get around pretty quickly and it is going to affect our ability to recruit students on to this campus.”

 

This first Fall 2016 edition of The Pine Needle is dedicated to raising awareness about sexual harassment on campus, how new rules impact Pembroke students, what happens to the victims and the accused and what’s really behind the new numbers.      

 

The bulk of victims tend to be freshman, many of whom are probably reading their first edition of The Pine Needle right now. With those freshmen in mind, these stories have been written by graduating seniors in the spring capstone journalism course, Investigative Reporting, in spring of 2016.

 

ISN’T TITLE IX ABOUT SPORTS?      

 

Most students think of sports when they think of Title IX. That’s because in the past Title IX has been narrowly interpreted to apply to equality in sports.  Today, it’s so much more than that.        

 

A series of changes from 2011 to 2013 at the federal level demanded schools take better records and allowed students the right to file a complaint with the school, not just the police. These things, together with the signing of the Violence Against Women Act (which is really about violence against anyone, not just women) have led to an increase in reporting of misconduct.      

 

That means the 91 percent of institutions that reported zero incidents of misconduct last year will be reporting an increase this year. Not because the cases changed but the reporting demands did.      

 

And the definitions did too. Before, schools reported on “sexual assault.” Now they report on “sexual misconduct.” This new term is significantly broader in what it encompasses. (See related stories on 2A and 5A.)      

 

“If you look at the growth of women’s athletics since Title IX was implemented seriously in the late 70’s, it is pretty amazing.,” said Dick Christy, the athletic director at UNCP. “There will always be challenges to try and make things as equitable as possible, but it is  guiding legislation that forces all college administrators to keep that consideration at the forefront.”  

 

THE NEW REALITY AT UNCP      

 

Here at UNCP, Chancellor Carter, the previous Chancellor, decided to merge the offices that cover these issues into one. A new leader was named for the group, Ronette Sutton Gerber. She most recently worked with the office of the General Council at UNCP. Gerber has a rich history in this school, in this region and the law. (See profile of Gerber on 4A.)      

 

“When the position [Title IX and Clery Compliance Director] was created we moved Ronette right into the position. We didn’t search for any body else, we didn’t post on the website, we knew we had the right person for the job. Chancellor Carter moved her directly into the position,” UNCP General Counsel Joshua Malcolm said.      

 

What’s more, UNCP has rewritten its policies. The new policy was installed in the spring of 2016. It includes promoting awareness, a broader definition by moving from sexual assault to sexual misconduct and more reporting options.    

 

 For example, before, a victim had to go to the police first. Now, any report of sexual harassment must  go to the Title IX/Clery Director and has the option of going to the police. Regardless of the choice,the campus will conduct their own investigation through a new Title IX division.      

 

The number of reported offenses for the 2015-16 academic school year are not directly comparable with the Clery Act  and the Annual Security Report from the previous year.      

 

Title IX has to report every offense that reaches their office, where as Clery only reports certain crimes that occur primarily on campus.      

 

“Nearly half the cases I have right now, come from faculty. Prior to December, I probably would have gotten them through campus police,” said Gerber in an interview with the Investigative Journalism class.      

 

Faculty and staff won’t be able to avoid learning about it. They will have to take a mandatory course on the matter. Everyone has to do it, deans and grounds keepers alike.      

 

“All faculty will get an one hour introduction by me,” said Gerber.      

 

Students will also be exposed to the topics, particularly freshman and transfers upon arrival. Gerber said she is also focusing on student-run organizations, such as fraternities and sororities.

 

NATIONAL TRENDS ON CAMPUS RAPE      

 

Across the United States, sexual misconduct on campus has received greater media attention in recent years. Some of this is because of the new regulations for reporting. Some is because victims are feeling more empowered to come forward.      

 

Greater communication has also been helped by the rise of social media and the ease at which students can communicate across campuses.      

 

Groups have created Twitter hashtags, such as #consentisrespect and #preventionispossible to raise awareness and connect. Students across the country have read about the woman at Columbia University carrying her mattress around campus as a symbol. Students have also read about the Rolling Stones Magazine’s flawed reporting of harassment at the University of Virginia. There was also a story by the Washington Post at Michigan State where the victim claimed to be knocked out and raped, while the accused claimed it was consensual.      

 

In all of theses cases above there seems to be one common factor.      

 

“It is very difficult to prosecute a sexual assault case. Many times the evidence comes down to ‘he said, she said,’ victims may refuse to testify because they feel “assaulted” all over again by the criminal justice system” said Gregory Wallace, associate professor of law at Campbell University. (See related story on 5A.)

 

RECOGNIZING THE SITUATION      

 

Surveys of students, both national and local have shown confusion about what sexual harassment is. Based on a survey of students in Pembroke, less than half the students on campus know what Title IX is and even fewer can differentiate between sexual misconduct and assault. (See related story on 4A.)      

 

“I highly doubt students are as aware as they should be about sexual misconduct. The only thing I have really received pertaining to awareness of sexual misconduct is the safety notification emails, which I feel are delayed anyway, and the pamphlets that are available at CAPS,” said Jalisa Channey, a senior at UNCP.      

Most cases involve alcohol, an older upperclassman and a younger freshman or transferring student. Furthermore, the victim almost always knows the assailant. It’s almost never a “stranger danger” situation, which goes against what many students were taught as small children. (See related story on 5A.)      

 

The environment is usually a dorm room or party. It’s usually a friend, ex-boyfriend or another student living in the same dorm. Although 14 percent of non-victims are sorority members, they still make up a quarter of sexual assault victims.      

 

About “85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim,” stated the  National Institute of Justice. “About half occur on a date.”

 

THE HB2 EFFECT      

 

Here in North Carolina controversy around the House Bill 2 law that was signed by Governor Pat McCrory has brought national and global attention to North Carolina. The bill, passed on March 23rd, is often referred to as the “bathroom bill” because it requires people to use the bathroom that matches gender on their birth certificate even if they identify with a different gender.      

 

The law clashed with Title IX/Clery Act policies that protect all people, including transgender, from harassment. It has prompted a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and cost the state millions in corporate investment and travel as some avoid this state because of the law.      

 

The UNC System President Margaret Spellings has stated that she will not require transgender students to use restrooms that consist with their biological sex. (See related story on 3A.)      

 

“Like so many others across the country, we are concerned about the potential harmful impact of this law, especially on transgender youth, and I believe it is mean-spirited and sends the wrong message,”  said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.      

 

Here on campus, Gerber’s office wants to assure students that HB2 will not affect them.        “I’m not bathroom police, I’m not checking the birth certificate of students using the restroom,” Gerber said.

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