The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is under intense community backlash after news broke that Landen Gambill, a sexual assault survivor, faces possible expulsion for "intimidating" her alleged abuser.
Gambill was part of a group that filed a federal complaint against UNC over the way the institution treats sexual assault victims. Though Gambill has never publicly identified her abuser, other than to say he's an ex-boyfriend and a current UNC student, her alleged attacker filed an Honor Court charge against her last week.
The American Association of University Professors' Committee on Women stood by Gambill and urged the university to drop the charges in a letter to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp.
"Charging a plaintiff in a sexual assault case with an Honor Court violation appears very much like retaliation for raising the issue of sexual assault," wrote professors Ann Green and Donna Potts, of St. Joseph's University and Kansas State University, respectively. "Such action by UNC can only serve to silence survivors of sexual violence and to contribute to the chilly campus climate delineated by the recent 'Dear Colleague' letter issued by the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education."
The university has insisted it has nothing to do with the Honor Code charge, but the AAUP noted the administration does have oversight of the Honor Court system. Indeed, the Committee on Student Conduct, comprised of students, faculty and administrators, "oversees the implementation of the Honor Code and the workings of the Honor System at UNC," according to its website.
Gambill told The Huffington Post last week that senior associate dean of students Desirée Rieckenberg was listed on Honor Court-related documents as having helped the alleged abuser file the complaint. Rieckenberg was then serving as the interim deputy Title IX officer, and was handling all sexual assault complaints in the fall semester. UNC recently appointed a new deputy Title IX officer, who will begin handling complaints on March 11.
Rieckenberg declined to comment and referred questions to university spokesperson Susan Hudson, who said the school "couldn't go into details about specific cases." Thorp reiterated in a statement issued Friday that the administration is not involved.
"The accusation that the university has retaliated against a student for filing a complaint is totally and completely false," Thorp said. "Administrators have no authority over how charges are made in individual Honor Court cases."
Gambill's ex-boyfriend claimed in an anonymous interview with the Daily Tar Heel that he's received continued threats, and he wakes up "every day in fear of going to class."
But Gambill said many of her friends don't even know his name, and she still believes the Honor Court charge is retaliation for speaking out. Gambill said when she received the charge, she was told by a student with the Honor Court system that she could potentially be violating the Honor Code by speaking publicly about her rape.
"I never talk about him or about the abuse at all," Gambill said. "I've mainly been talking about the way the university's been treating me, and certainly never used any identifying information."
More than 200 people gathered on campus to support Gambill on Feb. 26, according to the Daily Tar Heel, and the Associated Press reported that another 300 gathered outside the university's administration building on Friday.
Some 4,300 people -- 1,800 in the past eight days -- have signed an online petition urging the UNC administration to take action to reform policies on sexual violence at the school.
Thorp pointed out the administration removed jurisdiction for sexual assault cases from the student-led Honor Court in 2012.