When I began my college search, my dream was to move to North. I wanted to get away from North Carolina's new republican supermajority. I never felt that the government cared about the wellbeing of my loved ones. Once it became time to apply for college, I was ready to jump ship.
Learning of UNC's gross mishandling of Landen Gambill's rape case didn't help.
Last year, Gambill and five other UNC girls filed a federal complaint against UNC for their handling of rape accusations. She then faced an honor code violation for speaking publicly about her experience. They accused her of "intimidating" the alleged rapist. My sister is in Gambill's class at UNC. Discrimination already felt real, but this was on another level. The charges were later dropped, but a federal investigation of retaliation from the UNC administration is still underway.
After hearing about UNC, I was even more sure that I needed to move to a blue state. Then I heard about Amherst, where a Angie Epifano came forward about reporting sexual assault 2011. In an op-ed for the campus newspaper, she said that she was treated callously by the administration, and even asked "are you sure it was rape?" I was a senior in high school at the time, applying to college with the knowledge that none on my list were likely innocent of such practices.
My Twitter feed was swamped with reports coming from colleges across the country who blamed, disrespected and punished those who came forward as victims of sexual assault. I realized that you can't move away from campus rape. You can't buy your way out with a small, liberal, and private college. It is everywhere.
UNC was on my list, near the top. Hearing Gambill's story was disheartening at first, but hearing about the way students rose up around her ended up being one of the reasons I chose to attend UNC in the end. Yes, the University messed up. But I want to be classmates with young people like Gambill with the courage to come forward and challenge the University, risking expulsion. I want to be classmates with people who come forward to defend and support survivors. And those people are at UNC.
Still though, I can't escape fear as my first year approaches. Guys posted on the "UNC class of 2017" Facebook group asking for girls to volunteer to do their laundry. I was mocked on the same group when I posted asking if there were any feminist girls who might want to room with me. I've been catcalled on Franklin Street, the main shopping area on campus, at 10 a.m.
I've been spending a lot of time in Chapel Hill this summer so that I can attend protests in Raleigh. It's hot here, all day, so hot that the idea of exercising is repugnant. I mentioned going on a evening jog to my sister, once the sun was down and it was bearable. She immediately said that it wasn't safe. I want to move freely on the beautiful streets of Chapel Hill without keeping self defense strategies in the back of my mind.
I went into my student orientation at UNC expecting very little in terms of anti-rape education from the administration. When one of the administrators said that there isn't tolerance for sexual violence at Carolina, I felt anger filling my body. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised overall. At the "Carolina Way" session the nature of consent was discussed. It was made clear that there isn't an excuse for rape. Later on, my orientation group had a great group discussion about sexual harassment at Carolina. I even had a guy come up to my friend and I after to ask us how guys can be better allies.
But those moments didn't end my fear. There was a sexual assault on campus the weekend I was at orientation. When I walked to get dinner with my sister that weekend a group of guys made comments about her chest as we walked past. Now, a few weeks later, sexual assault on campus is in the news again at Yale.
I've already experienced, multiple times, a close friends telling me of their sexual assault. I'm afraid because I know that statistically, that conversation will happen again during the next four years. I wonder if the guys asking for laundry service have ever dealt with this kind of fear.
I realized that you can't run away from problems like campus rape. It doesn't just happen at UNC, it's everywhere. The best thing that anyone can do is stay and fight with courageous, intelligent, empathetic people -- and that's what I'm proud to say I'll be doing at UNC this August.
Follow Alice Wilder on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Alice_Wilder