In the movie The General's Daughter, Officer Paul Brenner asks the question: "What is worse than rape?" Col. Robert Moore responds, "When you find that out, you'll have all the answers."
Throughout my four years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and two years post-graduation, I have witnessed and fought alongside too many friends and colleagues who have experienced re-victimization and retaliation at the hands of the university. While there are some incredible allies at UNC who have supported survivors and done great prevention work, other administrators have intentionally betrayed those who have come forward. Similar to many cases highlighted by recent national media, there have been dozens of severe policy violations that have been swept under the rug at UNC.
There are three distinct problems here: firstly, the fact that sexual assault, sexual harassment, and discrimination are so incredibly prevalent, and secondly, the inappropriate and illegal manner which certain university administrators handle the complainants who come forward. Finally, as a country, we treat cases these cases -- remember Amherst, Delhi, Steubenville -- as singular issue campaigns. We are outraged for a week -- then as headlines fade, the larger systemic and systematic problems are forgotten. These stories occur daily, and none of these problems are new or isolated to UNC.
I want to highlight, that while these violations are indeed egregious, cases of sexual assault and harassment at Carolina are neither worse nor more frequent than cases at other universities. UNC is supposedly, as cited by Kiplinger's and others, the "number one" best value public institution in the country. This raises the question: if these issues are happening here, what is happening elsewhere?
What is even more disturbing, however, is that not much has changed in actual practice since the 1970s. Our cases at UNC strongly parallel the 1977 case Alexander v. Yale. These incredible and courageous Yale women paved the way for us to be able to file Title IX complaints, and although their case was thrown out, higher education institutions nationwide changed their policies and implemented centralized grievance procedures.
Yet, 40 years later, many of the reports of harassment, assault, and illegal adjudication that Alexander alleges are the very much same ones that we have today. Instead of addressing the underlying issues, institutions have become quick to defend themselves to the press, quick to "comply" with federal legislation in name only, and quick to deny or hide anything that could damage their public reputations. While we have some good policies, they are ineffective behind veils of cover-up and unaccountability.
Therefore, after years of fighting a façade of compliance and actual harm, I wanted to take a step, which would ensure that re-victimized survivors would receive justice, and that future Tar Heel students, faculty, and staff would be protected.
I hope that the Office for Civil Rights Complaint against UNC does for implementation and practice what Alexander and other cases did for policy change. I hope that our case brings other stories of assault and cover-up into the light, and inspires justice-seeking action and nationwide change. This is not just about UNC; this is about higher education institutions and rape culture worldwide.
We are a better school than everything that has happened here, and those who know UNC know that these cases do not fully represent our university.
I had an amazing experience at Chapel Hill; I still wear my university seal pendant and Phi Beta Kappa key on the same chain around my neck everyday. Like the others filing, my blood is Carolina blue, and always will be.
Therefore, I want to address an issue that has bothered me since the day I became public about filing: Some have asked me: "Do you hate the university?" That question stings, because nothing could be further from the truth.
I strongly echo the sentiments of former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning when she stated publicly that she was joining the Complaints: "One of the things I learned as a student at Carolina is the importance of integrity. To me that means doing the right thing even if it costs you personally."
In complete honesty, this process has not been a fun one; it has been a taxing struggle and emotional sacrifice for all involved in the complaints, knowing that our stories will be scrutinized and dissected by the media, family, friends, and UNC.
In the recent weeks I have embodied the roles of both therapist and lawyer, in ways obviously beyond any of my actual academic credentials, in order to support countless survivors, and write these complaints. As a dedicated alumna, I have been working around the clock from across the country for weeks. I have "Skyped" into daily meetings in North Carolina, constantly talked to reporters at inconvenient times, and spent my early morning hours reviewing case law. In light of this, my real job, physical health, and personal relationships have all suffered. So, to answer the questions, no, I don't "hate" UNC, and I am not "filing complaints for fun, compensation, or attention."
I'm filing these complaints with a sense of love, integrity, and loyalty to the university that I will always call home. I'm filing these complaints because I believe that the university we all love has the potential to eventually again embody what we call "The Carolina Way." I'm filing these complaints so that my niece, nephew, and my boss's little girls will never have to endure what my friends and I experienced.
Yes, my assault was horrific, but witnessing administrative handling of dozens of cases and witnessing the re-victimization of my friends was even more excruciatingly painful.
Consequently, after everything that has happened, I have learned the answer to Officer Paul Brenner's question: "What is worse than rape?
The answer is betrayal, and my school and my country deserve better than that.
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