BY: GRACE TATTER AND KYLE ANN SEBASTIAN
Last week, UNC sophomore Landen Gambill, who has been in the national press since filing a complaint against the University about the handling of sexual assault, was charged with a conduct violation of the University’s Honor Code. The charge claims Gambill engaged in disruptive or intimidating behavior against her ex-boyfriend, who was acquitted by the Honor Court last spring for her rape.
Gambill’s case has become a flashpoint for UNC students and activists around the world. Was a woman being punished for coming forward to report a crime? Why would any university want to foster an environment where crimes go unreported, and students feel unsafe?
But as this story has caught fire, there have been misunderstandings, causing undue attacks on Gambill and the University on blogs, social media, and in the comment sections of national publications.
Misunderstanding #1: Gambill filed the case with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights — which sparked the initial media attention — to punish her alleged rapist
Gambill went to the Office of Civil Rights to settle a matter between her and the University, and their handling of her report of rape last spring, not to settle the matter between her and her alleged rapist. However, the fact that she was raped by a fellow student is a crucial part of the case that had to come out for her to challenge the university with any credibility.
Misunderstanding #2: Gambill is challenging her alleged abuser’s right to anonymity
Gambill has never used his name publicly or released any identifying characteristics, and never intends to. But, she can’t exercise her right to make a case about how the University mishandled her sexual assault without talking about the crime itself.
Misunderstanding #3: The University of North Carolina still addresses sexual assault through the student run Honor Court
The University did indeed address reports of rape and sexual assault through the student-run Honor Court last spring, when Gambill reported her rape. But, according to a Feb. 25 statement from the University: “Effective August 1, 2012, the University developed a new process for responding to sexual assault complaints. Under this new process, sexual assault cases are no longer addressed through the Honor Court system.”
Misunderstanding #4: The University can use the Honor Court to retaliate against students
The Honor Court is student-run. According to the UNC statement, “The Student Attorney Generals have the authority to make decisions about cases considered by the court independent of campus administrators. Administrators may not encourage or prevent the Student Attorney Generals from filing charges in a specific case.”
That being said, Gambill’s concerns about the autonomy of the Honor Court should not be discounted. “I guess I have a hard time believing that they are so separate when the Honor Court is overseen by the judicial programs officer, who is under the Dean of Students Office,” Gambill told The Daily Tar Heel. The judicial programs officer advises students as they form and file their complaints, Gambill said. (Campus BluePrint will be publishing a further blog post on how UNC’s Honor Court works on Thurs., Feb. 28.)
Misunderstanding #5: Gambill and other other students in the case should have just gone to the police. They shouldn’t have gotten the University involved in the first place
Many have asked why Gambill went immediately to the honor court instead of pressing charges with the police. “When I went to the University first, it was for a no-contact order to get him to leave me alone,” Gambill wrote in an exchange with Campus BluePrint. She says that the University encouraged her to go to honor court, and that she was told at the time that she couldn’t do an honor court hearing and a criminal trial at the same time.
Misunderstanding #6: Gambill’s Alleged Rapist Was Found Innocent
Gambill’s ex-boyfriend was found not guilty by the honor court. This is not the same as being innocent–it means there was not sufficient evidence to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However there is still the potential that Gambill could bring criminal charges against him. Gambill’s entire reason for challenging the University is based on her perception that her alleged rapist was not penalized by the honor court due to their mishandling of the situation.
Misunderstanding #7: Gambill is being charged with an Honor Code violation for reporting sexual assault
Reporting rape or other sexual assault is not an Honor Code violation, according to undergraduate student attorney general Amanda Claire Grayson.
Misunderstanding #8: If found guilty of an Honor Code violation, she will be expelled
According to the student conduct website on Honor System Procedures: “If the Honor Court finds a student has violated the Honor Code, it will apply a sanction that reflects the University’s goals to educate the student, protect the community, and redress any harm caused by the student’s act.” While expulsion is an option, it is not the only one. According to Grayson, expulsion is rarely utilized as a sanction. Additionally, Gambill will have an option to appeal the Honor Courts decision.
Misunderstanding #9: The University of North Carolina is an especially bigoted environment
Clearly, mistakes have been made here in Chapel Hill. But the culture of interpersonal violence and victim-blaming is pervasive and extends far beyond our campus, at other schools and in other communities. The difference is, thanks to voices like Gambill, our community is actually finally addressing it.