Education

Report: UNC system should remove students from sex assault hearings

Posted July 31, 2014 8:09 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2014 8:28 p.m. EDT

— Students would not be involved with disciplinary hearings involving complaints of sexual violence at University of North Carolina System schools if final recommendations released Thursday by the system’s Campus Security Initiative are implemented.

Removing students from such hearings is among 34 recommendations by the group, tasked with offering suggestions to upgrade security and crime prevention efforts within the system’s 16 university campuses.

The report comes as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is under federal investigation for how administrators handled sexual assault cases on campus. The inquiry by the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights was launched after five women alleged the school under-reported assault cases and created a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assaults.

In May, former Elizabeth City State University Police Chief Sam Beamon was charged by the State Bureau of Investigation with willful failure to discharge his duties after the department failed to properly investigate nearly 80 campus crimes, including sexual assault cases, between 2010 and 2013.

Because sexual assault, dating violence and stalking are considered violations of the student code of conduct at UNC campuses, the incidents are handled at some schools by panels that include students – some are even run by students – for adjudication.

The initiative’s final report suggests a system-wide campus security committee to share best practices regarding sexual violence and other safety concerns.

Other recommendations include:

  • Setting clear standards of training and experience for anyone investigating sexual violence complaints.
  • Campus police departments providing interpersonal violence training for all police investigators.
  • Expanding staff capacity to meet growing responsibilities in confronting sexual violence and other serious offenses.
  • Adopting a system-wide policy requiring regular reporting on alcohol and substance abuse issues to campus and system-level policymakers.
  • The UNC system exploring shared, online training to combat substance abuse.

Launched last fall by UNC System President Tom Ross and co-chaired by N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson, the initiative brought together administrators, campus police, faculty, students and others across the UNC system to explore issues surrounding sexual assault and other violent crimes, campus security and crime reporting.

Some of the suggestions, including adopting a system-wide policy on sexual harassment and sexual violence, would require approval by the UNC System Board of Governors, said Joni Worthington, system spokeswoman.

Other suggestions, including each campus establishing a committee to develop and implement efforts addressing substance abuse, can be implemented without board approval, Worthington said.

“With some of these recommendations, they may already be in place on some of our campuses,” she said. “Through the work of the initiative, part of what they were doing was looking to identify best practices and see what certain campuses were doing particularly well or what were the best practices, and filter out through greater collaboration or sharing resources that they can extend those best practices to all UNC campuses.”

Several UNC campuses are currently involved in a pilot program emphasizing alcohol and substance abuse prevention and treatment. Representatives from system schools will also serve on the Governor's Substance Abuse and Underage Drinking Prevention and Treatment Task Force.