UNC responds to honor code violation in sexual assault case

Dylan Stableford

The University of North Carolina has formally responded to allegations that an honor code violation was brought against a student as a form of retaliation for her speaking out about an alleged rape.

"The Carolina community cares deeply about all of our students, including both students in this specific matter," UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement released late Tuesday. "If we are to achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating sexual assault and violence from this campus, we must all work together.”

The university released its own statement after several media outlets (including Yahoo News) reported that Landen Gambill—a sophomore who last spring reported being raped by a student she says is still on the school's Chapel Hill campus—was recently notified of the charge by the UNC Honor Court.

If found guilty, Gambill faces a range of sanctions, including probation, suspension or even expulsion.

[Related: Student faces possible expulsion for speaking out about alleged rape]

Last month, a group of current and former UNC students including Gambill and Melinda Manning—the school's former assistant dean of students—filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, alleging that school officials had pressured Manning into underreporting sex offense cases.

Here's the school's full statement provided to Yahoo! News:

The University’s Honor System has been the subject of Internet commentary and media attention and some of its student members have received threats to their personal safety. Sexual assault evokes passionate responses and concerns. But it is important, particularly in a higher education community, to avoid judgment based upon speculation.

Here are facts. This University works hard to encourage students to come forward and report instances of sexual violence. No student has ever been disciplined for reporting a sexual assault or any Honor Code violation. Further, no University administrator filed or encouraged the filing of charges in this case; there is no retaliation by the University.

Because of concern for our students and their privacy we cannot discuss specifics of this or any student Honor Court case. This includes allegations involving a student who has made a claim about a fellow student.

The University has a long and cherished tradition of student government, led by students for the benefits and welfare of students. We can tell you that the Student Attorneys General, and for many years have had, the authority to decide which cases to consider independent of administrators. Further, administrators may not encourage or prevent the Student Attorneys General from filing charges. When a member of the University community reports an Honor Code violation, the Student Attorneys General determine if the evidence warrants a hearing before the Honor Court under campus policies and procedures. In deciding to charge a student with an alleged violation, the Student Attorneys General carefully consider all available evidence. Because of faculty interest in strengthening the Honor System process, the University established—with Chancellor Thorp’s support—a faculty advisory committee to be available to the Student Attorneys General for consultation in difficult cases.

Throughout a student’s involvement with the student-led Honor System, an accused student receives a number of procedural rights, including the presumption of innocence, the presentation of evidence, and a fair and impartial hearing. After the hearing, if a student is found guilty of the charge, sanctioning decisions are made by the Honor Court after a thorough consideration of all of the evidence.

The Student Attorneys General, who have been involved with the Honor System for over two years, have been trained on making appropriate charge decisions in accordance with University procedures. We are confident in our students’ professionalism and commitment.

In January, the University retained Gina Smith, a nationally recognized lawyer and consultant on sexual misconduct issues, to help guide an open and transparent conversation about how the issue of sexual assault affects the campus and culture that is focusing on education and engagement. Smith, a former prosecutor, educator and consultant, has guided other campuses including Amherst on issues related to handling sexual assault complaints.

The work ahead of us is hard and the responsibility to get it right is daunting. We are committed to eliminating sexual assault and violence from our community. We encourage you to visit our website (http://campusconversation.web.unc.edu/) and to participate in the University’s efforts to engage students, faculty, staff and alumni on these issues.