The Lookout

UNC student faces possible expulsion for speaking out about alleged sexual assault

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

(UNC.edu/Flickr)

A University of North Carolina student who says she was raped has been charged with violating the school's honor code and creating a hostile environment for her alleged attacker by speaking out about her ordeal.

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 notified of the charge last week in an email from the school's graduate attorney general. The email, published by Jezebel.com, reads in part:

You are being charged with the following Honor Code violation(s):

I.C.1.c. - Disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another (other than on the basis of protected classifications identified and addressed in the University's Policy on Prohibited Harassment and Discrimination) so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for University employment, participation in University-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.

The matter has been turned over to UNC's student-run Honor Court. If found guilty, Gambill could be subject to a range of sanctions, including probation, suspension or even expulsion.

The charge came approximately a month after 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.

Gambill, who did not report the assault to police, says that when she reported it to the Honor Court, she was met with resistance. Via the Daily Tar Heel:

“The woman student said to me, ‘Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?’” she said.

Gambill said the court used her history of clinical depression and her suicide attempt—which she said was a result of her abusive relationship—against her.

“They implied that I was emotionally unstable and couldn’t be telling the truth because I had attempted suicide,” she said.

She told the paper the case was dismissed by the Honor Court, which is why she decided to go public. (According to the Daily Tar Heel, sexual assault was removed from the Honor Court’s jurisdiction in August 2012.)

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An avatar used by Gambill's supporters (Twitter)

"This type of gross injustice is unacceptable," Gambill wrote on her Facebook page. "It's important to me that we continue to advocate for the rights of survivors—not just because it affects me personally but because I desperately hope no one has to go [through] anything like this again."

Some of Gambill's supporters have also taken to Facebook and Twitter, changing their avatars to say "I Stand With Landen" and tweeting messages with the hashtag #standwithlanden.

Colby Bruno, managing attorney for the national Victim Rights Law Center, told InsideHigherEd.com the code violation is "outrageous.” For the university "to entertain this as a viable claim is a problem, because it's not,” Bruno said.

The university would not comment on Gambill's case, citing federal privacy laws. But at a board meeting last month, Leslie Strohm, UNC's vice chancellor and general counsel, told trustees "the allegations with respect to the underreporting of sexual assault are false, they are untrue, and they are just plain wrong."

[Related: Fox News co-host apologizes for campus rape remark]

"UNC has the potential at this point to stand up for sexual assault survivors," Carey Hanlin, editor-in-chief of UNC's Campus Blueprint, wrote in an editorial. "By telling Landen Gambill that she could face expulsion for saying that she was raped, by denying the allegations that administrators ignored the best interests of sexual assault survivors, and by implying that it is not acceptable to challenge the school system on its inability to help survivors of sexual assault, UNC fails to be a beacon."

Rape on campus is a problem—and not just at UNC.

In 2010, the Department of Justice estimated that 25 percent of college women "will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate within a four-year college period," and that schools with more than 6,000 students "average one rape per day during the school year.”

According to New York University's "National Statistics about Sexual Violence on College Campuses," fewer than 5 percent of such cases are reported to law enforcement.

UPDATE, 7:30 p.m.: The university and UNC chancellor Holden Thorpe released separate statements on the matter.

[Update, 12:30 p.m.: This story was updated to reflect the result of Gambill's complaint to the Honor Court last year.]

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