Speak Up About Rape? Get Expelled.

UNC rally March 1; Landen Gambill is at center. Photo by Jenny Warburg

University of North Carolina (UNC) sophomore Landen Gambill may be kicked out of school for speaking to the press about her rape.

Gambill was one of five women (including the former assistant dean of students) who filed a complaint against the university in January calling for an investigation into what they described as a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.

Including reports from about 60 students who say they are sexual assault victims, the complaint claims that UNC violated the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, the Clery Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Title IX, Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the complaint, submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning says she was forced to underreport sexual assaults on campus and details many stories of an administration hostile to victims of sexual violence. Alumni Annie Clark (who was told “rape is like a football game” when reporting her 2007 sexual assault to the administration), junior Andrea Pino and one unnamed female student spearheaded the complaint, along with Gambill.

Gambill spoke in December to the Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper, about her experience reporting her rape. She expressed her frustration with the administration and said the Honor Court that heard her case “had no idea what sexual assault is [or] what consent is.” In January, Gambill received an email from a “graduate student attorney general” accusing her of violating the school’s honor code. Last week, she received another email about her supposed violation. Specifically, Gambill was said to have conducted herself in a “disruptive or intimidating” manner that “willfully abuse[d], disparage[d], or otherwise interfere[d] with another.” Yes, she was accused of abusing her rapist—despite never naming him publicly.

If the student-run UNC Honor Court (which found Gambill’s accused rapist not guilty) finds that Gambill has violated the honor code, she faces anything from a “loss of privileges” to expulsion.

Protest in support of Landen Gambill
Landen Gambill hugs a supporter at rally. Photo by Jenny Warburg

UNC students rallied today in support of Gambill, who told the crowd, “This isn’t really about me; I’m just one of many.” Social media support for the sophomore is also growing, with the creation of many Facebook pages advocating for safety at UNC, as well as the Twitter hashtag #istandwithLanden.

The university said it could not address Gambill’s case but that the school “works hard to encourage students to come forward and report instances of sexual violence.” UNC has obviously realized it has a problem, as the school created a website called “Campus Conversation on Sexual Assault” to address its sexual assault policies.

But UNC is not the only campus failing in its treatment of sexual assault victims. Within VAWA (which was passed yesterday by the House) is the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which addresses problems found in a recent investigation into campus sexual assault. The findings show that campus proceedings regarding assault allegations were “often confusing, shrouded in secrecy and marked by lengthy delays,” and that victims of sexual assault encountered many barriers that either “assured their silence or left them feeling victimized again.” The Justice Department estimates that fewer than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes of college women are reported to law enforcement officials.

This must change—starting with colleges taking sexual assaults more seriously and improving their policies in order to protect students. We applaud Gambill and her fellow students for having the courage to end the silence around rape.