UNC Experiences Backlash Over Possible Expulsion of Sexual Assault Victim
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received severe backlash following the news that Landen Gambill, a sexual assault victim, may face expulsion for “intimidating” her alleged attacker.
Gambill was one of many UNC students who filed a federal complaint against the university in response to how the school has previously handled incidents of sexual assault. She was one of the only current UNC students who revealed her name in the complaint.
Despite never publicly naming her alleged abuser outside of admitting that he was a current UNC student, he filed an Honor Court charge against Gambill last week.
Professor Ann Green of St. Joseph’s University and Professor Donna Potts of Kansas State University have written to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp on behalf of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee on Women in defense of Gambill and urged the chancellor to drop the charge.
“Charging a plaintiff in a sexual assault case with an Honor Court violation appears very much like retaliation for raising the issue of sexual assault,” wrote Green and Potts. “Such action by UNC can only serve to silence survivors of sexual violence and to contribute to the chilly campus climate delineated by the recent ‘Dear Colleague’ letter issued by the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education.”
Since Gambill received notice of the charge last week, the school has maintained that all Honor Court proceedings occur without oversight from the college administration, and thus cannot interfere with the case.
“The accusation that the university has retaliated against a student for filing a complaint is totally and completely false,” Thorp said. “Administrators have no authority over how charges are made in individual Honor Court cases.”
Gambill has also raised questions about the integrity of the Honor Court itself by pointing to how Desirée Rieckenberg, the senior associate dean of students, is recorded in Honor Court documents as having assisted Gambill’s alleged abuser in filing the Honor Court complaint against her. At the time, Rieckenberg was also serving as the Deputy Title IX Officer, charged with handling all maters of sexual assault as part of the school’s reform of sexual assault case management. Rieckenberg has since been replaced by a new officer, who will start handling complaints on March 11th. Reickenberg has declined to comment.
Gambill was also one of the last students to previously stand in front of the Honor Court when it initially investigated her claims of sexual assault last year. Gambill described the proceedings as “traumatic,” and the court’s jurisdiction over cases of sexual assault on campus has since been removed.
In an anonymous interview with the school’s newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, Gambill’s ex-boyfriend and alleged abuser, who has not been convicted of the charges against him, said that he has received numerous threats against him and “[wakes up] every day in fear of going to class.”
Yet Gambill has maintained that she has gone out of her way to keep his identity a secret, and that many of her own friends are unaware of what his name is. Instead, she believes the charges against her retaliation for speaking out against UNC’s handling of the affair, citing one Honor Court member informing her that she could be violating the Honor Code by speaking about the rape itself.
“I never talk about him or about the abuse at all,” Gambill said. “I’ve mainly been talking about the way the university’s been treating me, and certainly never used any identifying information.”
An online petition at Change.org demanding that the Honor Court charges be dropped as amassed signatures from nearly 4,300 people at the time of this article’s publication, and a Facebook group in support of Gambill has also been created.