Students protest against administration’s handling of cases of sexual assault

Taylor Sexton, Sarah Shadburne and Brailey Sheridan

Arts & Features Editor, Editor-in-Chief and Copy Desk Chief

tsexton@unca.edu, sshadbur@unca.edu and bsherida@unca.edu 

A shadow descended on Governor’s Hall on a crisp fall Monday as protesters dressed in black lined up in a silent demonstration against sexual violence on campus.

In the spring, mass communication student Maggie Haddock posted a tweet on an anonymous Twitter account stating she would expose a

Protesters gathered in solidarity to show their support for Maggie Haddock as she faced administration and also in support of survivors of sexual violence on campus

man in the Asheville community for every like the tweet received. After letting it stand idle for weeks, Haddock revisited the tweet on June 10, posting a full-fledged thread containing the names, images and descriptions regarding the sexual misconduct of the accused, including several members of the campus community.

“I think the university doesn’t have the resources, the means or the authority jurisdiction to protect survivors the way they need to be protected. I think part of that comes with a cultural shift that needs to happen both on a university level and also on a national and international level of believing survivors and treating that as the truth by which the investigation begins,” said Taylor Beyrer, UNCA senior and student organization programming supervisor for Highsmith Student Union.

UNC Asheville was quickly alerted of the thread by one of the men named therein. After an investigation, Student Affairs held a hearing with Haddock on Oct. 29.

After Haddock was found responsible for the tweets and the board heard impact statements from the two respondents, a board comprised of faculty and staff members deliberated for approximately an hour.

The board found Haddock responsible and assigned sanctions regarding a violation of the harassment policy within the student code of conduct. Haddock remains on probation effective Oct. 29 through May 19, 2019, according to Haddock.

 

UNCA students demonstrate their dissatisfaction with universities policies of sexual assault

Senior health and wellness promotion student, Shelby Stovall, said that talk of having a demonstration in support of Haddock began long before her scheduled hearing date.

Stovall said the demonstration was not only organized for support of Haddock, but to show fellow survivors they are heard.

“We see what’s going on at school, we see survivors, we hear them, we’re there to support them and I think it was just a visual representation of that and especially having so many people there, I think it just created a sense of community that people may not have known was there,” Stovall said.

The demonstration ended up seeing upward of 35 people. Some already planned on being there to show their support, while others walked by and decided to join.

Stovall admits she was surprised by the turnout.

“I definitely was surprised with the numbers and even the time commitment that people were willing to give it. And honestly it was very powerful in itself that so many people did come and stayed past the first 20 minutes, people stayed the entire few hours that we were out there,” Stovall said.

The demonstration began at 10:15 a.m. and did not end until the hearing concluded at approximately 2:00 p.m.

Stovall also said it was powerful to see so many supporters make arrangements with their professors to miss class in order to attend the demonstration.

When it comes to the way UNCA handles sexual assault, Stovall said there is still progress to be made, just like any other large institution.

“We like to pretend that it’s not an issue on our campus and you know, ‘Asheville is so small we’re such a community. It doesn’t happen’ and it does, and I think a lot of times we like to brush that under the rug for various reasons, whether it’s reputation based or just convenience and not wanting to deal with it. And whatever the case may be, I think we can always do better in that aspect,” Stovall said.

Stovall said there are many parts of the campus community that can be improved upon when it comes to dealing with sexual assault, including how survivors receive helped.

“I think that can start at a higher level and setting a higher standard of what we do do for survivors, because I think at the moment that standard is very low and I think we are doing the bare minimum,” Stovall said.

Stovall said what Haddock did was necessary to protect the community.

“I think it was the right thing to do to call out abusers and put a face to the stories that we do hear, because it’s important to keep our community safe. If these things are happening, we need to know about it and it needs to be public information,” Stovall said. “I know that for a lot of people was the first time that they saw these faces with these allegations and that gives them an option to choose who they surround themselves with.”

Stovall also said that there’s no way to fully hold perpetrators accountable if they are still in the dark.

Junior Sofia Popowitch said she took part in the demonstration to show support for Haddock and bring attention to the way UNCA handles cases of sexual misconduct.

“Honestly just like everything, the entire way the situation was handled with Maggie and having to literally testify. We haven’t seen a system that has shown up for survivors,” Popowitch said.

Charlotte native, Audrey Sturdahl, participated in the demonstration on Monday as well.

“Maggie has been a good friend of mine for a little while now and I contributed a name and a story to her when she was exposing people. So when I saw that the university was lashing back at her for doing something that I considered morally correct, I wanted to show my support for her and show my resistance to UNCA,” Sturdahl said.

Sturdahl does not agree with the way UNCA and Title IX handle sexual assault and feels the two often do more harm than good.

Sturdahl said times are changing and we as a society have different views than those of 10 or so years ago. From Sturdahl’s understanding, those who are with Title IX have antiquated views.

“It really is nonsense that UNCA thinks that it has jurisdiction over a series of tweets containing what are largely accounts and facts and to have the nerve to not only punish Maggie for this, but to call into question her ability to be a journalist by doing what journalists do,” Sturdahl said.

 

Hearing attendees and demonstrators use hearing outcome as momentum for future change

Beyrer accompanied Haddock to the hearing on Oct. 29 as support and part of the student affairs staff on campus.

“It’s in my best interest, and the students best interest to be able to understand how situations like this are handled and what kinds of resources are offered to students in these situations,” Beyrer said. “Also to then provide support to Maggie in any way that I could while still representing student affairs and kind of being on the opposing side of the situation.”

Beyrer said she did not expect her role to be within the hearing, but Haddock and Beyrer felt it would be in the best interest of everyone to have someone familiar with student affairs supporting Haddock’s side.

“It was something we’d kind of talked about and decided that it would be probably the best overall since my strength is the administrative side of things,” Beyrer said. “Whereas some of her other friends who were organizing the demonstration that was going on outside, that’s their strength. So it was just kind of putting everyone in the best place to be the most supportive that they could be on that day.”

UNCA’s ability to hear survivor’s concerns and to act on them appropriately became a concern of Beyer’s during the hearing, according to Beyrer.

“I think after sitting in there and listening to the reasoning and the steps they took to get to the decision that they made and then the repercussions of the decision that they made, I think it was all very eye-opening in the sense that I am not sure there is as much support for survivors as the university would like to believe that there is,” Beyrer said.

The demonstration outside the hearing was a source of overwhelming support for Beyrer and Haddock, Beyrer said.

Maggie Haddock displays her painted jacket, as a reminder to perpetrators and bystanders that survivors always remember who you support.

“I think that community support is key to really any survivor’s narrative, so having people who will look out for you, stick up for you and show up is incredibly important to both the healing process and promoting justice in a greater sense. Maggie and I—as we went into that hearing — it was so uplifting to see survivors to be able to connect with each other and have kind of a common goal and a common ground,” Beyrer said.

Haddock, Beyrer and demonstrators debriefed after the hearing and discussed their next steps. Some of these steps include community events and outreach such as chalking the university with “hold perpetrators accountable,” and doing further investigation in Title IX and UNCA’s and other school’s sexual misconduct policies, Beyrer said.

“We all kind of came together to talk about what those next steps look like and kind of the same way each of us kind of had our own role in the day of the hearing, each of us has our own role in what happens now,” Beyrer said. “For me, I’m looking at Title IX and the administrative aspects of it, how Title IX cases are handled and processed and under what conditions certain outcomes happen.”

 

Sexual misconduct policies grow on campus to protect survivors and accused

Bill Haggard, vice chancellor for student affairs, oversees both Student Affairs and Title IX on campus.

“The role I play is to make sure that we have the right policies and procedures in place. There are two areas that report up to me that would respond to cases of sexual violence. That is the Title IX office and then the other is our student conduct processes, our Student Code of Community Standards and all the processes involved,” Haggard said.

According to Haggard, the sexual misconduct policies have evolved during his 12 years at UNCA. He said when he started working at UNCA the policies were lacking procedures involving sexual assault.

“When I first got here in the summer of 2006, we as a university had some policy and practices deficiencies, and that was one of the first things that I worked on in my first year. We had a Code of Student Conduct that was inadequate as far as procedures and we didn’t have any sexual assault policies,” Haggard said.

The scope of Title IX changed in 2011 because of the Dear Colleague letter sent by the Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights to universities, according to Haggard. The letter details specific and minimum procedures for Title IX outside of athletics.

“This is not verbatim, but the message was that if a university does not respond appropriately and take seriously issues of sexual misconduct then they will be in violation of Title IX because it is viewed that then they are treating people with inequity related to sex because they are not taking the problem seriously,” Haggard said.

Last year U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos rescinded the Dear Colleague letter and UNCA awaits new opinions from the Office of Civil rights later this year, according to Haggard. After the nullification of this letter, UNCA maintained its original sexual misconduct policies from 2011 except for reinstating informal resolutions cases, to conduct cases by an informal resolution, Haggard said.

“That means if the complainant agrees on something, the accused agrees on something and the university agrees on it, we’d come to an agreement and resolve the case. They actually prohibited that with the Dear Colleague letter in 2011, which was common practice before that,” Haggard said.

According to Haggard, the policies in place and Title IX continue to work effectively at protecting survivors.

“We’re very thorough. We respond and investigate every complaint that comes our way. There are no cases swept under the rug, there are none that slip through the cracks, we investigate every case,” Haggard said. “And then it is the facts of the case that guide the university response to the case.”

Some students, like Popowitch, claim UNCA’s approach toward sexual misconduct does not hold perpetrators accountable, making unaccommodating environments for survivors.

“People who are perpetrators should be made examples of and kicked out. I think that alone will make survivors more likely to come to Title IX in the first place. I think that the first step should be at least making an example of perpetrators and actually holding them accountable and not just saying that they’re going to have a victim-centered approach and mention nothing about it,” Popowitch said.

Misconduct cases, according to Haggard, include multiple steps. First, when a member of the campus community reports a sexual assault Title IX listens to their report. Next, they get the survivor the advocacy they want or need, such as counseling with OurVOICE or legal counseling, Haggard said.  

“Third is to advise them of their options, explain the processes to them, explain the criminal justice system process, explain the student conduct process, explain to them that can go either way or both or neither if they choose,” Haggard said. “That’s all in what I call taking care of the victim.”

Next, Title IX locates the accused, begins an investigation and details their rights to an advocate and counsel, as well as their rights during both a Title IX investigation and student conduct process, according to Haggard.

“If they have accused someone of this misconduct and if that is a student, then when we reach out to that student to begin the investigation, we also have to advise them of their rights,” Haggard said. “So we protect the safety and support this individual. It is imperative that we protect their due process rights in the process.” Haggard said.

Haggard said many universities mess up when they begin their investigations because they do not protect the victim’s— or the complainant, in Title IX terms— and the accused’s rights under the law.  

“We have a responsibility for both parties and we take that very seriously and that’s where most universities mess up is if they don’t take care of a complainant or if they don’t take care of the accused and make sure that the accused rights are protected,” Haggard said.

According to Popowitch, the outcome of the hearing resulted in Haddock, the survivor of sexual assault, being reprimanded for coming forward about the experiences of survivors, including her own.

“I think that this hearing should have never even taken place considering the outcome was the survivor being punished or reprimanded,” Popowitch said. “I feel like we say that we do a lot for survivors and we’re really not.”

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