The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is now facing a third federal investigation into its sexual assault policies. This time, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating allegations that UNC inappropriately retaliated against Landen Gambill, a sophomore at the university, after she publicly came forward about her rape.
Gambill was one of several students who filed a federal complaint against the university at the beginning of the year, alleging UNC has created a “hostile environment” for rape victims attempting to report sexual crimes. In February, the sophomore faced an honor code violation that claimed she “intimidated” her alleged rapist by publicly sharing the story of her sexual assault — even though she never named him, simply referring to him as an “ex-boyfriend.” Later that year, even after the male student in question had been found guilty of sexually harassing Gambill, he was reassigned to a dorm building “in close proximity” to hers.
The new investigation will attempt to determine whether those two actions — subjecting Gambill to UNC’s honor court and moving Gambill’s assailant closer to her — constitute inappropriate retaliation. The honor code charge against Gambill, which could have resulted in her expulsion, has since been dropped.
At the end of April, after students on several different college campuses filed formal complaints against their administrations, federal officials reminded universities that they’re not allowed to retaliate against students who speak up about sexual assault. “Individuals should be commended when they raise concerns about compliance with the federal civil rights laws, not punished for doing so,” the U.S. Department of Education reiterated in a “Dear Colleague” letter distributed to universities.
UNC has repeatedly denied that it took any actions to target Gambill after she began speaking up about the university’s sexual assault policy. University officials confirm they will cooperate with the third federal investigation.
Over the past year, UNC has faced significant backlash from its student body about its mistreatment of rape survivors. In May, the university formed a task force to review and reform the current sexual assault policy. Since Gambill and her fellow activists have gone on to support a network of student advocates working to combat rape culture on their own campuses, similar slow progress is being made at other universities as well.