Smith leads conversation on sexual assault

Carolina’s ongoing conversation about sexual assault and how to improve the way it is addressed is reaching every corner of campus. Because the issue affects the entire University community, developing a solution calls for engaging everyone on campus, said Gina Maisto Smith.

In February, Smith, a former prosecutor, educator and consultant who has guided several institutions including Amherst College, began leading a series of community meetings designed to engage and educate the campus community about sexual assault. She is soliciting feedback and ideas campus-wide as well as providing information.

Visit the Campus Conversation on Sexual Assault site.

The volatile issue of sexual assault is not unique to Carolina, she said. Colleges and universities across the country grapple with how to respond to sexual misconduct in a way that is prompt, equitable, thorough, reliable, impartial and supportive.

In higher education, sexual assault falls under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (banning sex-based discrimination), as directed by the U.S. Department of Education. Sexual harassment of students, including acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX, Smith said, and a school has an obligation to investigate sexual harassment and violence, whether or not there is also a police investigation.

Title IX also requires a school to provide remedies to complainants, she said. This can include academic and housing accommodations, no-contact orders, counseling and support, and other measures designed to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence and address its effects. In many instances, these services surpass what is typically available in the criminal justice system.

“Unlike those in society at large, college students enjoy a federally mandated parallel process to the criminal option that will address their support needs, their academic needs, their counseling needs and their adjudicative process needs,” Smith said.

While Title IX may provide the legal framework, its requirements reflect societal values, she explained. “It isn’t just about complying with the law. It’s about how we tend to our students, faculty and staff to best serve them at a difficult time – to integrate the law with how we deliver our services to students,” Smith said.

Chancellor Holden Thorp has called sexual assault one of the greatest challenges facing campuses nation-wide, including Carolina.

“We’re focused on the safety of our students, as well as faculty and staff, and have an obligation to do everything we can to provide the care and support they need if a sexual assault occurs,” he told the campus community.

Smith elaborated on this national issue and how she is helping Carolina leaders implement a process that is legally compliant and serves the well-being of the campus community.

Read more in the University Gazette.

Published March 19, 2013.