On the Folly of Campus ‘Justice’

By now, you might have heard about the UNC rape survivor who discussed her rape without identifying the rapist, but, nonetheless, has been charged by the university for violating the UNC Honor Code–yes, the anonymous rapist is somehow the victim*. According to one victim, here’s how things went down (boldface mine):

“It’s incredibly clear that those people had no idea what sexual assault is, what consent is,” said Landen Gambill, a sophomore whose assault case was processed by interim procedures.

“They were not only offensive and inappropriate, but they were so victim-blaming.
“They made it seem like my assault was completely my fault.”

As a freshman, Gambill was continually abused — sexually and verbally — by her long-term boyfriend.

When the relationship ended, she said she was met with months of stalking, threats and harassment.

Those actions lead her to press charges with the Honor Court. In her trial, Gambill said she was forced to answer irrelevant and inappropriate questions.

“The woman student said to me, ‘Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?’” she said.

Gambill said the court used her history of clinical depression and her suicide attempt — which she said was a result of her abusive relationship — against her.

“They implied that I was emotionally unstable and couldn’t be telling the truth because I had attempted suicide,” she said.

Gambill said the court’s ignorance reflected a complete lack of training.

But Judicial Programs Officer Erik Hunter said the Honor Court members and the student attorney general’s staff received a full day of training after the interim procedures were implemented.

“We spent a lot of time trying to help them understand some of the things they were going to be seeing, in terms of the emotional toll these kinds of hearings would take on folks,” Hunter said.

But Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning said training was limited.

“The training the Honor Court received then was an hour at the most,” she said.

While being insensitive assholes is a problem, the much larger problem is that virtually everyone involved with the proceedings is very young. Let me put this this another way: thinking about what I was like at that age, there’s a good chance I would have said something as stupid as the Honor Court inquisitor. Why?

Because I was young and stupid and didn’t know a goddamn thing outside of my very limited experience.

Juries should have a mix of people, including people who have been around the block once or twice. There are few advantages of getting older, but one of them is experience. Some of this experience is hard earned, either by yourself or your friends. And maybe, just maybe, along the way you occasionally bothered to pay attention when it really mattered.

With experience, some learn that many rapists are predators who commit multiple rapes, not men who temporarily lose control.

With experience, some learn that abusers are very skilled at manipulating the emotions of their victims (e.g., gaslighting).

With experience, some learn that abusers are really skilled at isolating their victims, so their victims lose the ability to seek help until its too late.

With experience, some learn that some victims get so far under that they behave self-destructively even though that ‘makes no sense.’

And with experience, some learn that one can never be absolutely sure what one would do in a bad situation.

The answer isn’t training, it’s experience. For someone to say “I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened” and not have any doubts whether you actually would is the arrogance of youth (and I suspect she’ll look back at that and feel foolish).

A justice system completely populated by students, who are disproportionately privileged, will give very skewed results, just as any other skewed system would (such as one populated entirely by white men. For instance).

As long as that’s the case, campus justice, especially regarding sexual assault, will too often be an oxymoron.

*For the past twenty five years, I have witnessed the complete inability of universities to handle sexual assault crimes. The only thing that will fix this is a wave of massive law suits that target not only universities, but the individual bad actors. That, and realizing that felonies should be dealt with in criminal courts.

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6 Responses to On the Folly of Campus ‘Justice’

  1. Drugmonkey says:

    Agreed. Treating University campuses as crime-privileged isolates is outdated, harmful and has to stop.

  2. Art says:

    In attempting to understand this sort of thing it might be best to contemplate exactly who gets into student government and the honor court/s. These people are born and aspiring politicians who know not to make waves. They also know how to curry favor.

    With that in mind consider the two sides. You have a female who is clearly never going to be a major political or financial player. She has issues. She might come from a poorer family. If she gets hurt by the court she won’t retaliate legally, won’t cost the university a lot of money, and certainly won’t have her daddy call the university president and threaten to defund a couple of research programs. Stepping on her, and her rights, is painless.

    On the other side you have a vindictive, spoiled brat with sociopathic tendencies. There is some chance he could do quite well in business. Do you want to have powerful enemies? His lack of talent isn’t a problem and it points to some outside pull getting him into the program. He is also potentially a direct threat to anyone who crosses him. Honor court members don’t get police protection and the campus is quite open. Expulsion won’t keep a determined stalker out. Pissing this guy off could get you hurt. Far too high a cost for the few lines on a resume and connections you get serving.

    So … there you are, sitting on this bench making a choice. If you rule in her favor you get that warm feeling of justice being served but you might be opening yourself up to the stalker, and then there is the matter of publicly admitting, again, that rape is an issue. There might be calls for additional spending by the university on security, rape prevention classes, screening of applicants. None of which is cheap. None of which is presently funded in the exceedingly tight budget situation they are experiencing. If the university has to claw a couple of millions out of existing programs because of your decision you can pretty much forget getting a letter of recommendation from the university president. And a glowing recommendation, with gratuitous commentary on how well you served your time on the honor court is exactly what you are after. It is a stepping stone toward your goal of becoming the state’s attorney general.

    The judges are just at the beginning of their careers. This is not the time to ruffle feathers or rock the boat. You are building your reputation as a team player and the university system is your team. Showing a keen awareness of which way the wind blows, and having the intestinal fortitude to step on the little people, so the powers-that-be won’t have to, is the politically astute way to go.

    Student government is about building a career through favors and connections. Justice is entirely secondary. Sitting on that court they know to keep their eyes on the prize.

  3. alpheba says:

    I just deleted my entire comment. There’s nothing I can say, it angers me so much people can be this stupid.
    Thank you for sharing, I haven’t heard about it!

  4. Claudio says:

    Nowadays Universities should have a zero tolerance policy for brat behaviour, no matter how malign or innocent, or how grave or light the consequences of their behaviour is. Frat brats are so XXth century.

  5. Newcastle says:

    Nothing more complex than cheating in a class should be handled by a University justice system. This should have been reported to the real police and prosecuted in a real court of law by a real district attorney. This University as an island model is bullshit.

  6. EpiGrad says:

    My understanding is this was *not* the student Honor Court, but the replacement UNC was instituting – made up of two faculty members, two students and an administrator. If the system is a problem, it was not just because they were “young and stupid”

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