I Stand with Landen. I Stand with the Honor System.

The views expressed are Alex Karsten’s alone. They do not reflect the views of Should Does as a community nor are they endorsed in any way by the Honor System.

BY Alex Karsten

February 26, 2013

I am going to talk about the charges brought against Landen Gambill.


I am not speaking as a representative of the Honor System. I am a member of the Honor System, but I do not have any specific knowledge of this case, as such I could not possibly divulge information that would compromise any student’s FERPA rights. I am only drawing inferences based on what I have read and my non-case-specific knowledge of the Honor System.


I cannot stress enough that this statement is not coming from the Honor System, but from me personally. I am not working this case. I do not know anything about this case that you, reading this, do not. All I know is what I am reading in the papers, articles, and comments surrounding the charge.


I also am not speaking as a representative of Should Does. I am the editor-in-chief of this publication, but Should Does is a community, and a community is not defined by one of its members.


Like most people, my first reaction to this story was sheer horror, embarrassment, anger, and disgust. I am still not over those feelings. Rape culture is very real here at UNC. Rape happens here. I do not intend to cover that up or undermine that with my arguments. What I do intend is to add a different facet to the discussion about this topic.


The views that I express in this piece are just that: views. I do not purport to have any sort of expert opinion. I do not suppose to have the final say on this topic. You may very strongly disagree with what I have to say. I am very open to being shown where I am wrong.


We know very little about what has happened. We know that Landen was charged with a violation of the Honor Code. By charging Landen, all Elizabeth Ireland is deciding is that she is not comfortable making a decision about the violation on her own. A charge makes absolutely no presumption of guilt, but only determines that it would be beneficial for the case to be investigated and decided by a system of Landen’s peers.


To be extremely clear, whether or not Landen was raped is not the question. The Honor System no longer claims to be equipped to handle a question of sexual assault. Sexual assault was removed from its jurisdiction in August of 2012. It is important to note that Landen’s case was heard under the interim procedure.


That interim procedure hearing was not about what happened to her. It was about whether or not what he did could be proven. Frankly, the decision reached about the guilt or innocence of the man she accused does not determine whether or not Landen was raped. Regardless of that decision, she is a sexual assault survivor. The support that Landen receives should not be contingent on that decision. She must receive support regardless of what the verdict the man she accused receives. We must separate the idea of support from the idea of justice.


I am a member of the Honor System and I am incredibly outraged about the deep-seated cultural problem of sexual assault and rape culture. Other system members share this concern. The Honor System does not seek to stifle or harm any of its students. I find it hard to believe that our system, whose primary concern is upholding the university’s Honor Code, would have any interest in deterring  students from reporting violations of that code, though I see how many people could interpret its actions as such based on the information available.


The question has been raised as to whether any student can bring a charge of rape without being charged herself with an honor code violation. While I do not know specific details of the case, it is crucially important to note that Landen is not being charged for her actions in accusing the student.


The Honor System seeks justice. In order to achieve justice, every student is afforded due process. As a student at UNC accused of an Honor Code violation, whether that be plagiarism or drunk driving, you have rights that are guaranteed to you, along with a student defense counsel that will help guide you through the process.


All UNC students enjoy the right of presumption of innocence. As the student who Landen accused was found not guilty (it is important for me to point out again that this is only an inference), he had the right to remain on campus and retain all of his rights as a student.


I stand with Landen Gambill, but I refuse to believe that the student whom she accused should be deprived of his rights as a student solely because he was accused of sexual assault. We must recognize that Landen is a victim and give her all possible support, but we cannot call him a rapist until he has been found guilty of sexual assault.


There are no analogies for this situation because there is no equivalent crime to rape and sexual assault. Our justice system, both at a university and a national level, absolutely needs special procedures to take into account the incredibly sensitive nature of this crime.


But those procedures cannot supersede the most basic tenant of due process: presumption of innocence. We need to find a way to afford every student and every citizen, even those accused of the most despicable crime, that right without making the crime’s victim feel that she is being called a liar.


This problem: how to protect survivors and victims while maintaining due process and the rights of the accused, is monumental. In my opinion, it is the most serious problem facing our justice system today.


A problem this big deserves a thoughtful, open dialogue. Shock, horror, and disgust are appropriate reactions to what has happened at this university and around this country. In order to build a just policy, we need to feel those emotions—never let them leave us—and all the while we need to have thorough and deliberate discussions that take both the importance of due process and the importance of supporting the victims into account.


The victims of sexual assault deserve better from our community. We need to focus heavily on prevention. Completion of ONE ACT training should be mandatory at CTOPS. More students need to be Haven trained. But no matter how much we work towards prevention, sexual assault will happen on this campus: its cultural stranglehold is too strong. We need to build a sexual assault policy that ensures that no student can sexually assault another student and be found not guilty.


I am proud that I work for an Honor System that seeks to both maintain the integrity of this university and to ensure every student’s rights are protected.


I stand with Landen and every victim. I stand with the Honor System. We need to create a university where this is not a paradox.


A correction has been made to this piece. See http://shoulddoes.com/concerning-the-correction-to-i-stand-with-landen-i-stand-with-the-honor-system/ for more details.