Why I Just Dropped Out Of The University of North Carolina’s Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposia

Posted on Posted in Black Feminism, feminism, public speaking, Summits & Conferences

I’m not speaking at the University of North Carolina this month, after all. I was scheduled to present two discussion sessions at the 8th Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposia, but I canceled. I was literally in the middle of booking my plane ticket and making hotel reservations, when I saw an article from Clutch Magazine about a UNC Rape Victim [who] Faces Expulsion.

I read the article about Landem Gambill, who was being threatened for speaking publicly about her rapist — an ex boyfriend, who is also a student at the university, and whose ostracism comes because they say she is being disruptive. The ‘Honor Court’ threatened to charger her with this violation:

“Disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another (other than on the basis of protected classifications identified and addressed in the University’s Policy on Prohibited Harassment and Discrimination) so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for University employment, participation in University-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”

I emailed the Symposia’s planning Committee, and expressed my concern before I told them that I would do more research. While reading about Landem Gambill I saw that there had been numerous cases of the University’s neglect in highlighting issues of sexual violence and various others who had launched complaints against the school for neglecting to do something. I received a reply from one of the committee members stating she was definitely concerned with violence against women at their campus as well as others, and sent me the link to the University’s response, which after reading it did not feel is was a real reprimand on this behavior, on violence or on the perpetrator but felt instead as if they were issuing one that attempted to absolve themselves of the fact that this happened under their campus direction. Also, another committee member told me it was not the institution, but the students who run the high court.

I was really bothered by this story and all of this. I didn’t know if I should continue with the presentations and change my content from speaking about breastfeeding and Black Feminism to speaking out against rape culture. After emailing back and forth over the past couple of days with these committee members this was my response:

“Thank you for replying to my email and going a step further in providing additional information on this recent headline that has seemed to highlight other issues within structure. Yes, violence on all campuses and non-campus environments concern me and others as well. I have done as much research as I can regarding the case of Landen Gambill once I initially heard of this recently, given the amount of time I have in order to either proceed or withdraw. Unfortunately I have not seen a great effort by the University of North Carolina to make a whole effort to eradicate the presence of rape culture on campus, or to even reprimand the actions of the perpetuator or the larger issue. And when we don’t speak out against something, we are doing nothing more than stating our support. I cannot attend a session that underpins the principles of feminism in an environment I believe has not worked towards resolve in this issue or the many others who have also launched a complaint of sexual violence. What kind of feminist would that make me? The fact that expulsion is an option at all shows there is an underlying support of these kinds of crimes against women on campus and a willingness to accept it – and shame and blame the victim. I thank you for the opportunity, but please cancel my registration as well as refund my registration fee.”

* Thank you to all who contributed towards the Breastfeeding and (BLACK) Feminism Chip In. The funding was to be used to offset the charges that I incur at this event, in order to continue doing this important work. Some of you have told me to keep the funds and use them for other breastfeeding promotions and advocacy, which I am thankful for and is what I will do. If this is what you’d like then let me know. Otherwise, I will begin processing the return of your donation.

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