On November 29, Rolling Stone published an article titled “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” garnering immediate response from the public. The article tells the story of Jackie, a current third year at the university who details her horrific gang rape at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in September 2012. “Seven men took turns raping her, while two more instructed and encouraged the others,” Sabrina Erdely, author of the article, wrote.
When Jackie turned to administration for justice, she was told she could either file a criminal complaint with the police or keep the matter within the university. If she chose to keep it within the UVA system she had two choices: file a complaint with the Sexual Misconduct Board and have a “formal resolution” with a jury of students and faculty and a dean as judge, or file an “informal resolution” in which she could face her attackers in the office of a dean. If she chose the second option, the present dean could then issue a directive to the attackers, such as counseling.
In the 2013-2014 academic year 38 students went to Dean Eramo, in charge of handling these cases and supporting the victims. Only nine issued complaints, and only four of those nine resulted in a Sexual Misconduct Board hearing. Although the university is unable to disclose the outcomes of those hearings, not a single student was ever expelled for sexual violence.
Particularly disturbing is the fact that two other women in the past two years reported being gang raped in the same Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. These claims led to outrage, fear, disbelief and anger from students and communities in Charlottesville and across the nation. In the days that followed, countless articles were published, angry at administration, the Greek community and even the UVA community.
Students at UVA are much more concerned with action than with words. The day after the article surfaced, the Phi Psi fraternity was vandalized with spray paintings reading “Suspend Us,” “UVA Center for Rape Studies” and “Stop Raping People” and several broken windows. Phi Kappa Psi issued a statement the morning after the vandalism announcing a voluntary suspension of its Fraternal Organization Agreement, agreeing to be cooperative. Residents found housing elsewhere after countless threats and acts of violence.
Later that same day, UVA’s student newspaper, Cavalier Daily, received an open letter from students claiming to be responsible for the vandalism. They concluded the letter with four demands: a revision of the university policy mandating expulsion as the only sanction for rape and sexual assault, suspension of Phi Psi and a review of the entire fraternity system, an overhaul of the university’s Sexual Misconduct Board and the resignation of Dean Eramo and the immediate implementation of harm reduction policies at fraternity parties.
Several other initiatives occurred, including a “Slut Walk” to protest rape culture, a protest in front of Phi Psi resulting in four arrests, a rally of student and faculty speakers and a protest that marched past several fraternities before walking down the main street of town. The Slut Walk concluded in front of the Office of the Dean of Students where Dean Groves addressed students. “I want to hear what you have to say, I want to listen to all of the students who want to talk to me,” Groves said.
Students and faculty began a petition online, receiving over 1,000 signatures, calling to freeze activity for groups under sexual assault investigation and to suspend Greek organizations. University President Teresa Sullivan responded by suspending all campus fraternities through January 9. “We were in very serious conversations with fraternity presidents about taking similar actions for the rest of the semester,” IFC President Tommy Reid said.
Some students argue that suspending all fraternal activity does not help the situation, but rather perpetuates the idea that Greek life is the root of the problem. They argue that the problem is not fraternities as a whole, but the actions of a few people within those organizations and the overall culture of rape response. “I hope people will see this not as an assault on fraternity culture—fraternities aren’t bad in themselves,” Erdely said.
The university hired independent legal counsel, choosing Mark Filip, senior partner with Kirkland and Ellis and former prosecutor, federal judge and deputy attorney general. However, students were outraged upon finding out that Filip was formal rush chairman of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Illinois in 1988. Regardless of whether or not this would have an effect on his counseling, it seemed curious enough for administration to reissue a letter stating that they would not use him for independent counsel.
The portrayal of UVA as a whole resulted in serious anger. The article seemed like an incredibly biased attack on one university in terms of a nationwide problem. Some key figures in the article, including sexual assault victim and advocate Emily Renda, had a problem with how they were portrayed.
Erdely said she chose UVA as the focus of her investigation because of its academic reputation. Students argue that Erdely should have written a piece on the hookup culture and mindset surrounding rape afflicting the nation, not just attack a particular university. “I was looking for a school that was elite, a school people look up to, but also where the culture felt representative of what’s going on around the country,” Erdely responded. She also said that while the stories from UVA were disturbing, they were no worse than similar occurrences at schools across the nation.
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