Rolling Stone article sending shock waves throughout higher education America.
QUINTUPLE STOP THE PRESSES! Here's the Rolling Stone article, which is sending out shock waves throughout higher education America. This is one of those articles that people will be talking about for years – and that will hopefully lead to huge, urgent, and much-needed changes, not just at UVA, but every institution of higher ed:
Jackie was just starting her freshman year at the University of Virginia when she was brutally assaulted by seven men at a frat party. When she tried to hold them accountable, a whole new kind of abuse began…
… Two years later, Jackie, now a third-year, is worried about what might happen to her once this article comes out. Greek life is huge at UVA, with nearly one-third of undergrads belonging to a fraternity or sorority, so Jackie fears the backlash could be big – a "shitshow" predicted by her now-former friend Randall, who, citing his loyalty to his own frat, declined to be interviewed. But her concerns go beyond taking on her alleged assailants and their fraternity. Lots of people have discouraged her from sharing her story, Jackie tells me with a pained look, including the trusted UVA dean to whom Jackie reported her gang-rape allegations more than a year ago. On this deeply loyal campus, even some of Jackie's closest friends see her going public as tantamount to betrayal.
"One of my roommates said, 'Do you want to be responsible for something that's gonna paint UVA in a bad light?' " says Jackie, poking at a vegan burger at a restaurant on the Corner, UVA's popular retail strip. "But I said, 'UVA has flown under the radar for so long, someone has to say something about it, or else it's gonna be this system that keeps perpetuating!' " Jackie frowns. "My friend just said, 'You have to remember where your loyalty lies.'"
From reading headlines today, one might think colleges have suddenly become hotbeds of protest by celebrated anti-rape activists. But like most colleges across America, genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. There are no red-tape-wearing protests like at Harvard, no "sex-positive" clubs promoting the female orgasm like at Yale, no mattress-hauling performance artists like at Columbia, and certainly no SlutWalks. UVA isn't an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch. The pinnacle of its polite activism is its annual Take Back the Night vigil, which on this campus of 21,000 students attracts an audience of less than 500 souls. But the dearth of attention isn't because rape doesn't happen in Charlottesville. It's because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal. Some UVA women, so sickened by the university's culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it "UVrApe."
"University of Virginia thinks they're above the law," says UVA grad and victims-rights advocate Liz Seccuro. "They go to such lengths to protect themselves. There's a national conversation about sexual assault, but nothing at UVA is changing."
In fairness to UVA, I'll bet there are well over 100 university presidents that are (very quietly) breathing a sigh of relief, as the Rolling Stone article could just as easily been written about their school. This is a pervasive problem, especially at schools that are: a) large; b) have fraternities; and c) have drinking cultures (some might add d) are in the South – but that's hard to know).
This is an enormously complex and difficult issue and there are no easy solutions. For example, I think it's naïve to say, "Colleges shouldn't be handling these cases – every woman should be referred to the local police." For sure, that's the right answer in some cases (surely more than is currently happening), but a lot of these cases fall into a grey area where there's no physical evidence or witnesses, so prosecutors can't/won't do anything (more on this below).
There are a number of presidents, board members, trustees, and other influential people on this email list, so if you have ideas for best practices that UVA and other schools could adopt, I'd love to hear them so I can disseminate them in a future email.