University of Virginia students are demanding cultural and institutional change on a campus where they say allegations of rape are ignored and victims are shamed.
Over the weekend, UVA President Teresa Sullivan suspended all fraternity activities on campus and called for a police investigation following a disturbing Rolling Stone article that detailed a young woman’s account of a 2012 gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
And on Tuesday, the Board of Visitors, the group that governs the public university, will meet to discuss university “policies and procedures regarding sexual assault.”
But students protesting on campus say that policy changes, while necessary, are not enough.
“It’s not just an issue of this article, it’s not just an issue of our school, it’s an issue of flaw in our culture, in the values of the world really,” Maria DeHart, a first-year student, said at a protest on Friday that drew hundreds of students and supporters. “We are a really good example of this horrible thing that’s going on, this epidemic of rape on campus.”
Students organized the so-called “Slut Walk” to call out slut-shaming and victim-blaming. Jackie, the young woman featured in the Rolling Stone article, said she was pressured by fellow students not to talk about her rape and that administrators who did know about it did nothing.
Jackie told the magazine an upperclassman invited her to a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on campus when she was a freshman in the fall of 2012. While she was initially excited at the invitation, she said, what followed was a nightmare. Seven men, she said, raped her over the course of several hours in a bedroom. She reportedly told the campus Sexual Misconduct Board about the rape, but the campus brushed off any meaningful investigation until the article came to light.
Sullivan wrote in the letter outlining the fraternity ban, posted on the university’s website on Saturday, that she was calling for a full investigation of the incident by Charlottesville police and urging those with knowledge of the event to come forward. Since the article, a number of students and alumni have come forward with stories of rape or assault they say were kept quiet or ignored.
“There is no greater threat to honor than secrecy and indifference,” she wrote.
The announcement is a departure from the university’s first attempt to address the controversy, in which the school hired U.S. Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip to investigate the rape. It was later revealed that he had been a member of the fraternity in question.
In a recently released video interview with WUVA, Nicole Eramo, an associate dean of students who handles sexual misconduct cases on campus, seemed to admit that students who have admitted to sexual assault are allowed to return to campus and to suggest that rape victims don’t actually want to see their rapists expelled.
At the protest on Friday, Dean of Students Allen Groves told students, “I want to hear what you have to say.”
While that’s welcome news for some students, they say they also want the university to devote a team of people to investigating and dealing with campus sexual assault. The university is reportedly one of a dozen schools under review by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights regarding concerns about how it handles accusations of sex assault.
“I think it’s a mindset that has to be addressed,” DeHart said. “It’s more than just policy.”
Sullivan said in her letter that the university will assemble groups of students, faculty and alumni to discuss “next steps” to prevent sexual violence on campus.
Reactions posted on the UVA Facebook page have been mixed, with some criticizing the university for waiting until it received negative media attention to address the rape allegations.
“President Sullivan, your ‘great rage, great sorrow, and great determination’ seem to be a reaction to negative publicity,” reads a post by Lauren Seale. “Those feelings would have better served the University of Virginia, especially its female students, if you had mustered them up two years ago when a young woman in your care reported that she had been gang raped on your campus. Class of 2013.”
Shot and produced in the field by Wes Bruer.
Produced in Miami by Jared Goyette, edited by Darwin Phillips.