Many of you may have already read the heartbreaking Rolling Stone piece on sexual assault at University of Virginia. If you haven’t, here’s the lede:
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.
And a snippet:
UVA’s emphasis on honor is so pronounced that since 1998, 183 people have been expelled for honor-code violations such as cheating on exams. And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.
“Think about it,” says Susan Russell, whose UVA daughter’s sexual-assault report helped trigger a previous federal investigation. “In what world do you get kicked out for cheating, but if you rape someone, you can stay?”
Attorney Wendy Murphy, who has filed Title IX complaints and lawsuits against schools including UVA, argues that in matters of sexual violence, Ivy League and Division I schools’ fixation with prestige is their downfall. “These schools love to pretend they protect the children as if they were their own, but that’s not true: They’re interested in money,” Murphy says. “In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he’s held accountable.” Indeed, UVA is the same campus where the volatile relationship of lacrosse star George Huguely V and his girlfriend Yeardley Love was seen as unremarkable – his jealous rages, fanned by over-the-top drinking – until the 2010 day he kicked open her door and beat her to death.
Since the piece came out, a letter, which Slate reports has over 127 UVa faculty signatories, began circulating:
Dear President Sullivan,
We are all heartbroken and enraged after reading Wednesday’s article in Rolling Stone. The extreme violence that was reported is shocking and demands an unequivocal response that we will not tolerate violence against our students.
U.Va faculty, staff, and students have been debating how we might most effectively respond.
As an initial step, we propose a policy that institutes an immediate freeze on activities by any student organizations that are currently under investigation for sexual misconduct and sexual assault.
Further, we call on the Greek System to collectively and voluntarily suspend activities this weekend in light of recent events and out of respect for the survivors of sexual violence on our campus.
We believe this immediate action will be an important first step in sending the message that violence against our students will not be tolerated. It will also send a clear message to fraternities, that if they stand by and fail to intervene in sexual violence, or if they knowingly do not report sexual violence, the activities of their fraternity will be suspended.
We demand seeing this important response implemented,
Most faculty steer clear of Rugby Road on a Saturday night. Tomorrow, however, in response to the recent Rolling Stone article and to ongoing problems of sexual violence at the university, faculty and instructors from the University of Virginia are joining the party. We are planning an action for 11pm this Saturday on Rugby Road, following the home football game. The purpose of “Take Back the Party” is to protest a social culture that puts our female students at unacceptable risk. UVA faculty in all manner of academic dress will gather on Beta Bridge to demand a safe environment for women as well as for men.
I’m heartened by the response of UVA faculty members who were moved to act in solidarity with victims on their campus, and their desire to work towards change. Despite the brutality of sexual assault, the negative publicity it brings universities both when it happens and when it is not handled properly, and the legal protections offered by Title IX in the US, still, too often, universities treat both victims and perpetrators as if they were mere figures in a cost-benefit analysis. Still, too often it is easier for campus communities to look the other way. It can be difficult to know what to do, how you can help, or whether you have the power to make a difference, so it is encouraging to see the UVA faculty act with purpose and conviction.