The University of Virginia’s Rector has issued a public apology following a report in Rolling Stone magazine that the school harbors a culture of rape. Members of the board of visitors may soon adopt a policy of zero tolerance for sexual assault and consider new limits on alcohol consumption at fraternities.
Board chairman Keith Martin said he was appalled by the Rolling Stone report which began with the story of a woman called Jackie. She said she was raped by seven men at a fraternity party. When she refused to press charges, the university took no action against the men.
"I would like to say to Jackie and her parents I am sorry. This type of conduct will not be tolerated at the University of Virginia. The status quo is no longer acceptable.”
Also speaking out for the first time, President Teresa Sullivan who said her first priority was an investigation of the attack and a review of university practices. She said keeping students safe was more important than any tradition or reputation.
“If we can’t deliver on this fundamental duty, then we – all of us – will have failed. Jackie’s experience shouldn’t have happened, and nothing like it should ever happen again.”
Board member Steve Long urged fellow trustees to go slowly.
“We must not assume a guilty just because attitude. Today, we shouldn’t randomly point fingers and cause heads to roll just because it satisfies some gut instinct. We need to slow down and get the facts. We need perspective and diligent manners in the traditional way, the University of Virginia way to act together and not divided.”
But Trustee Allison Cryor-Dinardo won the only applause of the afternoon when she called for prompt action.
“The sooner we do it, the sooner more young women and young men will not have their lives changed forever because of work we have done starting today.”
So what might the school do? Trustee Bobbie Kilberg suggested a ban on alcohol served at fraternities to anyone under 21.
“Some people have told me you can’t possibly suggest that. Are you ought of your mind? It would break the fraternity system. No. I hope you change the fraternity system, and you change its culture.”
But Tommy Reid, who heads the Inter-Fraternity Council, was hesitant.
“You’re just going to push drinking more and more underground. It’s one Friday night every two weeks that a fraternity may have an alcohol-based function, and if those don’t happen at fraternities, they’re going to happen at houses on 14th Street and Virginia Avenue, in parking lots and random places. I think you make some good points. I think, however, that you guys are the leaders and if you took a stance and really, really put down that hammer, hopefully it would permeate out.”
That debate will continue at future meetings of the board, and Teresa Sullivan promised on-going meetings with students and staff to make fraternities safer. In the mean time, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo told the board he would conduct a thorough investigation of Jackie’s case.
“There were people in that room who saw and heard what has been called shocking and horrifying and gut-wrenching and sickening and every other descriptor in between, and I hope that those bystanders have the moral courage to come forward and help us with that investigation.”
The state has also hired an attorney from Los Angeles to study UVA’s policies and practices – then make recommendations that could lead to a safer campus. The board will meet again in mid-December to discuss, among other things, declaring a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault on campus.