Rolling Stone published an article on Wednesday by Sabrina Rubin Erdely claiming that U.Va.’s party culture and prestigious administration allows for sexual assault claims to be ignored.
The 9,000- word piece follows one student only identified as “Jackie,” who is now a third year student. Allegedly, Jackie was violently raped by seven men one night at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party in 2012.
Jackie’s friends discouraged her from getting medical help and from telling her story to others. They told her that her reputation would be ruined for years and that her story would ruin her friends’ chances of ever joining Greek Life.
According to Erdely’s article, Jackie met with Dean Nicole Eramo, head of U.Va.’s Sexual Misconduct Board, months later. Eramo gave Jackie a set of options: to file a criminal complaint to the police or to go before the University’s misconduct board. Like others who have visited Eramo in the past, Jackie did not press charges.
U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan released a statement via email on Wednesday night regarding sexual misconduct after word of the article’s content had spread.
President Sullivan said, “The article describes an alleged sexual assault of a female student at a fraternity house in September 2012, including many details that were previously not disclosed to University officials. I have asked the Charlottesville Police Department to formally investigate this incident, and the University will cooperate fully with the investigation.”
She went on to say that the University takes seriously the issue of sexual misconduct, a significant problem that colleges and universities are grappling with across the nation.
“Our goal is to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire University community,” President Sullivan said.
However, in a phone interview Thursday, Erdely voiced concerns that the article has been read so quickly by so many people. She fears that the article’s real intention is being missed.
“The article was meant to be an honest way to start a conversation about how to take a step back from our culture and decide how to make changes in order to prevent sexual misconduct,” Erdely said.
As a writer who specializes in long form narrative pieces, Erdely intended for the article to be a narrative about sexual misconduct on college campuses. When she was visiting U.Va., Erdely was still trying to decide which college would be the focus of the article.
“I wasn’t sold on which college to focus on, because I came to the conclusion that all campuses are equally bad when it comes to sexual assault. I went through a series of interviews with different students at U.Va. It seemed to me that the consulates and criteria were there. But it was not until I heard Jackie’s story that I was completely sold on U.Va. for the article. I was not expecting to find a situation that was so extreme- her case is genuinely shocking,” said Erdely.
Once Erdely met with Jackie, she realized that the article needed to shift into a tighter narrative piece that primarily focuses on Jackie and exposes what happened that night at Phi Kappa Psi.
“Jackie’s story crowded out the rest of the stories. However, all of their stories went toward informing the greater context of the article,” Erdely said.
Some U.Va. students were upset by how Erdely worded the article’s content. One quote that caused controversy in particular includes:
“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. U.Va. 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. 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.”
Students felt that the language was deliberately used to put U.Va. in a bad light.
In response to the backlash, Erdely said, “I am not surprised by people’s reactions to what I said. Their reaction proves the point about their culture of loyalism and denial. I understand that nobody wants to believe that something bad can happen to them in a place they love. But if you really love U.Va., then you should make it the best place that it can be, even if that means making necessary changes in order to prevent people from being subject to sexual misconduct.”
Some students also claimed that Erdely inappropriately brought up the cases of Hannah Graham and Yeardley Love in the article, saying that their stories are irrelevant to Jackie and that Erdely only used them to add shock value. Erdely disagreed.
She said, “It was important to point out the most prominent examples of gender based violence. Hannah Graham’s tragedy made the point that I had already wanted to raise. As a campus community, U.Va. needs to watch out for serial predators. Rape needs to be taken very seriously, as sex offenders perpetrate nine out of ten rapes. Hannah Graham’s story is the worst case scenario of what I talk about in the article; it brings the point home about serial rapists.”
Erdely spoke with several other women for the article who shared similar experiences to Jackie’s at U.Va. According to the article, the women were sexually assaulted, ostracized by friends and ignored by the administration that, since 1998, has expelled 183 students for violations like cheating but has never expelled one student for sexual assault.
Second year Alexandra Shi said that she agrees with other students that the sensationalism in the Rolling Stone article is overwhelming. But she also said that it tells an important story that deserves more than just recognition.
“We cannot let university administrations continue to brush the topic of sexual assault under the rug. Ignorance is never bliss, and the victim in each case should not be the only one to suffer the consequences. Everyone should consider the fact that we are all, as students at U.Va. and at other respective schools, responsible for fixing our university’s greatest flaw,” said Shi.
Shi continued to say that, however, “the disgusting actions of a few do NOT characterize a whole, whether it be a whole fraternity or a whole university. Horrible tragedies of sexual assault do not start and end with only one group of people; one group of people should not be the scapegoat for the national issue that is upon us.”
On Thursday, various news organizations received an anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the vandalism of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on Rugby Road. The letter came as a response to the Rolling Stone article and to the University’s inaction. It stipulated four demands:
- “An immediate revision of University policy mandating expulsion as the only sanction for rape and sexual assault.
- The immediate suspension of UVA’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter, and a thorough review of the entire fraternity system.
- A thorough overhaul of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Board and the resignation of Dean Nicole Eramo.
- The immediate implementation of harm reduction policies at fraternity parties, such as policing, University supervision, or permission for parties to be held in safer environments such as sorority houses.”
The words “SUSPEND US” and the phrase “U.Va. Center for Rape Studies” were spray painted on the side of the fraternity house by the vandals.
“Students at U.Va. should take this opportunity to become stronger, more aware, and proactive, rather than making inappropriate threats that do nothing but tear us apart even more,” said Shi.
Charlottesville Police responded to the vandalism on Thursday: “A number of windows had been broken with bottles and chunks of cinder block. Police officers collected evidence and the incident is under investigation.”
In a statement released on Thursday, Phi Kappa Psi’s University chapter announced that they would voluntarily suspend their FOA and all fraternity activities.
Full Statement from Phi Kappa Psi:
Although at this time we have no specific knowledge of the claims set out in the Rolling Stone Article, we take this matter — and these tragic allegations — very seriously. That is why after being notified by the University of allegations following their informal investigation in late September, we subsequently notified our alumni chapter advisor and housing corporation. Through these representatives, local law enforcement was notified within days. This is a serious matter for the criminal justice system and the university investigative process and we will cooperate quickly, openly and honestly in any forthcoming investigation that may be conducted. To that end, as of today we have voluntarily surrendered our Fraternal Organization Agreement with the University, thereby suspending all chapter activities during this process. Make no mistake, the acts depicted in the article are beyond unacceptable — they are vile and intolerable in our brotherhood, our university community and our society. We remain ready and willing to assist with the fair and swift pursuit of justice, wherever that may lead, and steadfast in our resolve to ensure that nothing like this can happen, ever on our Grounds.
Phi Kappa Psi, Virginia Alpha Chapter
Author: Caroline Blank