UVA suspends Greek activities in wake of Rolling Stone article

Move praised by students who call for cultural change

University of Virginia (UVA) has frozen all Greek activities until January 9 following a Rolling Stone article detailing an alleged brutal sexual assault at one fraternity house in 2012. 

President Teresa Sullivan suspended all fraternities until 2015 and called for a police investigation into the events, a move praised at a student-led press conference Monday.

The original account

The Rolling Stone article gives the account of one student who says she was gang-raped at a Phi Kappa Psi party her freshmen year and goes on to detail her frustration with the administration's and her peers' responses to the allegations. In the article, the victim says she felt abandoned by the school and many of her classmates. She did not file a police report, but did report the incident to UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board.

Establishing anonymous sexual assault reporting

The school is one of 86 facing a federal compliance review for their handling of sexual assault misconduct.

Student reactions

Since the publication, UVA has faced strong student reactions and public scrutiny. More women have reported being sexually assaulted while in school, students have led protests on campus, Phi Kappa Psi gave up its charter—essentially suspending itself—and the fraternity's house was vandalized.

Related: Victim advocates services on campus

An anonymous student group claimed responsibility for the vandalism, which spelled out in spray paint messages such as "Suspend Us!" In letters to local news media, the group expressed sorrow and outage that events in the article do not come as a surprise, but rather are "ubiquitous." The letter also included demands, such as specifying expulsion as the only university punishment for rape and sexual assault.

Currently, suspension or expulsion must be considered, but neither is required. In contrast, the school's honor code mandates expulsion for stealing, cheating, or lying.

A cultural change

On Monday, UVA student leaders held a press conference to discuss efforts to promote institutional and cultural changes in the fight against sexual assault on campuses.

"The temporary ban in itself gives our community time to take a breath to sit back and talk and be active and develop what we consider to be actionable and long term solutions," says Tommy Reid, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council. 

But that will not completely solve the issue, he says, instead the student body and administration must address "deeper attitudinal shifts."

Ashley Brown, president of One Less, a sexual assault awareness group on campus, noted that this issue is not just at UVA, but rather "a pervasive, nationwide epidemic."

The discourse follows a recent pattern of portraying sexual violence not as isolated incidents, but as a nationwide, cultural problem—one that President Barack Obama launched in September the "It's On Us" campaign to tackle.

School response: 'We can lead that change for all universities'

Sullivan released two statements in response to the article. The first received criticism for a perceived lack of empathy and avoiding the word "rape." On Saturday, Sullivan's follow-up statement carried a stronger tone, expressed personal anger, suggested the article was correct, and did use the word "rape." 

"Meaningful change is necessary, and we can lead that change for all universities," wrote Sullivan. "We can demand that incidents like those described in Rolling Stone never happen and that if they do, the responsible are held accountable to the law. This will require institutional change, cultural change, and legislative change, and it will not be easy. We are making those changes."

Survey reveals how MIT students view sexual harassment and assault

On Thursday, the university named Mark Filip, a deputy U.S. attorney general and UVA alumnus, as the head of an investigation into the events, only to reverse course on Friday because Filip had been a member of Phi Kappa Psi while at school.

Additionally, the Board of Visitors plans to meet Tuesday "to discuss the University's policies and procedures regarding sexual assault as well as the specific, recent allegations," and the school is hiring an attorney to review the policies (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 11/24; Shapiro, Washington Post, 11/24; Keneally, "Good Morning America," ABC News, 11/24; Ellis, CNN, 11/24).

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