Citing “great sorrow, great rage” and “great determination,” University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan says she’s suspending all the school’s fraternities until Jan. 9. The move comes days after a Rolling Stone article in which a woman described being gang-raped when she was a freshman in 2012.
The magazine’s story revolves around the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, which sits in a prestigious spot on campus, at the other end of an athletic field behind the university president’s office.
In the article, a student named Jackie describes how her initial excitement of being invited to a party at the fraternity was suddenly replaced by fear and violence, as a group of men trapped her in a room and attacked her.
The article says Jackie was pressured by peers to keep her story quiet, and that administrators who knew about Jackie’s story took no action — even after she reported allegations from two other girls who said they had been assaulted in a similar way at the same fraternity.
In a letter to the school’s students Saturday, Sullivan said she has asked the Charlottesville police to investigate the incident. Her decision to place a temporary ban on fraternities follows a voluntary move by all UVA fraternities to suspend their social activities for this weekend.
Sullivan said that didn’t go far enough:
“I write you today in solidarity. I write you in great sorrow, great rage, but most importantly, with great determination. Meaningful change is necessary, and we can lead that change for all universities. 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.”
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity was the target of an immediate backlash after the article was published. On Wednesday, its house was vandalized; on Thursday, the chapter said it had voluntarily surrendered its fraternal agreement with UVA.
“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,” the group said in a letter to the school newspaper. “We remain ready and willing to assist with the fair and swift pursuit of justice, wherever that may lead.”
Sullivan has been criticized this week for leaving the campus, and the country, on Wednesday to attend a conference in the Netherlands — a trip the school says was planned back in June.
In her absence, one of the university’s first attempts to respond to the story backfired, when it hired former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip to investigate the matter. After it was revealed that Filip had himself been a Phi Kappa Psi member at an Illinois college, he was taken off the job, local newspaper the Daily Progress reports.
Yesterday, Rolling Stone published a follow-up article titled “Rape at UVA: Readers Say Jackie Wasn’t Alone,” in which people wrote in to describe their own experiences with sexual assault at the university.
Similar stories have emerged in comments on the university’s Facebook page this week.
One comment came from Helen Drogas, who sits on the university’s board. She asked that people share their stories in an alumni forum. And she added that she’d only this week learned of a friend’s story.
“I learned that a college friend of mine had the exact same thing happen to her in a fraternity house,” she wrote. “I never knew it, and I was really shaken that women were being victimized then, and still are more than thirty years later.”
On the UVA campus, a university faculty group has organized a protest for Saturday night over what it calls “a social culture that puts our female students at unacceptable risk,” as local NBC News 29 reports.
The harrowing story told in Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s original article for Rolling Stone suggests how deeply the University of Virginia community might have to dig to find the roots of that culture, as the student says it influences both students and school officials:
“Lots of people have discouraged her from sharing her story, Jackie tells me with a pained look, including the trusted UVA dean to whom Jackie reported her gang-rape allegations more than a year ago. On this deeply loyal campus, even some of Jackie’s closest friends see her going public as tantamount to betrayal.”
As the UPI news service notes, “UVA is one of 12 schools undergoing ‘compliance reviews’ by the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights because of ‘serious concerns’ about several issues, including accusations of sex assaults.”