A report released Sunday about a Rolling Stone magazine story detailing an alleged rape at the University of Virginia is one more chapter in a long, troubling story for the campus.
But while the story itself prompted huge buzz at the university when it was published in November, the independent review, commissioned by Rolling Stone from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, did not appear to be major fodder for conversation among students at the campus food court Monday.
Of 30 students questioned by a reporter, only three had discussed — or even seen — the report.
“I think people are burnt out, to be honest,” says student Alex Stock. Stock, a business major, is one of three friends that Rolling Stone says counseled the alleged survivor — known by the pseudonym Jackie — after the alleged assault.
“I mean, a week ago, the chief of police had his press conference, and this [report] is basically saying what the chief of police said.”
In the now-retracted story, Stock was portrayed as more concerned about the school’s reputation than Jackie’s well-being. But Stock says that was not the case and that reporter Sabrina Erdely never called him.
“Initially, when I sort of told people, ‘This is me, and that’s not an accurate portrayal — at least of myself,’ a lot of people didn’t believe me,” Stock says. “They thought, well, ‘This has to be true [because] the Rolling Stone published it, and how dare you question this.’ ”
Had Erdley talked with him and other friends, Stock says, her Rolling Stone story might have been very different.
“We would have talked about how Jackie’s credibility has been sort of a question for us for a long time, and she might have done some of the investigation that happened after the fact before publishing the article — which is probably what should have happened.”
Rebecca Weybright, director at the local Sexual Assault Resource Agency, says the story has prompted more discussion about rape on campus — but says that fewer people are now willing to report assaults.
“Hopefully the fact that there is more discussion and there is more awareness of this issue, that that will make things better in the future,” she says. “But I think in terms of survivors feeling like they’ll be believed, there’s been some significant damage.”
Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity identified in the story as the location where Jackie was allegedly assaulted, also claims damage. The fraternity announced Monday that it would sue Rolling Stone.
Lloyd Snook, a local attorney who has followed affairs at the University of Virginia for more than 30 years, says he would have advised the fraternity, often referred to as “Phi Psi,” not to sue.
“No. 1, it’s very unlikely that they would be successful,” he says. “And No. 2, that they would, by doing so, make relevant every single complaint that everybody’s ever had about Phi Psi and sexual misconduct at Phi Psi.”
Still, the fraternity accused Rolling Stone of reckless reporting. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe described an “abject failure of accountability in journalism.” And university President Teresa Sullivan said the article did nothing to combat sexual violence and had damaged serious efforts to address the issue.