University of Virginia faculty will seek to ban fraternities from campus for at least the rest of the academic year as investigators sort through a report of an alleged gang rape two years ago.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences plans to vote this month on a non-binding resolution to extend the suspension until August, according to Alison Booth, an English professor. A ban through Jan. 9 was put in place last month after Rolling Stone magazine published an article in which a female freshman said she was assaulted by seven members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
“Many of us feel it would just not be tolerable to open up the spring semester with the fraternities on the same terms,” Booth said in an interview today. She told a faculty meeting yesterday, “The whole culture is sick.”
The university has been reeling since the article, which also criticized the administration for its handling of sexual-assault reports. The Charlottesville-based school founded by Thomas Jefferson has since hired outside investigators and pledged to increase campus safety and change the school’s alcohol and fraternity culture.
The article, by Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, has itself drawn scrutiny over its reporting, which tells the story of freshman student “Jackie,” who said she was led upstairs at a frat party by her date and raped by seven men.
Media critics at outlets such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have questioned Rolling Stone’s journalistic practices after the reporter acknowledged in interviews that she didn’t contact the men accused of the rape because of an agreement with Jackie. They also wrote that parts of the story were implausible or not independently verified.
On campus, even some activists who believe Jackie’s story are questioning the article’s approach. Ashley Brown, head of One Less, a student group at UVA that helps sexual-assault survivors, said it was unduly critical of Dean Nicole Eramo, who oversees the Sexual Misconduct Board, and stereotyped female students as southern belles.
“People could tell that the article had been sensationalized,” Brown said. “If people call your writing and your credibility as a reporter into question, they’re also going to call her story into question. She is inadvertently discrediting Jackie as a survivor and her story.”
‘On the Ball’
Much of Erdely’s story was “on the ball,” Brown said. She said she knows Jackie personally and the woman had given the same account earlier this year at “Take Back the Night,” a weeklong annual program at UVA where survivors of sexual assault tell their stories in meetings that aren’t open to the public.
Rolling Stone said in a statement that it extensively reported and fact-checked the story, and “we found Jackie to be entirely credible and courageous.” Erdely declined to be interviewed, the magazine said.
“If it’s a matter of a few facts being incorrect, that won’t change the outrage on campus and need to make fundamental changes,” said Booth, the English professor.
Students taking breaks between classes were less concerned with the veracity of Jackie’s story than with a dearth of corroborating evidence in the article, particularly the reaction by her friends, who were more concerned with their future social status than in helping a friend in need, according to the article.
“I don’t think anyone truly questions the story’s validity,” said Mariam Thomas, 21, a senior public policy major. “People are shocked because, at least in my circle of friends, I don’t think I know anyone who would say, ‘hey don’t go to the hospital.’”
UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan briefly attended the faculty meeting and said she is seeking to broaden the jurisdiction of campus and local police, giving them the right to monitor activities inside Greek houses without having to show probable cause to enter the premises.
Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo declined to comment on Sullivan’s proposal. An investigative sergeant and a detective have been assigned to the case and the Commonwealth Attorney will determine whether any charges are brought.
“It’s a work in progress,” Longo said. “We’re doing what we’ve been asked to do.”
Sullivan also told faculty that they need to take additional responsibility, engaging students academically by for instance teaching more classes on Fridays.
Without Friday sessions, “it sends a message that from Thursday until Monday morning is time off,” Sullivan told an audience of more than 200 people. “That’s one of the things that’s fueled a student culture that often separates them from the academic culture.”
Faculty have been speaking out against the UVA administration for keeping a “legal firewall” between itself and campus organizations, including fraternities. Terms of the agreements with such groups establish “conditions of deniability” for harmful and dangerous events, according to a letter last week to the UVA’s Board of Visitors from the school’s Council of Chair and Directors, a group of department and unit heads. Sullivan said on Dec. 1 that she’s requested a proposal for a new contract with Greek houses from the Inter-Fraternity Council by Dec. 31.
Booth will formally introduce the resolution on extending the fraternity ban at the next arts and sciences faculty meeting, which must be concluded before exams end on Dec. 16, she said. While some faculty stood up to support the measure yesterday, others said the Greek system at UVA should be banned altogether.
“This is a hugely important issue for us,” said Jahan Ramazani, a professor in the English department. “We need to make a visible dramatic change.”