Rolling Stone looks at UVA: Misses on culture, but hits hard on silence

uva-logoI graduated from UVA 20 years ago, and until I read the piece in Rolling Stone tonight on the cloak of silence on Grounds regarding the prevalence of sexual assaults (“A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA”), I had not heard in my life of the “traditional University of Virginia fight song” called “Rugby Road” referenced throughout the article.

Had it not been for the fact that so many are jumping on board the “following statement” machine in the wake of the release of the story, from UVA President Teresa Sullivan to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, I would have stopped reading a few paragraphs in, having been informed to that point that the writer had surmised that the sum of the UVA experience is this “Rugby Road” song that was news to me, as the foundation to a thesis that the typical UVA student is beset with efforts at trying desperately to fit into the Greek system and party culture on Grounds.

Working past the oversimplified paint-by-numbers portrait of the UVA culture, we eventually get to the dirty little secret that will rock the University to its core in the coming weeks, months and beyond: with regard to how administrators deal with sexual assaults on Grounds.

In a word, it’s shameful, reading how the alma mater treats gang rapes as so much dirt that needs to be swept under the rug. And in this, sure, UVA is far from being alone; colleges and universities across the country have party cultures that promote binge drinking and hook-ups that those who wish to engage in predatory behavior can exploit, and those colleges and universities could be incentivized to respond by pretending publicly that “that kind of thing doesn’t happen here,” and then taking official steps to keep evidence of those kinds of activities off the books to aid their case toward plausible deniability.

For fellow alums who want to dismiss the Rolling Stone report with some version of, Well, this isn’t just our problem, it happens everywhere, sorry, we can’t let dear ol’ UVA off that easy.

Read the report: it ain’t pretty. The administration in claiming that it takes sexual assaults on campus seriously seems to spend the bulk of its time in those efforts promoting buzzwordy campaigns at the expense of taking any real, substantive action. Young women who are the victims of assaults tell Rolling Stone that they feel victimized again when they build up the courage to report them and see their courage rewarded with inaction.

The impetus there seems to be fear that as word of the prevalence of sexual assault would get out, the UVA brand would be forever tarnished, and, yeah, sure, who cares about the UVA brand, but the bottom line would take a hit as applications for admission from young women would decline as a result.

The equal, opposite reaction to that action is the silent assent to the continuation of predatory behavior that in some ways could very well be systemic.

It is, again, shameful, that our University chose to respond to sexual assaults by sticking its official head in the sand, that its top officials think a slick PR campaign at the expense of substantive action is an appropriate response, and then this bit of news that is coming to me tonight about the person appointed by the University to head up its internal review of policies regarding sexual assaults.

A man named Mark Filip, whose resume looks solid: a former U.S. Deputy Attorney General, former judge, former prosecutor.

Filip was also a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The very fraternity at the center of the Rolling Stone article where it is alleged that members participated in multiple gang rapes of young coeds.

Nothing personal against Mark Filip at all, but how tone deaf do the higher-ups at UVA have to be to put a guy with any level of appearance of conflict of interest to head up its review in this most sensitive of sensitive matters?

(Update: Friday, 10:53 a.m. Attorney General Mark Herring will replace the independent counsel. Click here for more.)

I’m not quite to the point of wanting to move the framed degree hanging on the wall right now into storage or scheduling surgery to remove the sabre tattoo from my left deltoid, but this is clearly a dark hour for the Wahoo Nation.

It’s here that I feel the need to bring up one culture reference that the writer got spot on: about how so many people on Grounds refer to Thomas Jefferson as if he were not only still alive, but was pretty much on the verge of bounding around the corner to say hi at any moment.

I bring that up in the context of: WWTJD? What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

Insert cynical reference to how he hid Sally Hemings from the world here.

Augusta Free Press editor Chris Graham is a 1994 graduate of the University of Virginia.

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