Community confronts sexual assault on Grounds

Students, faculty host rally in Amphitheatre following Rolling Stone article

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University students and faculty have responded in full force to an article published in Rolling Stone magazine Wednesday — many voicing their opposition to sexual assault and misconduct on Grounds. The article detailed the alleged gang rape of a then-first-year student by several members of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in Sept. 2012.

Taking to activism, the Middle Eastern and Islamic Student Association hosted a rally titled “Stand Up Against Rape Culture” in the Amphitheatre Thursday afternoon. Nearly 1,000 members of the University community attended the event.

Photo: Xiaoqi Li

Fourth-year College student Thar Tariq, a member of MEISA, addressed attendees at the rally.

Tariq placed the responsibility in the hands of University students, encouraging attendees to take action to eliminate rape culture.

“We need to demand more from ourselves as students as well,” Tariq said. “We need to promote an environment where sexual assault and rape is not permitted under any circumstance. We need to set the precedent.”

Other speakers asked fraternities to take a stand against sexual assault. Across the board, speakers emphasized that fraternities are not the cause of rape culture, though rapes often occur in fraternity houses.

English Prof. Jahan Ramazani said the fraternities "do many good honorable things, but have also been involved for too long in making a safe space for criminal violent acts that we all need to decry and denounce and say we're not going to stand for any more." 

Tariq said the community needs cooperation from fraternities, and that the rally was not intended to attack them.

“[B]ut we do expect and we do demand that these fraternities evaluate what is going on in their organizations, because these sexual assaults are happening,” Tariq said. “We need for these fraternities to establish corrective measures so that they can eliminate these problems so they can get back to doing what they do: providing a brotherhood and a home away from home at this university.”

Second-year College student Ayaan Alam, a member of MEISA, encouraged students to review the amended sexual misconduct policy recently released by the University.

“Read it, get familiar with it, know what it says,” Alam said. “When you read it, read it thoroughly enough to see that if there’s anything you don’t like, let people know about that issue so that your voice is heard.”

Not all students took an organizing approach. Early Thursday morning, it became evident that a group of students responded violently overnight, vandalizing the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

"A number of windows had been broken with bottles and chunks of cinder block and a portion of the [Phi Kappa Psi house] had been spray painted," a press release from police said. "Police officers collected evidence from the scene and the incident is under investigation."

An anonymous letter was sent to various University organizations claiming responsibility for the vandalism. The letter was signed by “The students who vandalized the Phi Psi house” and came from strawberryqueen1717@gmail.com.

University faculty and staff have also spoken out in anger and disgust. Faculty members of the Batten School and various departments of the College issued a letter of dissent addressed to University President Teresa Sullivan. The statement suggests the immediate suspension of all CIOs under investigation for sexual assault or violence. In addition, the letter asks that all Greek-affiliated activities and events scheduled for this weekend be postponed in solidarity with victims of sexual misconduct.

“We believe this immediate action will be an important first step in sending the message that violence against our students will not be tolerated,” the letter read. “It will also send a clear message to fraternities, that if they stand by and fail to intervene in violence, or if they knowingly do not report violence, the activities of your fraternity will be suspended.”

At the rally, English Prof. Caroline Rody said the prevalence of rape culture at the University has offended faculty members across the board.

“The faculty is employed to teach the values of civilization — that’s what we believe in, that’s what we’re here for, that’s what Thomas Jefferson had in mind,” Rody said. “But there has been among us for too long a type of barbarism. It sickens us, and we don’t want to remain silent anymore.”

At the rally, Tariq said to prioritize individual members of the student body over the reputation of the University, and emphasized that demanding a safe environment does not mean abandoning the University.

“We love this University,” Tariq said. “Here at U.Va., we bleed orange and blue. The pride, the honor, the reputation, the tradition of this university is ingrained in our blood and in our hearts. But that being said, the reputation of this University does not trump the safety of our student body or the student body in general."

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed and mischaracterized a quote said by English Prof. Jahan Ramazani.

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