On sexual assault: letters from the community

Don't rush to judgment

Like virtually all of the UVA community, I am deeply disturbed by the circumstances in which our beloved institution is receiving so much negative publicity throughout the past week.

First and foremost, my heart goes out to anyone who has experienced the horrors of sexual assault. As the father of three daughters, including one who is currently a first year student at the University, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and trauma experienced by Jackie or any of the other countless victims in our immediate community and those elsewhere.

It may be instinctive for many of us, including myself, who have always had such positive emotions, loyalty and pride associated with all things related to our UVA experiences, to question the accuracy and fairness of many of the troubling things coming to light in the recent Rolling Stone article. As a member of a fraternity at UVA, many of my most lasting and fond memories are indelibly attached those experiences. However, at this pivotal point in the evolution of the University, we must focus our collective response out of concern for the victims of these tragic stories and not out of loyalty to the institution that has meant so much to many of us. We must ensure that this is a moment where we rally to address and remedy obvious issues that have been exposed and pose a grave threat to the overall integrity and purpose of our University and the broader community.

I applaud the courage of those who have come forward in such difficult circumstances to expose serious, irrefutable inadequacies in the way the UVA Administration, and the entire community, have dealt with these issues. I am so unbelievably saddened that those who are the victims of these horrendous incidences do not seem to have anywhere to go within the University community. They have been let down by everyone.

If there is one thing in particular that disturbs me the most about the recent reports, it is that there, apparently, was a pattern of abuse and incidences in very similar circumstances (including repeat incidents at the same fraternity and/or multiple occurrences perpetrated by the same individual) that were reported to the administration and seem to have elicited a very ineffective and grotesquely insufficient response. I do not profess to know the facts in sufficient detail to fully opine on these matters or reach definitive conclusions as to what did or did not transpire. However, we must have a complete and fully transparent investigation into what information the administration did or did not have in respect to these matters and, if in fact these incidents were systemically discouraged and ignored in the way that has been suggested, then I sincerely hope the Board of Visitors takes necessary and appropriate action and holds the right people (at the right levels of responsibility) accountable.

It is disturbing, albeit understandable, to read so many comments from other alumni with daughters approaching college age to state categorically that they would no longer consider sending them to this University. I for one do not feel that way. In difficult times like this we must not lose perspective. We should not lose faith overnight in an institution with such a proud legacy and record of accomplishment built up over the nearly 200 years since its founding. We must, also, recognize that we are not alone in dealing with these issues. Campus sexual assault is a national epidemic. Nevertheless, regardless of how just or unjust it may be, this University will be forever after judged by our collective response to these events. While we will most certainly remain in the spotlight for the coming days and perhaps months, ultimately, we will and should be judged on the overall results of our response and whether or not we succeed in effectuating long-standing and lasting improvements in how we support victims of sexual assault, our policies and procedures for responding to accusations of sexual assault and our ability to deter and substantially decrease the level of future occurrences.

It is, most definitely, time for change. However, we must be careful to avoid a rush to judgment as to what the right actions or answers may be and calls for immediate or pre-mature action. It is far more important that we get the answers and solutions right. The stakes are simply too high and we cannot afford to be wrong. Before opining on and implementing long-term policy changes, there needs to be a complete and independent investigation into all of the recently reported events and the questions raised and these findings must be disclosed, discussed and debated in as fully transparent a manner as possible.

Joseph A. Julian, Jr.

Commerce 1989


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