On sexual assault: letters from the community

The administrative attitude must change

There is a line in the RS article that haunts me. This one line made me literally ill when I read it. Literally, physically ill.

“And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.”

I graduated not only from the Law School, but also from the Commerce School. Indeed, I was one of the two elected Commerce School representatives at the time to the University’s Judiciary Committee. Looking back, I recall vaguely the dozens of cases on which I sat. Oddly, sure enough, I am certain that I did not sit on a single sexual assault matter.

As Teresa alludes to her in her recent comments, sexual assaults are underreported. They are vastly underreported. And yet, as a double-hoo, I was well aware that sexual assaults occur among the UVA community on a regular basis. While I personally attended less than a half dozen frat parties in my years (just never a fan of frat boy antics), it was my impression and belief that sexual assaults were likely occurring on a weekly basis.

“And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.”

I grew up in Virginia, and at the age of 14 determined that I wanted to attend UVA Law. By the age of 16, I determined that I also wanted to attend UVA undergrad. Although my grades and other qualifications were stellar, I applied to one college undergrad, and again applied to one law school. My seven academic years in Charlottesville and my degrees from UVA are among the best moments and accomplishments of my life. I have always been a champion of UVA, Charlottesville in general (as a student community), and I have encouraged countless numbers of promising students to follow in my steps.

I have two grown daughters that have since graduated from other colleges. I was disappointed that they chose to attend another institution. Until today. Now I’m just grateful that they escaped college life without incident. Ironically, I believe it may be due to the hammering I repeatedly gave them about the risks of college life for a female student. At least UVA prepared me to prepare them.

It is convenient, and indeed legitimate, to point out that students must report sexual assaults before the University can act upon them. And then there’s that line again…

“And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.”

This is staggering. Assuming this statistic is true, then it leads to one inescapable conclusion. This cannot solely be the result of the underreporting of sexual assaults. This can only be the result of a system designed to discourage reporting, to gloss over reported incidents, and to emasculate any system having the purported authority to punish student violations.

I have always been proud of my double alma mater — the institution that TJ built, and that I long believed was “different” from other institutions because of our honor code and morally focused societies. I was proud to be an elected member of the Judiciary Committee charged with upholding our esteemed principles, and a selected member of the Raven Society. I was repeatedly encouraged, by assistant deans and others, to apply for housing on the Lawn (but passed on the opportunity).

I am saddened…very, very saddened, to learn of the extent of UVA’s complicity in the epidemic of sexual assault that has long existed. I am embarrassed as hell to see it splashed on the pages of a national magazine with the readership of RS.

But I am grateful…very, very grateful, for the RS article if it hereafter results in the diligent and genuine investigation, prosecution, and criminal conviction warranted for each and every sexual assailant at UVA.

I will be watching. You can bet your life that many, many other UVA alum, who believed and trusted that our college was “different,” will be diligently watching too.

So, my alma mater has a choice. Cooperate fully with DOJ’s investigation, come clean, and drastically change the administrative attitude at UVA about these horrific crimes. Or continue to try to gloss and placate with “programs,” and “themes,” “community events,” and “conferences” that do nothing to ensure prosecution of these criminals to the fullest extent of the law.

It seems like an easy choice to me. I know which one TJ would have taken. And sadly, I really have my doubts.

I would have openly copied Teresa Sullivan on this email, except I could not locate a published email address. I request and encourage you to pass this along to her personally. I was thrilled when she was reinstated as President. I believed then that she was a bright, dedicated and enthusiastic leader for our institution. I sure hope she lives up to those characteristics now.

Best regards,

Dean T. Janis

Janis Law Group, APC


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