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BOV holds special meeting to address sexual assault

Student leaders direct conversation; urge continued action, policy changes

<p>Audience members hold signs in protest during the Board meeting.</p>

Audience members hold signs in protest during the Board meeting.

The Board of Visitors met Tuesday in a special session to address ramifications of the Rolling Stone article and resulting protests against sexual assault on Grounds. Student leaders played a key role in the meeting, offering promises for change and suggestions for University policies.

After two hours of public discussion, board member Helen Dragas proposed a zero-tolerance motion on sexual assault, which was unanimously passed. A committee of students, Board members, administrators and legal counsel will meet in the coming weeks to draft policy recommendations to be put in place for next semester.

The magazine article’s account of a gang rape of a girl — identified as Jackie — at the University chapter of Phi Kappa Psi aroused a national response against sexual assault, underage drinking and Greek life. In response to mounting protests on Grounds, University President Teresa Sullivan Saturday announced the suspension of all fraternal organizations at the University until January 9.

Rector George Martin opened the meeting by highlighting the issue of underage drinking. He said the correlation between sexual assault and alcohol consumption must be addressed in possible solutions going forward.

“This is clearly a tragedy," he said. "But we want to turn this tragedy into an opportunity."

Sullivan spoke next, opening her statement on an emotional note.

“My initial reaction [to the article] was numbness,” Sullivan said. “Jackie's experience should not have happened, and nothing like it should ever happen again."

She called for a fundamental shift in attitudes and actions toward sexual assault, encouraging students to report offenses first and foremost. She announced plans to improve lighting and security measures around student residences, as well as plans to work with the Charlottesville Police Department to create a police sub-station on the Corner by the start of the spring semester. Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo said he welcomed the opportunity to work closely with the University to prevent sexual assault.

“We're not as good as we should be," Sullivan said. "Our job now is to channel the energy and the passion into action. Changing a culture takes a whole community working together, but in particular we need leadership, from our students, our faculty, our staff and our alumni. Our University community strongly rejects a culture of sexual violence. Together, we need to work together to isolate and exclude any subculture of deviance."

Student Council President Jalen Ross, a fourth-year Engineering student, spoke after Sullivan. Though the student body is “overwhelmed,” he said, recent tragedies have provided the University with a call to action. Despite recent criticisms of the Greek system, Ross said fraternities have the opportunity to become a positive influence on Grounds.

“Their structure and their system … may be the most direct way we can create safety,” Ross said.

Ashley Brown, a fourth-year College student in survivor advocacy group One Less, urged continued action on the issue of sexual assault, even after fresh media attention dies down over the holiday break.

“I’ve been asked over and over again, ‘What to do you expect from the administration?’” she said. “My answer has always been ‘The strongest support system for survivors.’”

Brown said she and other survivor advocates are happy to work with the Board and other student groups as avenues for change are debated and discussed.

“Though we are a small sliver of the University, we are angry," she said. "We are fired up, we are passionate, and we are dedicated to this issue.”

Inter-Fraternity Council President Tommy Reid, a fourth-year College student, said the Rolling Stone article provided the University a wake-up call.

“Addressing this issue requires consistent, individual and collective commitments to cultural change across our University and our fraternities,” he said. “That’s our biggest problem. No one wants to give attention to this issue because it’s too painful.”

Reid emphasized the IFC’s commitment to aggressively preventing rape and sexual assault, through measures that should include, among other things, stricter punishments for sexual offenders.

“Rape must stop at U.Va.,” he said.

Hawa Ahmed, a fourth-year College student and co-chair of substance abuse prevention organization ADAPT, spoke to the dangers of alcohol consumption. She expressed a desire to eliminate hard liquor at fraternity parties.

“Almost all sexual assaults” are associated with alcohol consumption, she said. “Still, if you waved a magic wand and eliminated all drinking, you would still have sexual assault.”

Ahmed said fraternities have the option to be the safest places on Grounds, if proper measures are put into place.

Student member of the Board Meg Gould, a fourth-year College student, pointed out that all students at the meeting were fourth-years, who will be graduating soon and leaving their contributions behind.

“We need this [conversation] to extend beyond our time at the University,” she said.

Several Board members followed the student leaders, offering praise and criticism to their policy suggestions.

Board member Bobbie Kilberg advocated for police presence at fraternity parties to prevent and punish underage drinking.

“I’d rather do something that’s right and bring parents back into this equation,” she said.

L.D. Britt criticized the University for not responding to the incident at Phi Kappa Psi earlier.

“Did we not know about Jackie prior to Rolling Stone?,” he asked. “I don’t think anybody on Rolling Stone went to U.Va.”

Longo said the investigation would provide an answer to that question soon, and he asked the University not divulge that information to the public until the investigation is complete.

Board member Barbara Fried suggested creating an all-female committee to tackle the issue of sexual assault.

Board member Helen Dragas, who became emotional when giving introductory remarks, elicited the most positive response from the audience, eliciting a stream of thumbs-up symbols as she called for more women to speak at the table in the boardroom.

"Part of the reason we got here is because we swept things under the rug," she said. "Let's show the world we can put safety above our reputation.”

Martin said efforts towards a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault will be in place by the start of second semester.