Students and Charlottesville community members held a protest in front of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house Saturday afternoon. The protest, which challenged a perceived culture of sexual assault at the University and questioned current preventative policies, ended in four arrests.
The protest was part of a series of responses by the University community to a recently published Rolling Stone article alleging a brutal gang rape at a party in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in Sept. 2012.
Fourth-year College student Sarah Hart said protests like this could help to restore community pride in the University.
“I don’t think this is a surprise — most of us have known about this issue, and this is a chance to take action about something we all feel passionate about and can control,” Hart said. “I don’t think we feel proud of our school right now, and protests like this show we are not passive bystanders. They show the administration how much we care.”
Toward the end of the protest, several in attendance sat on the steps of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. When police asked them to leave, four refused and were arrested for trespassing on private property, according to Charlottesville Police spokesperson Steve Upman.
“The police response was astounding,” fourth-year College student Greg Lewis said. “The arrests seemed unnecessary due to the peaceful nature of the protest.”
Fourth-year College student Billy Baker said the University community needs to step up and support those who are taking action.
“The [Rolling Stone] article made me feel like the issue has been covered up for so long,” Baker said. “I really hope the University takes this article and the protest movement as a sign that they need to be more transparent about the way they deal with sexual assault.”
Protesters gathered into groups for survivors to share their experiences and for others to express their concerns.
“No matter how much a person has been drinking, if he or she cannot say ‘no,’ it does not mean ‘yes,’” one survivor said.
Another survivor added that there will always be predators, no matter how many people are educated, and that the community needs to support survivors.
Passionate community members suggested immediate action, such as putting sober supervisors from the community in each of the fraternity houses and having the fraternities publicly sign a pledge endorsing the prevention of sexual assault.
Third-year College student Will Rogers said he heard some very valuable suggestions for action that community members could take.
“This is an issue that seems like it needs very systematic, extreme action to at least put a very large dent in the problem,” Rogers said. “Protests like this one are good because they get people talking.”
Community member Jeanne Catherine Gray said, as a Charlottesville business owner, she has concerns about the safety of people living here and advocated for peaceful protests.
“The only way thing[s] change is if you talk about what’s happening,” Gray said. “If you pretend that everything is fine and smile and walk about, then the things that are actually going on underneath the surface never really get dealt with. I am not an advocate of anger or violent protests of any form. I think the most important things is to organize groups and to work together towards the goals that we want to see happen.”
Charlottesville resident Deborah Norton said she came to the protest because nothing would change if people do not stand up for what is right.
“My husband works at U.Va., and I was just horrified by the article,” Norton said. “I know that that stuff happens, but having it be so real and so graphic — I feel really strongly that fraternities need to stop and be held accountable.”
Sexual assault is an issue that affects everyone, Gray said.
“No matter what kind of violence they face, no parent wants to see their child suffer,” she said. “It concerns mothers and students and faculty and staff, and it is something that needs to be dealt with immediately and [for] long-term.”