I spent a lot of time while I was a student at the University complaining about the school’s rigid attachment to its traditions. In my four years there, I failed to understand why these traditions — the adherence to the idea of “honor” and all that it entailed, the use of terms like “first year” and “Grounds,” the prestige of living on the Lawn — were so important to keep around. None of these, for me at least, defined my University experience. When I read the Rolling Stone article detailing how negligent so many members of the University community had been in responding to the sexual assault of Jackie and so many other women, I was horrified by just how damaging this adherence to tradition could be.
There are some traditions we just should not keep. Honor is a tired and implicitly misogynist, racist idea. It hearkens back and even indirectly embraces the attitudes that were popular at a time when the only students admitted to the University were white males and when everyone else was a second-class citizen. Our heritage is not something to be wholly embraced or celebrated. By trying to maintain the luster of the University’s history, by being afraid of damaging its reputation, by continuing to consider Rugby Road a shining and untouchable symbol of our traditions and our culture, the University’s administrators are putting students’ lives and well-being at risk.
The University as an institution has always shown a disturbing willingness to turn a blind eye to the uglier side of things. Jackie deserved to spend four years at the University taking advantage of its amazing academic reputation, exploring the art and culture in Charlottesville, meeting wonderful people who will remain lifelong friends. Instead she was betrayed by the individuals who are supposed to be in charge of protecting her.
If I were given the opportunity to go to school all over again, I honestly don’t know if I would still choose the University based on the four years I spent there, as well as the administration’s continued display of ignorance and its lack of concern with doing the right thing. After all, it took a feature story in a highly circulated magazine to scare up an investigation into multiple rape allegations. But I’m not a legacy and I’m not from a wealthy family, and I’m also a woman, so maybe the University’s administration isn’t all that concerned with having students like me around. If they are, it’s time to make some changes.