Student leaders held a press conference Monday morning to address local and national media about advocacy efforts on Grounds regarding sexual assault prevention.
Student Council President Jalen Ross, Inter-Fraternity Council President Tommy Reid, One Less President Ashley Brown and One in Four President Brian Head each gave statements.
“We recognize that sexual violence is a problem in our fraternities and we recognize that we as students can be catalysts for the solution,” said Reid, a fourth-year College student. “Addressing this issue requires individual and collective commitment to institutional and cultural change across the country, in our University, in our fraternities — but most importantly in ourselves.”
Both Brown and Head — also fourth-year College students — spoke of the passionate community response as a potential catalyst for action and change.
“This is our opportunity as individuals, as students, and as a community at large to rise up and say ‘enough,’” Brown said. “Enough passivity, enough stigma, enough silence.”
Head said the conference was held to combat media buzz head-on.
“[We needed to] show the University community that there is a support network at U.Va. for this issue — something that the Rolling Stone article failed to do,” he said.
In his statement, Head said he hopes the impetus for reform will continue even when attention by the media begins to decrease.
“My biggest fear is that when the media leaves U.Va. and the intensity dies down, that the momentum will die with it,” he said.
Will Cadigan and Sara Surface, co-chairs of the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, also attended as student leaders, along with SVPC Major Events Chair Erica Robertson and Alex Pinkleton and Annie Forrest, who are both advocates and survivors.
Cadigan, a fourth-year College student, said the conference could serve as a focal point for student attention.
“I think students need to hear a voice saying we are all together, we are all united,” Cadigan said. “There have been a lot of rallies and a lot of protests, and I appreciate the emotion and the activist desire that goes into each one of them, but I think it's important because the response has been so fragmented. … Now is the time we need to start coming forward and moving forward as a solid group.”
Ross, a fourth-year Engineering student, said the press conference went well, though he was disappointed in the lack of interest in initiatives started since the article’s release.
“I wanted to talk about advocacy, the reason we were there, and there were no questions,” Ross said. “The thing that is sexy news is the scandal.”
Press questions centered on potential policy changes as well as cultural factors which may contribute to assaults, such as the one described in the Rolling Stone article.
“This is a pervasive national epidemic that we are hoping to continue to fight here at U.Va.,” Brown said in response to one such question.
The cultural change students, faculty and the media are calling for happens through continued education, Head said.
“[It is] not possible without policy change, but policy change is not possible without cultural change,” Head said. "[It is important] to have our voice heard on the institutional as well as the cultural side."
This group of student leaders had not worked together directly before the Rolling Stone article was released last week, but Ross said they will continue to work together to project a united student voice.
“Going forward, we’re going to have a concerted effort to make sure that we are engaging all of the stakeholders in this problem,” Ross said. “The important thing I think was to get all of the people who have already been engaged on this together … and going to the people who have the expertise.”
Ross said there has been a lot of passion on Grounds, but the energy has been fractured.
“The most lasting and impactful thing from [the press conference] is the image of all of us standing there united,” he said.
With that energy, though, comes mounting frustration at not having solutions to the complicated issues surrounding prevention and adjudication.
“People are coming to us [but] we don’t have the solution for sexual assault,” Head said. “We are here with methods — what this attention and what this article has done has opened everybody’s ears.”
One Less and One in Four have been presenting peer education programs on Grounds for several years, and frequently work together.
Ross said he has been in contact with administrative leadership, including Dean of Students Allen Groves and Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs. But he said there is room for improvement, and he expressed frustration University President Teresa Sullivan has not yet reached out to these student organizations.