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University alumni respond to Rolling Stone article

Association establishes comment portal as calls come for University reforms

<p>University alumni from across the country have reacted to the article published in Rolling Stone Wednesday, which detailed an alleged case of gang rape at a University fraternity party. Several alumni have started and signed petitions calling for reform of the University's handling of sexual violence cases.</p>

University alumni from across the country have reacted to the article published in Rolling Stone Wednesday, which detailed an alleged case of gang rape at a University fraternity party. Several alumni have started and signed petitions calling for reform of the University's handling of sexual violence cases.

The recently released Rolling Stone article portraying a graphic gang rape of a then-first-year student by seven men at a fraternity party has produced a wave of reactions among the University's alumni. Many have been motivated to take action and demand the University administration — portrayed in the article as failing to address survivors' needs or pursue justice against perpetrators of sexual violence — immediately do the same.

Robert Viccellio, the Alumni Association vice president of communications, said many alumni are taken aback by the article.

“Alumni are expressing anger, as well as deep concern for the survivors of sexual assaults and for the overall safety of students on Grounds,” he said.

In response to the article, the Alumni Association established an online portal Friday for alumni to express their concerns and give their feedback on the University's handling of sexual assault cases. In an email, Alumni Association President Tom Faulders also encouraged alumni to post in the Alumni Forum to start a dialogue about how to address the issue.

"We will take your comments and ensure that they are delivered to the right people here at the University," Faulders said in the email. "We realize that this is a difficult and painful subject, but we also know that through your ideas and debate, a stronger University will emerge."

Dean T. Janis, alumnus of the Commerce and Law Schools, cited the disturbing fact that no student has ever been expelled from the University for sexual assault as one of his greatest points of discontent.

“This is staggering,” he said. “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.”

A 2013 alum of the Engineering School, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, “The first thing to come across my mind was disgust. … The graphic account of the incident left me feeling literally sick to my stomach.”

According to this alumnus, “The consensus among friends is that this is not the Virginia we do recently remember.”

Through petitions to the University and contact with the Alumni Association, many have proposed specific courses of action to be taken in response to the article.

Viccellio said demands have included, “a complete investigation of the events described in the Rolling Stone article” and “real and immediate change in the way that the University prevents and responds to rape and sexual misconduct.”

Above all, alumni have requested a “thorough review of the fraternity system” and to be kept involved in the discussion of the issue and its potential solutions, Viccellio said.

Two alumni — Carey Albertine and Saira Rao — have called for the abolition of the Greek system at the University entirely through a petition which has garnered nearly 400 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

“As alumni of U.Va. — and of the Greek system — we can attest to the insidious culture bred therein,” they write. “We can attest to the racism, classism and sexism contingent to this system’s success.”

Lisa Richey, a 2003 University alumna and Charlottesville resident, launched the “UVrApe Alumni Victims Defense Fund” in response to the article, which has already raised more than $15,000.

“[We want] to raise as much money as possible from as many donors as possible in order to fund an outside counsel who will be available to victims of sexual assault,” she said.

This will provide confidentiality and qualified counsel to victims of sexual assault, giving them the confidence to take the “enormous leap of making this terribly private thing into a [court] case,” Richey said.

Among donors to her foundation, she said “the most common reactions are outrage at the details of the crimes, overwhelming disappointment at the actions (or inactions) of the administrators and embarrassment at being depicted as a student body that would rather keep the party going strong than stand up for victims.”

One of those donors was Board of Visitors member Helen Dragas, who graduated from both the College and the Darden School in the 1980s.

“Obviously we have a serious crisis here, and we have to face that squarely,” she said in an email. “Established University representatives and defined, incremental protocols clearly aren’t doing enough to change the status quo. Survivors need and deserve objective, forceful advocates to speak for them.”

She said that the University needs to increase transparency and open up channels of communication to best address sexual assault.

“I’ve learned over the last several years that we shouldn’t try to figure out the big problems behind closed doors, only listening to self-congratulatory presentations in public,” she said. “We need more people in on the problem solving. I want to encourage students, alumni and citizens to send us ideas for concrete steps the university can take to address this problem.”

The story told in the article has caused many alumni to question the University culture more broadly.

“As a fraternity man at U.Va., it was shocking and horrific that people in any sort of organization at U.Va. could … condone or not actively fight against gang rape,” the Engineering alumnus said.

He said though many readers are skeptical due to the article’s level of sensationalism, the University administration and Greek life have been publicly implicated in such a negative manner that the article can be nothing but bad for both parties.

Ultimately, Richey said, alumni are calling for clear and decisive action.

“It’s not a new problem, and it’s not a U.Va. problem — it’s a college problem," she said. "However, U.Va. has never considered herself average, and I cannot see anyone accepting the idea that this is a problem on most college campuses as an excuse to do nothing. Until victims are getting all the support and representation they need, until administrators are honest about what they are able to do and where they know they will fall short — for example, admitting to victims how unlikely it is that prosecution will lead to expulsion — I don’t think anyone can say we as a University are doing enough.”

Richey said the University needs to give survivors access to qualified professional counseling, if they desire it, and allow state authorities to play a more significant role in sexual assault investigation.

“We cannot stop all rape, but we absolutely can support all rape victims,” she said.

On the other end, many alumni want to see harsher punishments for offenders.

“People cannot let rape or assault go unpunished,” the Engineering alumnus said. “Immediate expulsion should exist as an appropriate punishment.”

Maddy Weingast contributed to reporting on this story