College faculty discuss action to take against sexual violence

Proposals include extending Greek suspension, creating residential colleges

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Two weeks after Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus,” faculty members of the College of Arts & Sciences met to discuss the article and propose possible actions to combat sexual violence at the University.

Members of the Steering Committee, which develops curriculum and plans for the future of the University, attended the meeting to take notes and bring forth motions at their next meeting before Winter Break.

University President Teresa Sullivan opened with a discussion of student safety and proposed changes to University policies. She spoke broadly of the need for a long-term cultural change that currently views sexual assault casually, and suggested having more classes on Fridays, acknowledging that there is a different lifestyle from Thursday to Saturday night.

Sullivan pointed out there are many colloquia and seminars held by departments on Fridays, but she said younger students who have not yet declared a major often do not know about these events. She also said she is currently in discussion with fraternal organizations about the nature of their relationship with the University.

Sullivan also commended the faculty for supporting their students during this stressful semester. The relationships between faculty members and students are “the most important testimony of what is right at the University of Virginia,” Sullivan said, calling professors “a very important bridge to our students.”

After Sullivan’s speech, a town-hall meeting began. Professors took to the floor to ask questions and make suggestions to University policy.

Multiple professors contributed to a motion which proposed extending the suspension of Greek life until August 2015, excluding National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations, as well as service fraternities and sororities.

Music Prof. Karl Miller said the suspension will give the University more time to decide what actions to take regarding fraternal organizations.

“I think this body is asking for an extension of this to give us time, some real time,” Miller said.

The legal difficulties of monitoring fraternal organizations were also acknowledged during the meeting. Because fraternity houses are considered private homes, police cannot enter them without probable cause or a search warrant. In addition, six fraternities are under the University Police’s jurisdiction, while the other fraternities are under the Charlottesville Police’s jurisdiction. However, the University is currently developing a joint patrol section.

A letter from the Council of Chairs and Directors had many suggestions for reducing sexual violence. One suggestion, which was supported by many other professors, is designing a residential college program at the University. Residential colleges would allow for a mentoring between students and professors, and would create alternative, safe spaces for student residence and socialization. While developing residential colleges would be expensive, many professors said it would create a safer environment and culture for University students.

“Some of us have pushed for years for more residential colleges here,” English Prof. Jahan Ramazani said. “There’s often been resistance because it’s extremely expensive, but how expensive is this for the University? I think if we can come up with very visible, dramatic changes to the experience at this University for undergraduates, it would be all to the good for the students and for the University.”

Many faculty members questioned the relationship between the concept of honor and sexual assault. Though some suggested expanding the honor code to include sexual assault, others argued that it couldn’t be done. Federal law prohibits student adjudication of sexual violence cases, and sexual assault cases and honor offenses are decided on different standards: sexual assault cases adjudicate on a preponderance of evidence standard, while honor cases use the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.

Professors were encouraged to adapt their curricula in regards to both sexual violence and honor in hopes that increased dialogue about gender-based sexual violence will lead to a cultural change at the University.

“Draw upon what you know in your discipline that can help us,” Sullivan said to the professors. “Many of you, based on your research, or based on what you routinely teach, know things that will be valuable to the rest of us in thinking about how we change an organizational culture.”

In addition, the University Women’s Center is currently developing sexual assault training that will be rolled out in the spring. This training will be mandatory and renewed annually through Netbadge, keeping those who haven’t completed the training from accessing the University network. These programs will supplement the training currently held during orientation for first-year students.

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