Several University deans are seeking student advice on how to address sexual assault at the University and how to turn this feedback into a course of action.
The calls for input come after a series of protests and demands for action after an article released two weeks ago in Rolling Stone detailed several cases of sexual assaults of University students and painted administrators and policies as insufficient in addressing and adjudicating these cases.
Commerce Dean Carl Zeithaml sent an email to students last Sunday requesting input.
Zeithaml said he has received about a dozen responses from students and several hundred from alumni so far. The responses have been passionate and helpful, he said.
“The response has been more significant in their thoughtfulness and passion rather than simply numbers,” Zeithaml said. “Several of the responses contain interesting and insightful input as we define the scope of the problem and consider both the strategic and tactical actions that need to be taken.”
Zeithaml said he will present the information he gathers to the University in the hopes of creating new ways to address the issue of sexual assault.
“Together with the responses that I receive from faculty and alumni, I plan to organize the broad range of input into a summary document that I will then submit to the University administrators who are directly responsible for dealing with the situation,” Zeithaml said.
College Dean Ian Baucom also sent out an email to students last Saturday. He announced the setup of a new website for members of the college community to send feedback.
“Please write me, advising me on what is best in our tradition and our current life that we must reconfirm as we turn ourselves to the challenge and the difficulty of this moment — and advising me, also and crucially, on what is most broken that we must identify and refuse,” Baucom said in the email.
Baucom could not be reached for comment during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Zeithaml said responses will help concretely define the nature of the problem and will enable administrators to move forward with addressing it.
“We need to define the scope of the problem, both in terms of the extent/nature of sexual assault at U.Va. and the positives and negatives in the way in which both students and the University deal with the problem,” Zeithaml said. “We need students to come forward to identify and discuss honestly where the problems are greatest and their perceptions of the factors that are driving them.”
Zeithaml said more information is likely to show how complex the issue of sexual assault is, and how it needs to be addressed on several levels.
In addition to offering feedback, he encouraged students to start discussions themselves about these issues.
“I encourage students to organize and talk among themselves in the groups and organizations to which they belong to develop ideas and actions that can work within their own contexts and may work in other situations,” Zeithaml said. “These discussions could be focused around residence halls, athletic teams, clubs, fraternities, sororities, academic majors, et cetera.”
Zeithaml encouraged students who have been victims of sexual assault to come forward and report their perpetrators.
“As a society and a community, we cannot tolerate the individuals who perpetrate these crimes in our midst, and we need to identify and prosecute anyone who has been involved in them,” Zeithaml said. “It may be very difficult for survivors or people with knowledge of these acts to come forward, but their courage in doing so will be a powerful way to change the situation and ensure that another student is not violated by the these criminals.”
Zeithaml said addressing this issue will require a community effort.
“If [students] are involved in the process from the beginning, then they will both understand and be more committed to the plan that emerges,” Zeithaml said. “Everyone needs to take some ownership of this problem, and we need to work together to ensure that it is immediately eliminated from the University.”