The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

MENNINGER: Man in the mirror

University students must first change their own actions before strengthening the overall community

There’s no denying that our school faces an unprecedented situation: the accumulation of countless unthinkable, abhorrent circumstances that threaten to literally and figuratively tear down the walls of our homes and the security of our community. No matter who you are, major or year, student or professor, you can’t help but feel lost — lost in an unwanted, relentless maelstrom of emotions: anger and anguish, disgust and despair. We are forced to question ourselves, our university and the community of Charlottesville. Why? How could such traumatic events riddle our University, the second best public school in the nation?

We’ve all contemplated the recent events, discussed them with our friends, our family and our teachers. We’ve thought about what has possibly provoked such intolerable behavior. But more often than not, our conversations and thoughts end in blame. We assign and create causal relationships, in part because of human nature. In the case of late, some blame the administration for a failure to communicate. Others blame Greek life for enticing such behavior. Some blame the Rolling Stone article, and others blame those who ignore it. But almost all of us blame someone.

Of course, we can always find fault with others, with how they handled or mishandled a particular issue. We can always judge, but in such judgment, in thrusting the responsibility onto others, we only perpetuate the negative attitudes that we seek to abolish. Realistically, the only thing we can immediately change is ourselves and our actions. As a community, we have not only helped to create a permissive culture here at the University but also failed to destroy one. Whether you’re a first-year or a fourth-year, when you enrolled at the University you signed an unwritten pledge to the community of Charlottesville, to promote and maintain the safety of those around you. Blaming others only detracts from our communal goal.

Recently some students went so far in their blame that they penned a letter (published in The Cavalier Daily) that demands certain administrative actions. In the letter, which bears the signature, “The students who vandalized the Phi Psi house,” assailants threatened to cause further harm if their demands are not met. At the core, I understand these students’ frustrations. I understand their desire to stop simply thinking and to act. However such extremist actions only expand the toxic veil that continues to overshadow Grounds.

Vandalism, rioting, and other recent demonstrations unnecessarily threaten the safety, both mentally and physically, of innocent people. As in the case of Phi Psi, many current fraternity members, some of whom could still be living in the Rugby Road house, were neither enrolled in the University nor official members of the fraternity at the time of the crime. These completely innocent members now lie at the mercy of rioters, and we are mistreating them. They suffer from inescapable disdain, scorn and hatred. They fear rocks crashing through their windows and the constant demoralizing banter heard around Grounds. Like ourselves, these innocent Phi Psi members are students. They are human beings. Moreover, they too are lost.

What we must remember throughout the coming months and years is our integrity. Integrity, at the core of the honor code, binds us together. It forms a creed according to which we must live our college lives: a dedication to ourselves and our community. We are all lost: faculty, administration, students and friends. We are all people, struggling to figure out just how to trudge through this muddy sludge and emerge as a stronger, better connected community.

So what must we do then? We must start small. We must start with ourselves and reanalyze our own actions, seeking to promote a more positive community. It is not just with the goal of eliminating the so called “rape culture” here at the University, but rather promoting a new culture — a culture where the honor code isn’t merely a memorized phrase signed when submitting a test or the fear of being expelled after cheating, but rather an IOU left at Little Johns and a promise to pay double next time. A culture where first-years don’t just binge drink in their dorm room to escape their RAs, but rather learn how to drink safely and responsibly. And most importantly, a culture where we don’t just strive to not do something, but rather where we force ourselves to do something. Its starts with you and yourself and from there it expands. Avoid violence and adhere to a amiable, promotable message, just as Martin Luther King Jr. did. For while a negative attitude is contagious, a positive attitude yields twice as much punch.

Nate Menninger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at