Each of us belong to certain communities, bound together by shared experiences and values. Living in the bubble of the University, we are proud of the University. We honor our traditions and culture. We love Grounds, where we meet amazing peers and create unforgettable memories. We cherish the Good Ol’ Song, which we always sing loud and proud. Likewise, in the bubbles of Greek organizations, clubs and other communities, the pride of the community unites its members, fosters mutual support and cultivates lifelong friendship.
A recent sequence of events has brought confusion, frustration and anger to many students. The way in which the University and the Greek organizations are presented in the Rolling Stone article and other subsequent articles is appalling and totally contrary to their daily experience here. Some students claim that those articles have unfairly depicted the University. However, the problematic procedure for handling sexual assault cases was not first revealed by this one recent Rolling Stone article. The experience of a now third-year student, the mishandling of prior sexual assault cases, and federal investigation of the University have been covered before with equally disturbing content.
If we consider the stereotypes of rapists — men with hidden identities who wander on the street waiting for their prey, or men who intentionally drug victims in random bars and dispose of them in dark alleys — it’s very understandable that students simply do not believe such a negative image can be associated with people whom they think of as familiar, friendly and “nice.” This reaction not only blurs their judgment but also may further traumatize victims. Rapists do not possess a certain set of characteristics. A rapist is anyone who takes sex without consent, and all these offenders deserves due punishment by law. Even in an educational institution, people are responsible for their acts. Intentional intoxication is never a valid defense or mitigating factor for offenders, as every intentional act bears its consequence.
Some claimed that the Rolling Stone article distorted the beloved Greek system. Defenders of the Greek system argue fraternal organizations have acted as effective support networks and empowered many students, and that the whole system should not be blamed. However, just like the University, despite its merit and as a matter of fact, the dangerous party scene which leads to excessive drinking and higher likelihood of rape and other crime is organized and promoted by the fraternal system. The party culture, as an integral part of the Greek culture, is an honored tradition of the University. However tradition is a reflection and product of time that should be subject to appropriate change. The University did not admit an African-American student until 1950 and did not co-educate until 1970, and it is still changing from a Southern “white” college into a more diverse and accepting institution. The controversy over the “Rugby Road” song in 2010 exemplifies the clash between traditional and current values. Respect for tradition should not prevent reflection and re-evaluation of the past.
As members of the University community, we believe that the self-governance of the University and the joint effort of the students and faculty can accomplish many amazing goals. However, proper treatment of sexual assault reports is not one of them. Rape, a federal and state felony, should be handled under due process by specialized law enforcement, instead of self-regulation or mediation mandated by unqualified personnel. The comments of Dean Eramo in a video interview released by WUVA clearly indicates that a University-regulated investigation and adjudication system, parallel to the legal system, is not working. Due to the lower standard of proof in sexual assault case, there seems to be a need for lower sanction. However, if the standard is too low, then any verdict given by the University risks wrongly accusing individuals of stigmatic crime. If the current standard is reasonable, then the punishment should be proportionate to the crime, and the current punishment is too small to be acceptable. Either way, the University is risking either punishing victims or punishing innocent individuals.
While we all believe in our communities and trust our peers, we must recognize they are far from perfect. We are reluctant to recognize this because we have trusted this community and honored its practice, value and tradition for such a long time that they have become part of us. However, if the status quo is hurting our peers and obstructing justice, we must urge change. Our attachment to these traditions should not hinder us from confronting the real issues without biases.
Sasha Wan is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.