UVA Suspends Fraternities Over Disturbing Rape Allegations & Arrests Peaceful Protesters In The Process
The president of the University of Virginia abruptly suspended all campus fraternities on Saturday as the university launches a criminal investigation into harrowing sexual assault allegations stemming back to 2012 — or possibly even earlier. The move comes on the heels of a Rolling Stone feature, published on Wednesday, profiling a female student who was allegedly gang-raped by seven Phi Kappa Psi members during a frat party. According to Rolling Stone, none of the men faced disciplinary action, even though the student reported her rape to the head of UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board. Now, UVA finally wants answers — but the university will first have to answer to itself.
UVA President Teresa Sullivan announced the suspension of fraternal activities in a public letter to the community, published on the university's website and official Facebook page. Although the university's Inter-Fraternity Council said prior to her announcement that all fraternal organizations "voluntarily suspended" their social activities this weekend, Sullivan took it one step further — fraternities and all associated activities will shut down, immediately, until Jan. 9. During that time, the university will convene "students, faculty, alumni, and other concerned parties to discuss our next steps in preventing sexual assault and sexual violence," Sullivan said.
The university president called the allegations in the Rolling Stone piece "appalling," and said it compelled administrators at the university to "reexamine our responsibility to this community," which they have no doubt failed over the last few years:
Rape is an abhorrent crime that has no place in the world, let alone on the campuses and grounds of our nation’s colleges and universities. We know, and have felt very powerfully this week, that we are better than we have been described, and that we have a responsibility to live our tradition of honor every day, and as importantly every night.
This is not the first statement Sullivan made on sexual violence this week. The university president released a statement on Wednesday, shortly after the publication of the Rolling Stone article, which Sullivan said "negatively depicts the University of Virginia." She also claimed many of the details in the piece were never disclosed to university officials, and that the university was "very limited" in what it could say about the disturbing allegations.
However, Sullivan said she ordered the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the gang-rape claims against the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Sullivan also elaborated on the university's new sexual assault initiatives, which she said "aimed at fostering a culture of reporting and raising awareness" of sexual violence:
We want our students to feel comfortable coming forward with information when there are problems in the community and cooperating with local law enforcement and the student disciplinary process. We also want them to feel empowered to take action and to lead efforts to make our Grounds and our community a better place to live and learn.
On Saturday, Sullivan put out an official call for information from students about "what happened that night" at the Phi Kappa Psi house, when then-freshman Jackie was allegedly lured into a dark room, pinned down to the floor, and violently raped by seven different men for over three hours.
"Only you can shed light on the truth, and it is your responsibility to do so," Sullivan said in a calculated plea to students.
According to Rolling Stone, Phi Kappa Psi was initially placed under investigation this fall — when the university discovered that the national magazine was putting a story together. Sullivan wouldn't elaborate on the details when pressed by journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely at the time, and the president of UVA's Phi Kappa Psi chapter stated to Erdely in an email that the allegations were "fourth-hand" and ambiguous.
Erdely wrote in Rolling Stone:
UVA chapter president Stephen Scipione recalls being only told of a vague, anonymous 'fourth-hand' allegation of a sexual assault during a party. 'We were not told that it was rape, but rather that something of a sexual nature took place,' he wrote to RS in an e-mail. Either way, Collinsworth says, given the paucity of information, 'we have no evidence to substantiate the alleged assaults.'
Not long after Erdely's investigation was published, Phi Kappa Psi voluntarily suspended their activities. Student newspaper The Cavalier Daily reported on Thursday that the fraternity's house was vandalized by a group of anonymous students, who then sent a letter to local news organizations with a list of demands for the university."We applaud the bravery of those who have shared their stories, and we promise that their bravery will not be in vain," the anonymous letter read. "We will escalate and we will provoke until justice is achieved."
Following Saturday's pivotal announcement, about 200 people gathered outside UVA's Phi Kappa Psi house on Rugby Road in protest, chanting "not one more" and holding supportive signs, according to NBC 29 News. At least three people were arrested Saturday afternoon for demonstrating.
No arrests have been made for the alleged members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Image: University of Virginia, The Cavalier Daily/Facebook