A Northern Virginia mother confessed Tuesday morning that she and her college-bound daughter are shocked and torn over the tumult this fall at the University of Virginia.
Her daughter, a graduating senior at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, plans to apply to U-Va. “She really wants to go there,” the mother said.
But two events are raising questions about the public flagship university for this prospective student and others: the homicide of U-Va. sophomore Hannah Graham, who vanished one night in September not far from the campus, and the Nov. 19 report from Rolling Stone magazine on an alleged gang rape of a U-Va. student at a fraternity house.
“She’s a little bit scared to go to Charlottesville,” the mother said. “It’s not only her. A lot of her friends feel the same way.”
The mother spoke with The Washington Post on condition of anonymity to avoid causing any problems with her daughter’s college applications. Her comments illuminate concerns about U-Va. safety among students and parents reported in Tuesday’s edition of The Post.
She said the questions about allegations of sexual assault are not just being raised by young women. “Boys are saying it too,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘This is really odd. This is really wrong.’”
Her daughter’s high school, known as TJ, is a selective public school that routinely sends graduates to top colleges. Its pipeline to U-Va. is so strong that more than a third of TJ’s last graduating class was offered admission, and some years it exceeds 40 percent. Every year, as a rule, a large majority of TJ seniors apply to U-Va.
U-Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan pledged in a speech Monday to confront and address questions about whether any cultures or subcultures at the school are facilitating sexual violence. “We have a problem, and we are going to get after it,” Sullivan said.
The Northern Virginia mother offered her own solutions: Rein in the excesses of fraternities and enforce the law against underage drinking of alcohol.
“I went to a big university myself, and I know what it feels like to go to these fraternity parties,” the mother said. She said that in addition to zero tolerance of sexual assault — a stance endorsed last week by the university’s governing board — U-Va. should have zero tolerance of students under age 21 drinking alcohol.
“They need to enforce the alcohol laws,” she said. “That’s the first thing. The drinking age is 21. Kids should not be drinking. The college administration has to enforce this.”
While they’re at it, the mother said, the university should insist on expelling any student who commits a sexual assault.
“You rape somebody, you’re out,” the mother said. She said she wants to know what happened to the group of men who allegedly raped the student Rolling Stone identified as Jackie.
The mother said the university should act with urgency. “They have to do something drastic, and fast,” she said. “This should not be a five-year plan.”
In general, the mother said, the environment for many young women heading off to college is scarier than it once was. “It’s frightening to go to a party,” she said. “Do you carry a drink in your purse? Do you not trust anybody?”
But the mother said of U-Va.: “My daughter, deep down still wants to go there. Academically, it’s a fabulous school.”