The harrowing account of a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house described in a new Rolling Stone article roiled the campus Friday, with students, faculty members and parents questioning the administration’s response to the allegations.
The article, in the pop culture magazine’s December issue and posted online this week, describes a brutal sex assault that allegedly occurred in the Phi Kappa Psi house in 2012. The victim, who is given an alias in the article, said a member of the fraternity led her upstairs during a party and took her to a dark room, where numerous men pinned her to the floor and attacked her.
The victim later describes a underwhelming response from university officials, whom she contacted about the attack, according to Rolling Stone. She did not file a police report.
After the story appeared online, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) called for the university to begin a thorough investigation into the matter, and Charlottesville police said they are investigating the allegations at the request of the university’s president, Teresa Sullivan.
U-Va. Vice President Patricia Lampkin said the article has “deeply affected” the university community.
“I know that many of you are feeling shocked, dismayed, saddened and, perhaps, betrayed. Our community is hurting,” Lampkin said in a statement. “Many of us are confused by the contradictions between the U-Va. portrayed in the article and the U-Va. that we know. Many of you are questioning your trust in our University. President Sullivan and I want to be absolutely clear: we do not tolerate sexual violence in any form.”
The sexual-assault claim — one among many that have surfaced in recent months across the country amid a national effort to expose how sex crimes are handled on college campuses — reignited activism in Charlottesville and put yet another horrific image of sexual assault’s effects into the public realm. It also again focused negative attention on Virginia’s public flagship, an elite school that in recent weeks has had to deal with the alleged abduction and murder of sophomore Hannah Graham.
It also put a spotlight on the university’s Greek life.
Phi Kappa Psi’s U-Va. chapter said in a statement that the house voluntarily suspended all activities after the allegations, and the fraternity’s national executive director said that the organization will cooperate with the university and law enforcement to investigate the incident.
“Make no mistake, the acts depicted in the article are beyond unacceptable — they are vile and intolerable in our brotherhood, our university community and our society,” it said in a statement. “We remain ready and willing to assist with the fair and swift pursuit of justice, wherever that may lead, and steadfast in our resolve to ensure that nothing like this can happen, ever, on our Grounds.”
In a separate statement, Board of Visitors Rector George Keith Martin said the administration will seek an independent counsel to oversee a review of the university’s policies and procedures involving sexual assault. Martin proposed that Mark Filip, a former federal judge and deputy attorney general of the United States, lead the review.
But Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), after initially agreeing with Martin’s proposal, announced Friday that he would seek another candidate after it was reported that Filip had previously been affiliated with Phi Kappa Psi. “This situation is too serious to undermine confidence in the objectivity and independence of this review,” Herring said.
On Friday, faculty members, students and parents described concern about the claims and the university’s handling of the case.
Mrinalini Chakravorty, an English professor, said she was devastated by the victim’s account.
“There’s a gap between what the administration knew and was doing and what the faculty were aware of,” Chakravorty said. “The response from the administration was tepid and lukewarm at best.”
She said faculty members plan to hold a protest Saturday night at the Beta Bridge, a popular area on campus near a row of fraternity and sorority houses.
“We want to make visible our outrage at the way sexual misconduct is adjudicated on campus,” Chakravorty said.
Charles Mathewes, a professor of religious studies, said the allegations sparked a strong reaction among faculty members. “We have some soul-searching to do about how we treat victims and rapists and how we apparently bury this stuff under the sand,” he said.
Alex Pinkleton, a junior who said she is a close friend of the victim, first heard her account of the sexual assault last year. Since then, she has helped her cope. “I personally felt relief, because I have carried this story with me,” Pinkleton said. “I was surprised, because I had never heard of anything like that happening on Grounds before. I was definitely shocked.”
Pinkleton, who said she survived a rape and an attempted rape her first two years on campus, believes her friend’s account to be “100 percent true.”
But she also said the article mischaracterized the atmosphere on campus for survivors. “I hope it’s made clear that survivors know this is a safe environment for them to disclose” sexual assaults, she said. “There are people others can talk to.”
Also, Pinkleton said, the article did not accurately portray how students feel about Nicole Eramo, associate dean of students.
The victim “has told me to say on her behalf she has no complaints about how Dean Eramo has treated her throughout her disclosure and that she is very supportive of how Dean Eramo has handled it,” Pinkleton said.
Will Cadigan, co-chair of the sexual violence prevention coalition, said the allegations generated a passionate response.
“This happened, and these sorts of things have occurred and will continue to occur unless we stand up and say it’s not going to happen anymore,” Cadigan said. “This might be the spark we need to change.”