Yesterday I read an article that was posted on my newsfeed in Facebook and it made me very, very angry.
It was THIS story in Rolling Stone Magazine. It didn’t make me angry because it shocked me; it made me angry because I was completely unsurprised.
You see, it’s about rape at UVa. The sad fact is that young women are sexually assaulted at universities all over the country (and indeed, the world), and though UVa is just one among many, the administration has quite a long history of dismissing those claims and sweeping that information under the rug. As an undergrad I was lucky; I was already married and a mother and so I never lived on grounds, and I never attended the large, sweaty frat parties that seem to pop up every weekend with a fierce regularity. I did see them, though. Being a transit driver for the university meant I worked a lot of late night runs, and many of those nights were spent gingerly navigating along Rugby Rd (fraternity row, in essence) where throngs of scantily dressed young girls stumbled around in the dark with frat boys, drunkenly hopping from party to party. I heard the widely – believed story that Charlottesville police had no jurisdiction in those areas. I heard that rape was not treated as a crime by the University.
After I graduated and became an employee working in the fundraising arm of the College I found more evidence of the pervasive sense of white male entitlement I had gotten a taste of as a student. Board members were overwhelmingly wealthy, male and white, and completely uninterested in anyone who did not fit into that narrow category (unless of course they were trying to fill some sort of quota of diversity to keep up appearances). I even met older alumni who were upset that so many “veiled women” were enrolled. It gave me quite a distaste for my alma mater and fellow alumni. This wa s not a group I wished to belong to. I still, in fact, have a hard time reconciling my time at Jefferson’s University. There were many wonderful friends I made and still keep up with, and I took classes with some incredible faculty. But there was and still is, for me, this shadow of “prestige” hanging over everything. An unspoken but well-known and accepted idea that this prestige is all-important. That UVa is better than the rest of you.
And so when I read a story in the local paper describing how the University had essentially turned its back on a rape victim, I felt as though it was more of the same. There later there was THIS story as well. At this point most people think, Okay, the University is listening. The problems have been pointed out, surely they will change this.
And it seemed to those of us now on the outside that perhaps it was moving to a more progressive stance. Certainly there was much more dialogue being opened up.
Or was there? I know an instructor who was chided by the (at the time) President for discussing feminism in her writing class…because the son of very wealthy alum was in that class and found it offensive. (And I hope she’ll forgive me for relating that without asking).
Sadly, now that the Rolling Stone article has hit, it is even more clear that exactly nothing has changed. Sure there’s someone in charge of talking to victims who has been tasked with guiding them. It seems that she is failing them, though. By not taking them to the authorities, she is tacitly agreeing that perpetrators may go unpunished, free to assault the next girl. Many victims understand that going forward with charges means they will in effect be put on trial. They will be questioned in painful detail, forced to relive that painful moment over and over. Without a strong advocate most will shrink from that.
This is where my friend Lisa stepped up. You see, while I was sitting in front of my computer with a fire raging in me over how this, over how helpless I felt, she was on the other side of town feeling that same fire – and using it to make something happen.
Lisa (also a UVA alum) created a fundraising campaign to establish a Legal Defense Fund for victims of sexual assault at UVa. This would be separate from the University and provide free resources – a victim’s advocate, really – to get help. It’s been less than 24 hours and she has raised nearly $10,000 toward the goal of $50,000.
The page can be found HERE.
If you are a fellow alum, a member of the UVa community or of the Charlottesville area, or you simply want to help, I urge you to visit and donate. Every small amount helps. We can’t end rape, but we can make sure UVa victims have a place to go and get the appropriate help.
wow. just wow…. thank you for sharing – i knew sexual assaults were bad but i had no idea.
I can identify with what you are feeling. I worked at a small college in California for many, many years and saw repeated incidences of administrators convincing victims not to report assaults to the police, saying that campus security could do the job. But of course, they cannot prosecute in court. The worst they could do was expel a student, which didn’t happen very often. They swept it under the rug for the sake of the college’s reputation and it infuriated me. When our student assistants in the office talked about it I would tell them that they should always report things to the police, but I watched this culture for almost 30 years and I can tell you that nothing has changed there either. Such a sad situation.