A Weekend of Protest at UVA as Rolling Stone Rape Story Jolts Campus

National leaders respond to RS investigation as students and faculty protest for change

People gather with signs during a protest at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on November 22nd, 2014. Credit: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/AP

Debate about how to halt campus rape and the crisis at the University of Virginia dominated the national conversation this weekend, as political leaders — including Virginia's governor and two Senators — as well as students and faculty continued to react to Rolling Stone's shocking investigation, A Rape on Campus.

"Sexual violence is a nationwide problem, and it is critical that our schools acknowledge that this is a pervasive issue and take bold action to end it," Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. He was joined by state Senator Mark R. Warner, who wrote he was "deeply troubled" by the RS report: "It's time that Congress, universities, and law enforcement authorities work together to combat this epidemic."

In the wake of protests dotting her campus, Teresa A. Sullivan, the president of the University of Virginia, suspended all fraternities until January 9th, 2015. "This is an important first step, but our challenges will extend beyond this weekend," Sullivan wrote in a letter to the University community. "Meaningful change is necessary, and we can lead that change for all universities." 

In an attempt to inspire immediate change, the campus community took to the streets. Friday afternoon, students traversed the campus in a "Slut Walk" in an attempt to "fight against this victim-blaming, slut-shaming culture we have that sexualizes women, yet shames them for being sexual," freshman Maria Dehart explained to student newspaper The Cavalier Daily. And several hundred UVA students and faculty members came together for a rally titled "Take Back the Party: End Rape Now!" Saturday night.

"We are not here to shut down the party," a statement from rally organizers read. "We are here to support a SAFE social environment for women as well as men. This is a FACULTY action demanding an end to sexual assault at UVA," the Cavalier Daily reports. The protestors walked together from the University's Beta Bridge to the Phi Kappa Psi house, where the gang rape documented in the Rolling Stone story occurred in September 2012. Protestors also had a visible presence outside of Scott Stadium, where earlier in the day the University of Virginia football team faced off against the Miami Hurricanes.

"It's shocking," Rita Dove, the UVA Commonwealth Professor of English and a Poet Laureate, said. "It's shocking that nothing has been done. It's shocking that it took an article by the Rolling Stone in order to get this started. I think many faculty members are strongly shocked at the level to which the administration has kept this quiet.”

According to the Daily Progress, another 100 people protested on an athletic field that borders the office of President Sullivan, who assured that authorities would investigate the sexual assault from the article, while the governing body of the Phi Kappa Psi also promised they would conduct their own investigation into the matter.

Though the weekend's protests never turned violent, four protestors – two men and two women – were arrested for trespassing at the Phi Kappa Psi house after ignoring warnings to leave the property during a demonstration there Saturday afternoon. The fraternity house at the center of Rolling Stone's report has been the focus of scrutiny and vandalism since the story was published last week. Last Thursday night, the frat was vandalized as the words "UVA Center of Rape Studies" were written in large red letters on the front steps.

The school's University Glee Club temporarily halted performances of "Rugby Road," the fight song cited in our report for its overt lyrics celebrating the sexual triumphs of UVA fraternity men. According to a report in The Cavalier Daily, the Club has sang the song for the past 12 years. Despite the group's decision to stop singing the song for the remainder of this semester "and potentially the next," University Historian Sandy Gilliam denied the tune has overt sexual implications: "Rolling Stone seems to equate the song with bad behavior — that’s just not true,” Gilliam told the paper. "Every student group used to have songs."

The Rolling Stone story has also spurred the creation of a new activist group called the Alliance for Social Change at UVA. The group aims to create a dialogue on social equality at UVA, but the student body largely "avoids difficult questions" that could lead to change. "I think that's a problem because democracy requires conflict, democracy requires debate," founding Alliance for Social Change member Lauren Stark told the Daily Progress. "And that's how we get social change." 

Here are lawmakers' full statements on the UVA sexual-assault crisis:

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
"I was deeply disturbed to read about the sexual assault allegations outlined in Rolling Stone magazine. Sexual violence is a nationwide problem, and it is critical that our schools acknowledge that this is a pervasive issue and take bold action to end it.

Earlier today, I spoke to the university leadership and conveyed my deep concerns with what has been reported. We are in agreement that a full and fair investigation must be pursued, and I have called for a zero tolerance strategy to combat campus sexual assault. I have asked university officials to conduct a full review of all of their policies and procedures and if decided, to bring in outside experts to assist in this effort.

We must also find ways that our local law enforcement and prosecution efforts can better align with university actions. Earlier this year, I signed Executive Order 25 establishing the Governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, sending a message that Virginia will not tolerate sexual violence on our campuses or in our communities. Now is the time to act — we must ensure that survivors are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, and we must do more to hold perpetrators accountable.

As the parents of five children, this is an issue Dorothy and I care deeply about. I look forward to seeing strong recommendations from the task force that will help keep more Virginians safe and ensure that our students are free from the threat of sexual violence."

Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner
"I am deeply troubled by the horrific sexual assault allegations at the University of Virginia that were reported by Rolling Stone magazine, and I add my voice to those calling for a full and thorough investigation.

It’s time that Congress, universities, and law enforcement authorities work together to combat this epidemic. That’s why I joined a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, which would empower students, improve reporting, and strengthen transparency and accountability at our colleges and universities.

Since introducing this legislation, I have traveled the Commonwealth and met with numerous college and university officials to discuss the issue and press for real reforms. Across the Commonwealth and across the country, we must end a culture that tolerates campus sexual assault."