A Black Eye on the Legacy of Honor
The recent killing of University of Virginia lacrosse player and student Yeardley Love, allegedly at the hands of her ex-boyfriend and fellow lacrosse player and student, George Huguely V, is a tragic chapter for my alma mater. Issues of dating violence, murder, sexual assault and stalking have long haunted the University of Virginia.
In 1984, when I was a freshman, I was drugged and gang-raped by a pack of three members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at UVA. I did not know any of them. I remembered one of the rapes graphically -- the violence, the pain. The next day, when I awoke wrapped in a bloody sheet, thrown on a sofa, I went through the man's mail. I needed to know his name in order to report him. I sat across from the then Dean of Students, Robert Canevari, and told him what had happened to me. With the blood still leaking from me and my face bruised, he asked me, "Are you sure you didn't have sex with this man and you don't want to admit that you aren't a 'good girl'?"
There was no investigation, no paper trail and no prosecution, although I went to the hospital, Student Health, the Dean of Students, and the University Police and made dozens of reports. I was told by the Dean of Students that the Charlottesville Police had no jurisdiction over Phi Kappa Psi and was ordered not to call them. The deans said that they had spoken with the young man in question and told me "he said it was consensual." He, the rapist, withdrew from the University and was thus "no longer a danger" to me. I was told, in so many words and actions, to go away. I did not, but my life was diminished. I felt that I did not matter.
Rape and murder are also not considered violations of the University's Honor Code, established 15 years after Thomas Jefferson founded the school in 1825. The Honor Code's single sanction of expulsion is reserved for "lying, cheating and stealing." I would posit that rape or murder most certainly falls under stealing -- of a life, of one's dignity, of the promise of a life well-lived. Most of the time, issues of violence between students are adjudicated by student-run boards and not via law enforcement.
Twenty years later, that rapist wrote to me as part of his 12-Step recovery program. He got my home address by calling the University Alumni Office, which gave it to him with no questions asked. He had been following me via mailing address for nine years, he wrote. He was sorry he raped me. I contacted the Charlottesville Police, who told me that they indeed did have jurisdiction over where my crime had happened and that there was no statute of limitations in the Commonwealth of Virginia on felony rape. My rapist, who was represented by the same two attorneys now defending George Huguely, was charged, arrested and sentenced. He served less than six months for aggravated sexual assault. The others present at the time have evaded law enforcement.
In April 2010, three weeks before Ms. Love's murder, I was invited to speak at the annual "Take Back the Night" rally at UVA, which highlights the perils of violence against women. My fellow speaker was Dan Harrington, the father of Morgan, a Virginia Tech student who was abducted from a Metallica concert at UVA's John Paul Jones Arena and murdered in October 2009. No one has yet been charged in Morgan Harrington's death.
At the rally, I spoke of blame and responsibility. Blame for sweeping crimes against women under the rug. Blaming victims for going to concerts or parties or dating a fellow student. We are, I said, collateral damage, acceptable losses in the University's now-failed PR campaign that they are one of the best, most elite schools in the United States. A school with the best professors, brightest students and winningest sports teams. A school with well-heeled alumni who contribute handsomely to the endowment fund. A school where behavior like that of George Huguely's is given a free pass because students clearly do not know how to protect one another due to the fact that the University does not create an atmosphere where speaking up leads to action. Silence is now deadly. University of Virginia's outgoing President John Casteen's legacy will now be one of a gruesome murder under his watch.
So much has been made about this being a lacrosse issue, a rich white kid issue, an alcohol issue, an entitlement issue. While there may be a bit of truth there, to me, it's a University of Virginia issue. Because of the work I have done on behalf of campus survivors of crime, I know that Mr. Jefferson's Academical Village has a bigger problem than most campuses. Of course, violence is present at all colleges, but the University of Virginia administration's steadfast refusal to require the students to do anything that is mandatory beyond paying their fees and returning their library books before they graduate now looks like a deadly stance in the name of being a fully student-run University. While there are adult administrators, there is no sense of protection for young students. I spoke with the DA, and unlike many colleges, nothing is mandatory -- not even orientation. That's right: there are no requirements for students to have any education in sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and depression -- all very much present on college campuses today.
This is not to say that there are not wonderful resources and programs available to address such issues at the University. There are. But not one member of the administration is willing to stick their neck out and tell students that they must receive this education.
I think that may change now.
For all of the heated talk about George Huguely's violent past and who knew or didn't know, or why friends or coaches did not intervene, the history of violence at Virginia comes down to this: responsibility. The parents, the students, and the administration must work together to ensure that there is a chain of responsibility so that violence never occurs again at UVA. I have no doubt that it will -- humans will be violent. But perhaps the numbers will be lower, the response will not be one of confusion and blame, and the Yeardley Loves, Morgan Harringtons and other victims of campus violence may receive the justice and compassion they so richly deserve.