UVA Board Debates Fraternities, Reforms In Emergency Meeting On Campus Rape

The University of Virginia's governing body, the Board of Visitors, announced during a special meeting held Tuesday that the school will begin to take several steps to address sexual assault on campus.

Board Rector George Keith Martin announced that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring hired the law firm O'Melveny & Myers to review UVA's sexual assault policies, the same group hired by Occidental College for similar guidance. Martin is asking they advise the university on various issues, including how to handle "a serious and credible allegation of sexual misconduct" where the survivor is not willing to go forward with a complaint.

The special meeting came after a Rolling Stone article alleged multiple women were gang-raped at the UVA Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, though no one was ever punished for the assaults, and none of the cases were sent to police. UVA was already undergoing a sweeping investigation of its sexual assault policies by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

Martin said the school will now examine sexual violence prevention training for fraternity members, and possibly overhaul the Greek system. The board will have a town hall meeting, he promised, once concrete proposals are on the table.

All Greek life activities are suspended at UVA until Jan. 9, 2015, when the second semester begins. However, when pressed by board members, UVA President Teresa Sullivan said she's willing to extend that suspension if policy changes cannot be implemented.

Sullivan announced the school will create a police substation closer to where students live, improve lighting around campus and have increased police patrols of Rugby Road, where many fraternities are located. All of this, Sullivan vowed, was to take first steps in addressing sexual assault and violence on campus.

"If we can't deliver on this fundamental duty then we, all of us, we will have failed," Sullivan said. "Jackie’s experience should not have happened and nothing like it should ever happen again," she said, referring to one of the women whose stories were chronicled in the Rolling Stone article.

Charlottesville Chief of Police Timothy Longo referred to a gang rape referenced in the article that is said to have included seven men as "disgusting," and noted there are people who were present that could help his department's investigation.

"I hope those bystanders have the moral courage to come forward and help us with that investigation," Longo forcefully stated. He added, "Make no mistake about it, we will investigate this matter to the fullest."

But soon after those comments, board member Stephen P. Long said the school "cannot act in a knee-jerk reaction."

"We need to slow down and get facts," Long said. "Yes, bad apples need to be identified and must go, but we need to be careful who is singled out. ... We must not and dare not throw any organization under the bus."

Long defended the Greek system, stating members of fraternities are currently walking around with a "scarlet letter" at the Charlottesville school.

Later, when board member L.D. Britt asked when the university first knew of Jackie's assault, Longo asked that he wait for the criminal investigation to take place.

Much of the focus among student leaders speaking at the meeting was on whether fraternities needed to change, while board members frequently brought up alcohol consumption. One board member, Bobbie G. Kilberg, proposed police sweeping through fraternities to card students drinking.

"People will say you can't do that, there are privacy rights," Kilberg said. "Well, sue me."

Students, such as UVA Inter-Fraternity Council President Thomas Reid, pushed back on blaming alcohol for sexual violence and noted crackdowns on all forms of booze would "push things further and further underground."

Helen Dragas, another board member and former rector, choked back tears before she offered a short resolution on zero tolerance for sexual assault.

Later, however, as the meeting neared its third hour, board member Edward D. Miller interrupted to note the Visitors were laughing too much for a session dedicated to such a serious issue. Miller commented through a conference call, as he was not able to be there in person. His comment was quietly applauded by public audience members.

After the laughter died down, the board voted to pass Dragas' resolution to commit to a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault, though university administrators have gone on record opposing zero tolerance approaches to student misconduct.

"Part of the reason we got here is because we swept things under the rug," Dragas said at the end of the meeting, insisting the culture of UVA was to contain secrets. She called on the university to commit to a "transparent, accountable process" as they move forward.

The board livestreamed the meeting online but did not allow for public comment or questions from the press.