Safety and Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a heinous crime that should be treated as such. But, we mustn’t judge and convict without first seeking the truth. There can be victims on both sides of this situation if we are not careful. As exemplified by the reaction to the Rolling Stone article, we are often too quick to judge and react without all available facts.

The Greek system has been unjustly vilified by our community, the press and the nation in reaction to the salacious story in Rolling Stone. Those of us involved with the Greek system, or who know sorority or fraternity members, understand that they are not as they have been portrayed by the media and others. We know that fraternities and sororities, just like other organizations and the student body in general, are largely filled with bright, ambitious, honorable young men and women, many of whom are the leaders within our University community, and will continue to be leaders in our society in the future.

The University of Virginia is an exemplary institution, as nearly all of us that know it will attest. No place, however, is perfect and we should, we must, seek improvement where room for it exists. Our remedies should be measured and precise, not overdone. As a physician, I understand well the benefits of the correct prescription for a specific problem. On the other hand, even a lifesaving medication can be deadly if overused. We must use the same care in addressing the issues now before us.

Academic opportunity, cultural diversity, athletics, fine arts and recreation are a few of the factors that have made UVA one of the most highly regarded schools in our nation. The Greek system is also one of the many attributes that make our school so great. Let’s not overreach in our solutions, and in doing so, unjustly punish the many good fraternity and sorority members for the sake of doing something “substantial.” Instead, we must work to improve our University without doing harm to that which is good. I am confident that we can succeed in this endeavor if we proceed with caution and careful deliberation.

David M. Snow, M.D. (Col ’83)
Winchester, Va.

 

In UVA Magazine’s Winter 2014 edition, I read about Hannah Graham’s disappearance and murder followed by “Safety at UVA” and “Keeping UVA Safe” by Teresa Sullivan. In the two articles on safety, the lack of direct language regarding the role of alcohol in student safety issues, especially as it pertains to sexual violence, as well as upfront language encouraging students to call 911 struck as a major oversight.

Weeks before, University Police Chief Michael Gibson issued a far more beneficial safety and security awareness alert to students and staff that began and ended with encouraging students to call 911, followed by a listing of other community and UVA resources. Why did UVA Magazine neglect to publicize the valuable language used by University Police including a broad range of suggested preventative actions and behaviors specifically targeting the student body? Furthermore, why did UVA Magazine opt to steer clear of addressing specific safety and security issues related to alcohol and sexual violence at a time when our University was under intense scrutiny for related Title IX and Clery Act violations?

I have reached out to fellow Delta Zeta alumnae and more than 60 of us developed and submitted a five-page set of actionable recommendations to the University based not only on our professional careers in law, medicine, university administration, education, social work and criminal justice but also, for some of us, on personal experiences with sexual assault. As we continue outreach among faculty, administrators, student groups and community leaders in survivors’ advocacy, we are humbled by the level of dedication of many groups on and off campus, including the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, One Love, SARA, RAINN and others, despite continual struggles with adequate funding.

We are also impressed by the efforts of UVA faculty and students who are seeking to change the status quo. The notable suggestions provided by faculty include seven actionable recommendations delivered to administrators on November 24 by the Arts & Sciences Council of Chairs & Directors as well as the faculty’s December 17th “Summary of Concerns & Suggestions” about the new Sexual Misconduct Policy, in which over 250 faculty members express “numerous and pervasive concerns” regarding the Policy’s “tone, lack of clarity of presentation, lack of guidance about appropriate sanctions, and its failure to reckon with community safety.”

However, who among students and alumni have seen these excellent collaborative efforts? What are the thoughts of administrative decision-makers on these and other cogent recommendations? Is UVA Magazine writing about these specific recommendations? It seems that most alumni and students would want to know the valuable insights of so many faculty members.

As 2015 has begun, UVA messaging has veered away from openly tackling the tragedy of sexual violence, addressing faults and acknowledging accountability for practices and policies that have done more harm than good. Recent changes that various media have highlighted on updated Fraternal Organization Agreements are case in point in terms of shifting focus and, while seeking to enhance general safety vis-à-vis alcohol, seem to lack any means of specific oversight, accountability or consequence mitigation. Also highly publicized: the decision by national and international sorority presidents to ban sorority participation in fraternity bid night events, while intended to address safety and risk management issues, brings up a bevy of concerns about gender perceptions and biases.

Meanwhile, commendable administrative efforts in bystander awareness, sexual violence surveying and collaboration with other academic institutions, as well as other proactive prevention, awareness and response initiatives, were ongoing under the radar prior to the Nov. 19 Rolling Stone article and continue to receive minimal media attention. While the University and many students have expressed a desire to move ahead proactively, it is important to look back to acknowledge institutional faults and recognize accountability among the experienced professionals who are charged with the safety and security of fledging adults. Not doing so diminishes the hard work of so many UVA and Charlottesville groups who endeavor to make a difference with limited funds and resources. Not doing so allows for conjecture and assumptions about lack of administrative initiative without understanding the complex litigious and political challenges faced by those who have myriad institutional layers of responsibility.

Katrina Kernodle Walsh (Col ’95)
Henrico, Va.

 

I am disappointed to learn that some at the University interviewed by journalists have expressed the view that, if Jackie’s charges are false as it is beginning to appear, it really does not matter! It seems that our nation has reached the point where this leftist bias has infected a substantial number of our major colleges and universities, including UVA, and right, reason and due process frequently no longer apply.

The values and principles taught at the University during my tenure seem to be antithetical to that which are currently being embraced by the University.

J. Randolph Segar Jr. (Com ’56)
Midlothian, Va.

 

I attended the University from 1944 to 1948. Inappropriate and unacceptable behavior toward women (as well as heavy drinking) was as much of a problem then as now. Unfortunately it has always been an acceptable part of the fraternity culture (then, as well as now).

Until such time as the moral structure of our society and cultural attitudes regarding women change, don’t look for a quick fix for this problem.

Margaret T. McNamara (Educ ’48)
Evanston, Ill.


Hirsch’s Legacy

Ludwig Wittgenstein once suggested that truth can only be expressed mathematically, not in words. So, I wonder at your use of the word “facts” to characterize E.D. Hirsch’s philosophy, in your recent article. As a former graduate student of Dr. Hirsch’s (not long after publication of his book Cultural Literacy), I remember his point being not so much the acquisition of “facts” but of knowledge. “Fact” is a slippery concept. I think charging him with being a fact freak does a disservice to his thesis. This is important to a refutation of Mr. Kohn’s critique: knowledge is necessary to be able to read, reading to think critically, and both are preparatory to writing well.

DMM Simonton (Grad ’95)
Fayette, Miss.

 

I read “Cultural Literacy Makes a Comeback” in the Winter 2014 edition with more than a small sense of irony given that, for the past 60 or more years, most Western institutions of higher education (the University included) have been rigorously and systematically engaged in the undermining and demolition of the very foundations of that culture: Judeo-Christian belief and ethics, classical thought and literature. Instead, there is an almost exclusive focus on the failings of Western culture (which are admittedly numerous) and almost no attention to its benefits (which are unique in history). My sense of the article was that it lauded a curriculum that teaches the very concepts and ideas which at the college level (well, at the grade school level now) are routinely dismissed and ridiculed as superstitious, ethno-centric, misogynistic, outmoded hogwash. This has left society at large with a postmodern, relativistic or nihilistic worldview in all areas of thought and education—from architecture to zoology. The results are predictable and splashed across the headlines daily.

Given that the article indicated that Hirsch has managed to offend both the left and the right simultaneously, I tend to believe that he is on target.

However, if we were to teach our children these “5,000 things” and then commit them to a university education that rejects the vast majority of them, the result will be a sort of intellectual schizophrenia—which might actually be totally appropriate to today’s culture. What is the benefit in developing “critical thinking skills” if there is nothing objectively true to think about?

Brian F. Hart (Arch ’78)
Asheville, N.C.


The Value of College

I welcome Dean Baucom’s questions to alumni and, in particular, the one about the value of rhetoric and public speaking in the contemporary curriculum. I found this course to be invaluable in my later life, which included a 36-year career as an attorney constantly called upon to frame persuasive oral and written arguments. I take pride in the grounding UVA and the College gave me and have applied rigorous standards upon myself in writing, spelling and all forms of expression in all areas of my life. 

My greatest concerns relate to the cost of college, which makes it unaffordable for all but the very wealthy, the tiny minority of highly gifted athletes and the very lucky few who win academic scholarships. So many of our children choose community colleges and technical schools with a relatively narrow focus because they can no longer afford the luxury of studying liberal arts at a university. This is a problem for our society.

Michael Weinstein (Col ’71)
Guilderland, N.Y.

 

Thanks for the pair of inspirational features on emeritus professor E.D. Hirsch and dean of the College Ian Baucom. As a current professor in the Idaho state higher education system, I can assure you that the University of Virginia does indeed serve as a model for what public higher education can and should be nationwide, particularly at a time when the public is being actively persuaded to disinvest in public education at all levels, and to reject the whole notion of public education for the common good.

Dean Baucom speaks eloquently about higher ed’s role in facilitating the “flourishing” of both individual citizens as well as their chosen professions, their communities, and indeed our nation and the world as a whole. It’s worth noting that such a flourishing is in direct tension with broader trends in American politics toward a deliberate withdrawal from investments in the public good, and from public education in particular.

Higher education has been in a reactive mode for almost a full generation, under sustained attack by anti-government conservatives who portray universities as engaged not in the creation and dissemination of knowledge but rather as focused on massaging social mores in more secular, feminist and egalitarian directions. Likewise, universities are seen not as enabling a new generation of civic leaders, but rather as selling credentials to self-interested student entrepreneurs or private investors.

Chris Norden (Col ’82, Grad ’86)
Moscow, Idaho


Tunnel Exploration

Your story in the Winter 2014 issue of the UVA Magazine about the steam tunnels was admirable and technically accurate, but you overlooked a vital part of the story. Students have been exploring the tunnels not just occasionally as you mentioned but constantly. In the late 1960s, the very honorable and secret student organization Rho Alpha Tau (The Roof and Tunnel Society) was formed explicitly for this purpose.

Always secret but never unknown, the society has had to resort to more-sophisticated methods as security measures have increased, but has never ceased its search for the truth, wherever that may lead us.

Frank Blechman (Col ’69)
Fairfax Station, Va.


Tuition Concerns

I question the logic behind the recent decision of the Board of Visitors to once again raise tuition for out-of-state students by a greater amount than the tuition for in-state students. Given the decreasing percentage of the University’s funding that is provided by the state, it seems as if the gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates should be narrowing rather than widening.

Tuition for out-of-state students has reached a level that discourages all but the most financially blessed alumni whose lives have taken them out of state from sending their children to the University. It is time for the Board of Visitors to consider restoring a relationship between in-state and out-of-state tuition levels that is rationally related to the level of state funding received by the University.

Halvor Adams (Com ’79)
Garden City, N.Y.


Pancakes for Parkinson’s

I was touched personally by the article about Pancakes for Parkinson’s event. I have been disabled due to Parkinson’s since March ’06. I was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, but only after six years of a wide variety of symptoms that didn’t seem to go together and no reason could be found. Thank goodness, my neurologist finally put the puzzle together.

I hope that the money you continue to raise not only helps with research but also helps with educating the medical community about the symptoms that aren’t well known.

Margaret Yow Scott (Nurs ’77)
Waldorf, Md.

 

In the Winter 2014 issue, an article titled “Paying Up for Pancakes” states Pancakes for Parkinson’s is the “largest student-run fundraiser on Grounds.” This is not true. The American Cancer Society Relay For Life at UVA is, and has been for years, the largest student-run fundraiser on Grounds, both in funds raised yearly and in student participation in planning the event. Relay For Life at UVA raised more than $168,000 last year alone and has raised more than $1 million since its start at UVA. More than 1,000 students have already registered for this year’s main event April 10, 2015.

Susanna Blauch (Col ’12)
Oakton, Va.