The November 2014 Rolling Stone article about an alleged gang rape in a fraternity house triggered widespread concern about student culture and safety on Grounds, particularly within UVA’s Greek system. Tommy Reid (Col ’15) and Julia Pedrick (Col ’15), who served as the presidents of the Inter-Fraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council, respectively, during those difficult times, offer their perspectives on some of the issues at hand.
UVA Magazine: Before this semester, the four student-led Greek leadership councils submitted addenda—designed to increase student safety—to the Fraternal Organization Agreement (FOA) that were then authorized by President Sullivan. Some say this was an overreaction to a discredited Rolling Stone article. Others say that the new measures were long overdue. What’s your perspective?
Tommy Reid: The particulars of one specific Rolling Stone article do not alter or affect the broader reality that our university and other universities face, which is that sexual assault is an issue on college campuses. One rape is too many. The FOA addenda was the Greek system stepping up and saying, “We can control what happens in our community.” Greek life is only one of the facets of university life where students can step up and take a stand against sexual assault. With the new FOA, we hope to set a precedent for other student groups, other administrative organizations, to step up and take the lead as well.
UVA Magazine: How did the tradition of student self-governance play into the FOA revision process?
Julia Pedrick: The administration can set the ball rolling or give the students a jolt of energy for introspection. But from there on out, it’s student run. I’m happy that Greek life is taking the reins on this and getting started on educating students and making them aware about sexual assault and alcohol use. It’s on all college students, and that’s something we want to work toward with other student organizations. That awareness can start with Greek life, but it absolutely cannot end with us.
Reid: These improvements were student designed, but student self-governance does not mean that only students can participate. The [IFC] had countless discussions with alumni, with current members, with those not in Greek organizations, with professors, with deans, with those in the president’s office. The president issued to me seven recommendations for what she would like to see in the FOA. In our final version, we included two of them that we thought were especially salient, but the others were entirely developed by students or in IFC conversations.
UVA Magazine: What is your view on the role alcohol plays in the University’s culture and its relation to sexual assault?
Reid: First, sexual assaults do not happen because of alcohol or because of a fraternity party. They happen as a product of unhealthy relationships, of improper gender norms, of an inability to harbor positive attitudes and understand empathetically positions of the other gender. Alcohol is an added level of risk that might foster the problems that are at the heart of sexual assault. Second, the alcohol policy exists to eliminate added levels of risk. If we were to ban alcohol, then what we’re doing is denying the existence of something that is a reality and will not stop, no matter where we begin to ban alcohol. Banning alcohol in fraternities will only push drinking further underground, and if it’s not at a fraternity house or an apartment, it will be in the woods behind first-year dorms, or down the street on JPA, places where there is no oversight and no resources. I believe the University needs to commit itself to a policy that recognizes that underage drinking happens, and dedicate themselves to the cultivation of a more responsible drinking culture.
Pedrick: I agree. Banning alcohol altogether, or restricting it to a point where students just decide to disregard a policy altogether, puts us in a more unsafe situation, where those who are in leadership roles can’t help or put safety practices in place.
UVA Magazine: The events of the past few months, like the Rolling Stone article, the suspension of fraternity activities at the end of last semester, the new agreements, the police investigation into Phi Psi, all that has resulted in unprecedented scrutiny of fraternities. What effect do you think all of this will have on the Greek system’s culture, both short term and long term?
Reid: I think we’ll see a further institutionalization of conversations, both casual and formal, surrounding student safety, specifically about the Greek system’s role in eliminating sexual assault from UVA. Second, I think that we’ll see an elevated awareness of the role of fraternities in the social politics of the university, an increased understanding of the potential that fraternities have to create change at the university, whether on a formal policy level or on a more individual social level.
Pedrick: I agree about the [prevalence of] open conversations. In that openness and comfort to voice concerns, [students, faculty and administration are] gaining more insight into how the entire Greek community operates. I think there will be an increased understanding or desire to understand how the University operates with the Board of Visitors, with the administration, with the Greek community, and to see how CIOs fit into that as well.
UVA Magazine: What were the most prevalent misperceptions [of Greek life] you encountered?
Pedrick: The big one is hazing. We don’t condone hazing to any extent. And then there’s alcohol; people think we drink all the time. Much of the perception of Greek life comes from outdated sources or popular culture. Greek communities change from campus to campus, so you can’t stereotype an entire culture at a national level; you can just get to know the culture that’s here at UVA. We need to reach out to faculty and administrators and let them know the actual point of our organizations. It’s not all social, it’s not all about parties. That might be five percent of what sororities do; we do so much more.
UVA Magazine: You mentioned that you wanted to be reviewing the FOA agreements and addendums down the road. When will that happen, and what will that review look like?
Reid: The IFC and our members plan to review the FOA addendum this semester at every other meeting we have—so that’s every other week—in preparation for an upcoming review process this summer. At that point, we’ll sit down with the Office of the Dean of Students and either rework the agreement or leave as-is some of the policies in the addendum. I hope that we are changing this document. My intention is that this document will live, will survive, will adapt over the years. It may not look in 10 years anything like how it looks today. But as long as it demonstrates the same level of commitment to the same problems, that’s what’s most important. The solutions may change as the problem changes, but as long as we underlie it with the same values, that’s what’s important.
Pedrick: As for the sororities, we’re re-evaluating the FOA in April, and then after that, at the beginning or end of every semester. Then, at a minimum, with each new term, the [chapter] presidents will evaluate the safety recommendations. In the same way that the IFC’s FOA is flexible and evolving with the times and with every change that happens at the university, the ISC needs to reflect that [flexibility] in our safety recommendations and in our FOA. This is a document that does not live stagnant in our standards of conduct.