CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A University of Virginia board on Tuesday honed in on alcohol as a contributing factor in sexual assaults on campus, with one member calling for more aggressively enforcing the law banning underage drinking.
Members of the Board of Visitors discussed sexual assault allegations that came out in a devastating portrait in Rolling Stone that has rocked the campus. The article described a woman’s account of a gang rape, and went into detail about what it called a hidden culture of sexual violence at the school.
Board member Bobbie Kilberg said the school needed to stop underage drinking, a tall order on nearly any college campus, where drinking is a rite of passage and students under age 21 have no trouble getting alcohol.
Her suggestion was met with some resistance from student leaders.
Tommy Reid, president of the school’s Inter-Fraternity Council, said such a ban could push drinking “underground.”
Ashley Brown, president of One Less, a sexual assault education group on campus, said that although she opted out of Greek life, “I found my alcohol elsewhere,” and expressed a similar concern about kids getting drunk in cars or concerts.
Last week’s Rolling Stone story went into detail about binge drinking on campus.
Board member L.D. Britt called excessive drinking “the fuel … We have to address that. We cannot push that under the rug. It was the fuel when I was here back in 1968. And it’s the fuel now.”
University President Teresa Sullivan has asked Charlottesville police to investigate the reported gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi house, and she has said the article contained details previously unknown to officials.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo wouldn’t comment on the investigation, but added: “I will say this: There were bystanders. There were people in that room. … I hope that those bystanders have the moral courage to come forward and help us with that investigation.”
The university has suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations because of the story. Reid conceded, “Sexual violence is a problem in fraternities and the Greek system. We don’t want to hide that … it’s upsetting to admit.”
Toward the end of the three-hour meeting, some board members laughed as they went over the language of a resolution, earning a scolding from a member who was participated by teleconference.
“If I were a student listening to this right now, I would be furious,” said board member Edward Miller.
“All I’ve heard for the last 40 minutes is laughter … I can’t believe the laughter that’s going on in this room right now. This is a serious issue. .. .Students listening to this are not going to think we have solved anything, to tell you the truth.”
One board member apologized, but another took issue with Miller’s comments.
The board approved a motion for a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault. And it will form an ad-hoc group, of board members, administrators and students, to come up with short-term solutions, before the board’s next meeting, tentatively scheduled for the middle of next month.
Several protesters held signs, including one that had a picture of Thomas Jefferson, the school founder, with the words, “ ‘'SEXUAL MISCONDUCT: A JEFFERSONIAN TRADITION.”