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Message to the U.Va. Board of Visitors from President Teresa A. Sullivan

November 25, 2014

Good afternoon. Thank you for assembling on such short notice.

This afternoon I want to address you from the heart. 

The story in Rolling Stone is shocking.  My initial reaction was numbness. That numbness quickly turned to anger.  I want to make it perfectly clear to you, and to the watching world: Nothing is more important to me than the safety of our students. Not our reputation, not our success, and not our history or traditions.

We must create and maintain a safe and healthy environment in which all of our students can follow their academic pursuits free from sexual violence. If we can’t deliver on this fundamental duty than we – all of us – will have failed.

We need to support any survivor of violence with caring and sensitivity. It is equally urgent that we prevent any further violence.  If there are systemic problems, they must be rooted out.

Foremost in my mind is fully investigating these allegations as well as thoroughly reviewing our current practices. That is why I have asked the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the gang rape as described in Rolling Stone. That is why I fully endorse the forthcoming investigation by an independent counsel who will advise us on how we can better respond to sexual assault on Grounds, as well as propose necessary changes to state law. And that is why we are here today to address these issues head on. We will spend the coming days, weeks, months – however long it takes – to ensure that the honor we preach about is lived every single day and every single night.

We have made significant progress in implementing new programs and policies, and you have heard me talk about that. But the article in Rolling Stone points to an entrenched cultural problem in student life. Alumni have written to me to say that the problem is an old one. And now is the time, and this is the generation of students, when it must stop.

My role as President is to find answers to difficult questions and to develop solutions. In the past few days, I have opened conversations with the Honor Committee, and with students, faculty, and staff.  The conversations are uniform in their content and tone: “Let’s be a catalyst for change, and let’s do it here and now.”  These conversations will continue, because the students understand the parts of the culture that foster violence.

The most important change is a fundamental mind shift, which can only come after deep introspection, to preserve what’s outstanding in our classrooms and across Grounds, and to repair and strengthen what isn’t.

First, we must deal with the complexity of sexual assault, which is often emotionally too difficult for some survivors – mostly women – to come forward and report. We must work to ensure that our students know that if they have experienced a sexual assault, they will have a caring advocate to go with them to the police or hospital – and be with them to help secure justice and healing.  There is also an important role for students themselves in creating a culture of reporting, and of equipping students to better assist and support their friends in times of need.  To that end, beginning in January, Green Dot, a nationally respected violence prevention organization, will begin offering bystander training for our students and our faculty.

As you are aware, we have suspended all fraternal organizations and their social activities until January 9, just prior to the beginning of the spring semester. This suspension is not an indication of wrongdoing for every part of the Greek system, or for every individual who chooses to participate in it.

But the actions of even a single individual within a larger community do reflect on the community as a whole.  I am going to work with our staff and the Greek community to make their environment safer for residents and visitors.  This is a defining moment for us to improve our oversight of the Greek system.

We must do more to deal with the problems of alcohol, underage drinking, and binge drinking, because they are harmful in themselves and because they are often at play in sexual assaults. We need to wipe out the notion that the college experience is incomplete without heavy drinking.

U.Va. has a good alcohol education program, but it’s not enough. We have to do more to inform and guide the decisions that students make outside of the classroom. Law enforcement, state government officials, local businesses, and everyone in our community needs to be a part of that mind shift.

My concern for the safety of our students and visitors must extend beyond the technical boundaries of our Grounds.  For a number of weeks, and at my direction, our COO Pat Hogan and his team have been upgrading lighting and expanding the capacity of our 24/7 surveillance cameras across Grounds.  With the cooperation of the Charlottesville Police Department, we are moving forward quickly with the opening of a police substation on The Corner, staffed jointly by the Charlottesville and UVa Police Departments. 

We are also working cooperatively with the City, County and local apartment owners to improve lighting and security measures in neighborhoods near our Grounds where many of our students live. 

By the beginning of the Spring semester, we will have the police substation opened, and will have significantly increased security personnel in the vicinity of the Corner and surrounding neighborhoods, including Rugby Road.

Closing

In the past week, I have seen dismay, anger, and sadness. But I’ve also seen energy and a passion to make things better. We are not as good as we should be. Our job now is to channel the energy and passion into action.

Changing a culture takes the whole community working together, but in particular we need leadership from our students; faculty; staff; and alumni.

Our UVa community strongly rejects a culture of sexual violence. Together we need to work to isolate, and to exclude, any sub-culture of deviance.

You can expect regular reports on our progress.  I look forward to our discussion today.
 

Teresa A. Sullivan

President