Today is the first day of final exams, and in a few weeks we will end a tumultuous fall semester. Three members of the Class of 2017 have died this semester, and the sense of grief and loss is palpable. In addition, many members of our community are grieving over the deaths of young black men in Staten Island and Ferguson.
All of you are aware of the most recent incidents affecting the University and students as a result of the article in Rolling Stone and its subsequent retraction. I am writing today to provide some context for our response, and the changes you can expect when classes resume in January.
Since the article was published, Greek activities have been suspended until Jan. 9. My decision to suspend fraternity and sorority social activity for the remainder of the year came after UVa’s Inter-Fraternity Council suspended its activities for the weekend of Nov. 21 and after the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter at UVa voluntarily surrendered its own Fraternal Organization Agreement with the University. I remain sensitive to concerns about broadly indicting the entire Greek system. As I said in an address earlier this month, in any crisis it can be far too easy to paint with a broad brush, and to blindly attack entire groups of individuals. This is not a responsible reaction. Our fraternities were terribly distressed by the allegations in the article, and they are working with us toward solutions.
Until Jan. 9, chapter meetings and philanthropic activities are permitted, but I have encouraged all of the Greek-letter organizations, including the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, and the Inter-Sorority Council to use this time to strengthen the student safety provisions of their agreements with the University. I met with the leaders of each of these groups, and in typical UVa fashion, our students have already come up with a number of sound ideas for improvement. Student Council will work with us and all of the CIOs (student organizations) to do the same thing. The reinstatement of Greek activities on Jan. 9 will be in conjunction with a new Fraternal Organization Agreement that will enhance the safety of members and their guests.
Even though the facts in the Rolling Stone story are in dispute, sexual misconduct does occur and it has no place at our University. We will continue our efforts to improve our policies and practices, to support survivors with counseling and in other ways, and to rigorously examine our culture and climate. Survivors will continue to have support through our student life and counseling professionals. I have named an Ad Hoc Group on Campus Climate and Culture; this group consists of two Board of Visitors members, one dean, four students, two faculty members, two alumni, and two parents. We will be working with our Board to examine what changes might be beneficial.
The Rolling Stone article, in my opinion, unfairly maligned a number of dedicated professionals who work for the University. I have noted in particular that our students immediately reached out to our Student Affairs staff with expressions of support. I can vouch for the fact that this staff has worked tirelessly to provide for the welfare of all of our students.
Some changes you can expect in the next semester include a police substation on the Corner and more frequent joint patrols by the University and Charlottesville police. We plan to introduce a new group of unarmed security personnel, called “Ambassadors,” who will wear distinctive uniforms. On weekend evenings, they will be prominently deployed near the libraries and the Corner to assist students, provide escorts as needed, and provide additional eyes and ears for the police patrols. We have recently completed nighttime tours of the Grounds that have led to tree-trimming and light replacement, and we will be upgrading the lighting, especially around laboratory buildings and other buildings where people may work late at night.
We have a new proposed policy on sexual misconduct that takes into account new federal mandates. It is posted here for public comment until December 20. We will be promulgating the revised new policy in the spring, and we will also be providing training in the new policy for everyone at the University.
I have also committed myself to visiting with faculty and student groups to encourage the conversation about how we foster healthy relationships, discourage sexual misconduct, and make the University community safer for all of us.
As we pause at the end of the year to reflect on our values and traditions, I reflect on how fortunate I am to interact with your students and with our caring faculty and staff. We all agree that we want a safe University where all students can develop their potential to its fullest. That is our top priority.
With best wishes for your students and for our new year,
Teresa A. Sullivan