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UVA President Sullivan Discusses Rolling Stone Article

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UVA President Teresa Sullivan UVA President Teresa Sullivan
NBC29's Sharon Gregory sat down with University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan to discuss the administration's response to what an article in Rolling Stone magazine calls a "rape culture" at the university. Sullivan and Dean of Students Allen Groves talked candidly about the allegations in the article, the fallout and the future for UVA.

On Wednesday November 19, Rolling Stone magazine published an article titled "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” The article detailed several stories - as told by female students at UVA - of being raped at fraternities and then struggling to deal with both the personal and cultural impact at UVA. 

The article profiled a young woman named Jackie who says in 2012 she went to a fraternity party at the Phi Kappa Psi house where she was gang raped. She did not tell police but reportedly told the university. Jackie tried to find statistics for crimes like this at UVA. When she asked why they were hard to find, the article says a university dean told her, “because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”

When the article came out, Sullivan says she felt what a lot of people did. “I think that when I first read the article I was simply sick to my stomach. It was shocking and horrific and I think we all reeled with the shocking and horrific nature of it,” she stated.

Sullivan is a president who survived being ousted by the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. She regained her title with overwhelming student support. Now, she finds herself facing overwhelming criticism. The allegations caused a deafening uproar on grounds, and a backlash online. 

“There have been some ugly emails, some threatening emails. But you know I'm in a high-profile position so I understand that,” Groves stated.

But Sullivan says it may not be entirely deserved.  “I do not believe the information was entirely there. I think that is why we were all so surprised when we read the article. The information tends to come to us in bits and pieces and for someone who has been traumatized that's not surprising,” she said. "It takes a long time to put it together for themselves sometimes, think about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, that can be something similar to what a survivor is feeling but there was much more information in Rolling Stone than we had."

When asked about her reaction to UVA being called the ‘rape school', Sullivan told us, “oh, I'm furious. This is not the…that is not what I think is what is true and good about UVA. But, you know I'm more interested in the reality of it than I am the perception of it.”

A day after the article was published, the Phi Kappa Psi house suspended itself from the university. On Saturday, Sullivan suspended all fraternities and their social activities until January 9 when students return from winter break.  Sullivan and Groves both agree strongly there will be sobering talks with fraternities about UVA's party life.

“I think the Greek community needs to do some serious soul searching about the way that it has behaved about the behavior it's tolerated about what its future is going to be,” Sullivan said.

"I think this presents an opportunity to engage the fraternities in a very fair and hard conversation about what the future looks like,” Groves stated.

A future that includes a re-dedication to helping victims understand the importance of getting the law involved.

“Even if that means we drive them to the Charlottesville Police Department ourselves, we would rather see students make that decision to report,” Sullivan said.

“And what we have to do is weigh a series of factors in deciding community safety versus the student's request for confidentiality and where does that balance and fall. We may have to take some action, for example, in investigation even if the student who reported doesn't want to go forward with the complaint,” Groves stated.

Sullivan says she and Groves are ready to move forward. “We're going to get to the bottom of whatever this is, and we're going to make this a better place, ” she stated.


What follows is a transcript of a portion of Sharon's interview with Teresa Sullivan:

Q - Sharon Gregory: Tell me what it's been like for you behind the scenes at the university since that article came out.

A - Teresa Sullivan: “I think that when I first read the article, I was simply sick to my stomach. It was shocking and horrific and I think we all reeled with the shocking and horrific nature of it. But this is a community that cares a lot about the university and so we've heard a lot from a lot of people affiliated with the university. The students, the faculty, the alumni and parents and that's a good thing because ultimately, they all want to make the university better and so do I. We're going to get to the bottom of whatever this is and we're going to make this a better place.”

Q: If Jackie were here right now, what would you say to her?

A: “I would say, Jackie, I am so sorry about what happened to you. You did not deserve this and it should not have happened to you and we at the university are going to do whatever we can do to help you heal.”

Q: You mentioned parents, alumni, faculty and I'm sure you've been just barraged with emails and phone calls.

A: “So I think with parents, there have been two principle themes - one is concern about the safety for their own child, which I understand, and I think that the other theme has been ‘What can we do to make this better?'”

Q: Have you heard from any of your big donors?

A: “I have heard from a couple of donors, yes. They're concerned obviously their concerned about what this says about the university.”

Q: As a woman, how enraged are you that you see someone call UVA the rape school?

A: “Oh, I'm furious. this is not the…that is not what I think is what is true and good about UVA. But you know I'm more interested in the reality of it than I am the perception of it.”

Q: Do you think it's a reality, on grounds right now in light of this article?

A: “I do think that it occurs, I think it occurs in a broader range of sexual misconduct and I think we need to be concerned about all of that. Rape is obviously the worst.”

Q: What is your message to these young men who have sexually assaulted women?

A: “I think the first message is stop it. This is completely inconsistent with the community of trust that you have joined. It is not good preparation for your later life and it dehumanizes and demeans people with whom you are likely to be closely associated with the rest of your life.”

Q: What about ‘We're going to prosecute? We're going to make sure you get prosecuted.” Is there any strong language from your office?

A: “Yes, well, we've asked the Charlottesville Police Department to come in and investigate the specific allegation that was brought out in the magazine. I want to do that because I want the perpetrators prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if we can identify them, if the police can identify them, and I want the police to come in and do whatever they need to do. In fact I talked to Chief Longo about it this morning and they're taking it very seriously and so are we.”

Q: It seems like the gang rape is just now being investigated because this article was made public, when, behind closed doors, the information was there.

A: “I do not believe the information was entirely there. I think that is why we were all so surprised when we read the article. The information tends to come to us in bits and pieces and for someone who has been traumatized that's not surprising. It takes a long time to put it together for themselves sometimes, think about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, that can be something similar to what a survivor is feeling but there was much more information in Rolling Stone than we had."

Q: How precarious is the situation for the Greek community right now, based on all of these allegations?

A: “I think the Greek community needs to do some serious soul searching about the way that it has behaved about the behavior it's tolerated about what its future is going to be.”

Q: What are you saying to the Charlottesville community and just people around, boy this is giving Charlottesville a bad name, a black eye.

A: “Well I would say when we come together, as a community to solve a problem we can be very successful. When Hannah Graham disappeared members of this community turned out by the thousands there were thousands of calls to the tip line. Everybody worked together to try and solve the case. Sadly that case didn't have a happy ending but it has an ending because people did come together to do that we're in the same situation now. There's somebody out there who knows something more about this allegation of a gang rape and that person needs to come forward.”

Q: Is that a different tone than before all of this, from you?

A: "Perhaps, though I will say I've been pretty stern in my conversations with the fraternities but we also haven't been presented with a case like this before. We've been presented with other issues which, while serious in themselves, have been issues of say hazing or careless use of alcohol and so on, this is different, this is crime.”