Saturday, November 22, 2014

Campus Rape at U.Va.

I am a graduate of the University of Virginia.  I graduated in 1976 after receiving Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Drama.  I was in the minority of students who did not participate in "Greek life."  I did not join a fraternity, but I'm ashamed to say that it was not for lack of trying.  See, when I first attended U.Va. they were in the process of transitioning from an all-male school to a coeducational institution.  There had never been enough dormitory space, and even off-campus apartments were at a premium.  The tradition was that most young men joined a fraternity during their first year at school, and lived at the frat house during their second year (sophomore year to everybody else, but at U.Va. there are no freshmen, sophomores, etc.  Students are First Year, Second Year and so on.)  By the third year, students would take over the lease of a graduating fraternity brother and live in that inherited apartment until graduation.

When I realized that there were very few options, I rushed one of the fraternities.  Most of them were located on one street near the main campus.  Purely through coincidence the fraternity that offered me a bid also offered bids to the majority of men on my dorm floor.  I should have seen the trouble coming right there.

I freely admit that I was not a popular guy in college, at least not at first.  I was a scholarship student and was about as poor as I could be.  I did not realize that, at least during my first year, the tradition was  that men wore a coat and tie to class.  I owned one sport jacket, and two ties.  I took a lot of grief for wearing the same clothes again and again.  Also, on the day I left for university my parents admitted to me that they had taken the money from my savings account and that I had almost no cash for school.  My father had also neglected to enroll me in the school meal plan, so I had no food, no means, and no money to enroll in it myself.  I took a part-time job as soon as I could find one and ate in the dorm.  I ate whatever I could afford -- it wasn't much -- and subsisting on care packages from my grandmother.  I also caught serious grief from my hallmates about that.

So it should have come as no surprise when one afternoon in May, just before the end of the school year, my Resident Adviser, my "big brother" (my sponsor at the fraternity) and the fraternity president all showed up at my room to inform me that in the final admissions vote of the year at the frat, I had been blackballed from joining.  I had the dubious honor of being the first pledge ever to do so.  The blackballer(?) was a graduating senior from my home state of New Jersey who did not know me, and would never have had to live with me or deal with me.  I sometimes wonder if he had been put up to it because there would be no way for me to pursue it.  That, or maybe he was just a douche.

At any rate, I found myself with no place to live and with less than two weeks to find something before I had to leave town for the summer.  Somehow I found a vacant rathole apartment in a former rooming house that had been built in 1854.  The rooming house was nicknamed "Roach Haven" by its residents and for $55 per month I got to live in a slant-floored bedroom and to share a single toilet and shower with six other residents who found themselves in similar straights.

And it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Greek culture at U.Va. by then was abhorrent to me.  I had gone along with it because I needed a place to live but I was not then and am not now the kind of guy who hangs out with his "brothers" and drinks beer and watches sports.  I learned later that some of the other brothers were pretty pissed off at the guy who blackballed me, because they desperately wanted my 4.0 grades to boost the House average.  But for some reason he would not be moved, and I am grateful to him.

During my pledge year I was never privy to any sexual misconduct at my own fraternity, but I heard stories.  U.Va. even then had a reputation as a party school and as a school with a lot of alcohol abuse.  So I was unsurprised to learn that the following article was recently published in Rolling StoneA Rape On Campus

I am deeply saddened to learn that not much has changed since I graduated.  I believe that the University then as well as now has an attraction for a certain kind of person.  Fraternity life at the university then suited this type of sexist, entitled personality to a T.  I say this because my one indirect experience with date rape occurred, not at a fraternity, but in a neighboring dorm.  During my first year I was visited by a high school classmate who was attending Mary Washington College.  At that time, Mary Washington was an all-female college and was considered a sister school to the recently-all-male U.Va.  It was a surprise visit and I had prior plans that I could not change, so my friend went off with her roommate, who had come with her to Charlottesville.  The two of them visited a friend of the roommate, whose entire floor in a neighboring dorm was having a party.  At that party, the roommate and her U.Va. friend lost track of my classmate.  My friend was drugged and raped in the dorm.  I did not learn of this until the following Sunday morning.  It was reported to the authorities but to my knowledge nothing was done about it.  My friend left Mary Washington after that semester and shortly afterwards severed ties with me because the memory was too painful for her.  To the best of my knowledge, the guilty party was not punished.  In fact, when I sought advice from my Resident Advisor, I was told that this young man came from an old and wealthy Virginia family and that no good would come of pursuing charges.  The man was confronted by several of his hallmates, though, and he ultimately elected to leave the University "under a cloud," as the expression went.  While I was glad to see the back of him, I regret not doing more to see that he was punished for his crime.  That the culture of rape and alcohol in Greek life and at U.Va. in general has not changed much in the last 38 years is a source of great personal pain.

Even greater is the pain that I still have from my failure to change my plans that night so I could stay with my friend.  It's the one thing in my past that I truly wish I could change.  It is a regret that has colored a great deal of my life, and continues to do so by the mere fact that how this incident affected me is NOTHING compared to how it affected the life of my one-time friend.

She and I briefly spoke after 20 years at a high school reunion.  My friend indicated that she had no hard feelings or blame for me, but neither did she spend any time with me after those few exchanged sentences.  I expect the association was still too painful.  

I have never seen or spoken with her again.  

And it kills me to learn that absolutely nothing has changed at the University of Virginia.

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