In response to the Collegian’s “Like a Rolling Stone”:
I am a proud member of the ranks of Butler University alumni. I am also close to joining the ranks of University of Virginia alumni. I’ve seen, first-hand, the deep concern of its undergraduate students in the wake of the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” and I’ve been surrounded by the frustration and desperation of a divided student body in the aftermath of its retraction. The University of Virginia, like many other campuses, is being forced to confront a fraught (and rather long) history of sexual assault. And at the crux of this confrontation is an overwhelming desire on the part of the university’s students to reconcile a dissonance of profound love for their institution and the reality of violent assault that takes place there.
Because I’ve been existing in the midst of this polemic, I understand the impulse of the Collegian’s op-ed piece “Like a Rolling Stone” to express a sense of destabilization when it comes to the problem of institutional “reputation.” However, I feel that this piece only marginally addresses the more pressing problems of “Rolling Stone’s” retraction, and this is evident in the author’s statement that “the account sheds a bad light on Greek life as a whole and, even worse, discredits real rape cases that are reported on college campuses.” I wholeheartedly agree that the discrediting of victims is worse than ruined reputations, but that is clearly not the primary concern of this piece. This column’s emphasis on defending the University of Virginia’s Greek system undercuts a chance to productively and compassionately open a dialogue for constructive criticism of the ways in which the school has mishandled sexual assault cases in the past—and how the retraction of “A Rape on Campus” has allowed for denial of the occurrence of regular assaults on campus. To love your college does not mean that you are required to accept all of its faults out of obligation. To love your college is to recognize those faults, to critique them and to work cooperatively toward a solution.
But what is most profoundly troubling to me about “Like a Rolling Stone” is the author’s assessment that “the most difficult part for me to come to terms with is the fact that someone could fabricate such a terrible lie. It ruined the fraternity’s reputation and put the entire university in a negative spotlight.” None of us knows the true circumstances of the events that are described in “A Rape on Campus.” True, many of them have been discredited, but there has also been consensus that something egregiously wrong took place. To dismiss “Jackie” entirely, and to deny the possibility of an assault against her as “the fabrication of a terrible lie,” is to directly participate in systematic victim shaming and to continue to promote the institutional privilege of Greek life at UVA and on other college campuses.
For the love of our universities, let us defend them through loving criticism rather through a sense of obligation.
Emelia A. Abbe
B.A., Butler University, 2013