After being thrown into the national spotlight on issues of sexual assault, the University of Virginia will consider plans to create a research institute on violence, offer new courses on campus safety and use surveys to create new strategies — all in an effort to become a national leader in improving campus safety.
U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan made the remarks Friday during a speech to the campus community to address "recent issues."
Recently, a U.Va. student was abducted and killed, and then Rolling Stone magazine published a story describing a culture of sexual violence at the school. Sullivan called the previous semester one of the most traumatic in the university's history.
"Before the Rolling Stone story was discredited, it seemed to resonate with some people simply because it confirmed their darkest suspicions about universities — that administrations are corrupt; that today's students are reckless and irresponsible; that fraternities are hot-beds of deviant behavior. Working together, we have soundly refuted those suspicions through our actions over the past two months," Sullivan said.
The Rolling Stone article focused on an alleged gang rape at a fraternity house in 2012. Charlottesville police said earlier this month that there's no credible evidence that an assault happened here, and other parts of the story have been called into question.
The university has been re-evaluating its culture, particularly in regard to the role of alcohol campus and its connection to sexual assaults. By the end of April, Sullivan said a group of administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni and university board members will deliver recommendations on ways the university's culture may need to change.
"All colleges, the military, and many workplaces face similar issues of sexual violence. But we have been put in a leadership position, and we will lead," Sullivan said.
Next week, the university will consider a proposal by faculty to create an Institute for Research on Violence, Inequality and Power.
Among other initiatives unveiled Friday, Sullivan said two undergraduate students have created a social network designed to connect women in their second, third, and fourth years at the university to those in their first. The goal is for older students to mentor first-year students and talk with them in candid terms about parties, social life and staying safe at UVa, Sullivan said.
This spring, two professors will present the results of their study into how safety issues can contribute to long-term gender disparities in educational and professional outcomes. In April, a student competition will focus on developing policy-based solutions to campus-safety issues.
Later that month, U.Va. will join 27 other universities conducting a sexual assault survey on campus, with the results expected in July.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis