A University of Virginia professor who spoke out about the school’s rape culture after an explosive Rolling Stone article said many students are appalled at the magazine’s reporting after certain elements of the article were discredited.
Since our original discussion last week with UVA associate professor of music Bonnie Gordon, questions have been raised about the accuracy of the Rolling Stone article after several discrepancies were discovered in one student’s account of her alleged gang rape.
Now, Gordon described two distinct reactions on campus to the revisions to the Rolling Stone story. While there are still UVA students actively working to combat the university’s sexual assault culture — they would be “working on the issues no matter what happened in Rolling Stone,” Gordon said — many students have been “shocked by the irresponsibility” of the magazine and its reporting.
“Students are very angry at Rolling Stone,” she said.
Overall though, it seems there is a continuing conversation about sexual assault at UVA that’s no longer tied to Rolling Stone’s coverage. “It’s not about the article anymore,” Gordon said.
“The kind of important work that needs to be done, needed to be done before the Rolling Stone article,” Gordon said.
When we spoke with Gordon last week, she said that at UVA there was recently “a huge amount of really good political and social activism,” more visible than the smaller “pockets of activism” seen on campus before the Rolling Stone article.
“That’s the best thing that could come out of this,” she said.
Days after the Rolling Stone article went live, UVA president Teresa Sullivan announced she was suspending the school’s fraternity system. UVA officials confirmed that the fraternities would stay closed — even in the face of discrepancies in the Rolling Stone feature — in a statement to The Washington Post on Monday.
Gordon said last week she’s personally “not as fond of removing the fraternities, because I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem.” While there is work to be done to change the campus’ culture surrounding sexual assault, she said, “I’m not convinced shutting down the fraternities does the work.”
UVA’s fraternities are problematic, she said, as they are “systematic of a larger culture” at UVA and “certainly represent a sort of white patriarchal privilege.” Gordon explained that an aspect of UVA’s student culture — specifically in its fraternities — is tied to a Southern tradition of “white male elitism.”
Gordon described the historical roots of “Southern honour” as a “culture rooted in vengeance and violence.”
“Every school has a particular local ramification of sexual violence,” Gordon said. “UVA has Southern culture.”
Here’s how Gordon described UVA’s “rape culture problem” in a column she wrote for Slate last month:
UVA has a rape culture problem. Rape culture normalizes rape as part of a larger system of attitudes and understandings of gender and sexuality. Rape culture can include victim blaming, and assuming that rapists are strangers. Rape culture accepts rape as a norm that women have to work to avoid. Rape culture reflects a community grounded in patriarchal privilege and gender inequity…
Many of us at the university who work on sexual violence issues — either through teaching feminist theory courses, working with survivors of rape and harassment, or pushing the university toward gender equality — have made the point this week that rape is not a new emergency at UVA. Harassment, assault, and rape have been going on for years, in fraternities and in many other parts of the university.
That doesn’t mean, though, that UVA’s students are any more prone to sexual assault than those at other campuses. “My guess is students are no more or less safe here then they are at other places,” Gordon said.
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