The University of Virginia’s spring semester began this week, following a tumultous start to the academic year that culminated with a major feature in Rolling Stone magazine blasting the university culture surrounding sexual assault and Greek life.
Now, as the university gears up for rush — where freshmen vie for membership in one of the campus’ fraternity or sorority houses — students have to choose whether they want to “go Greek.”
Business Insider spoke with one male freshman student who said that he initially didn’t plan on rushing or pledging when he started at UVA, assuming he could find friends through other campus activities. He has since changed his mind, though.
“When I was looking into the school, I knew that fraternity life was a big deal at UVA and really held to a high esteem,” he said. “I just felt like there were other ways to find your group, and I’ve definitely found that though different organisations.”
The reason he now wants to join a fraternity, he said, is due to how the Greeks reacted to the now-notorious Rolling Stone feature. In the story, Rolling Stone included one female student’s account of her alleged gang rape at a prominent campus fraternity. The story has since been called into question after major factual errors were revealed.
More broadly, though, while Rolling Stone’s article focused on one fraternity — Phi Kappa Psi — it also seemed to implicate the school’s entire Greek system, as well as a student culture that was apathetic toward sexual assault. The student we spoke with said even though he had only been on campus for a few months, he didn’t recognise the UVA depicted in Rolling Stone.
“When this article came out, it seemed almost foreign to me. The whole time I’ve been at UVA, I’ve never seen any instance when any student had any malintent,” he said. “It just didn’t seem possible, everyone always seemed to have everyone’s back. People were always going out in pairs and checking on each other.”
What did seem to widely resonate on campus, though, was how students viewed the university’s dominant Greek scene.
In the immediate days following the article’s publication “there was definitely a sense of disgust, especially on the Phi Psi house itself,” he said, adding that this sentiment quickly spread to people’s feelings about fraternity life in general.
However, the student said he became more inclined to go through rush after seeing how UVA’s fraternities and sororities reacted in the fallout of the Rolling Stone article.
“It wasn’t something where they were trying to fight back against or throw fire into the flame. They tried to do it in a way where they were getting behind the cause and show that it’s something they don’t approve of,” he said.
Starting his second semester at UVA, the student said there’s a different feeling around campus than when he left in December. “It’s definitely different in the sense that people are expecting change,” he said, “and I feel like that change is coming.”
This sentiment has remained visible in Greek life, the freshman said, as he realised from speaking to older friends of his already in houses. “The fraternities are all trying to do better for the students and community as a whole,” he said.
The freshman student said he believes that Greeks can continue to be part of the change on campus, which is one of the reasons he decided to participate in fraternity rush.
“The people rushing, we have an opportunity to join something that is trying to get behind this cause and be a symbol for fairness and equal treatment,” he said.
Perhaps unexpectedly, this new sense of change in the air seems to stem from the Rolling Stone article, and how it depicted UVA’s student culture.
“It’s opened the eyes of the student body as a whole, and everyone is really rallying behind the opportunity for the university to be the community we all know and love,” he said. “The talk isn’t about the content of the article, it’s more just about how we can be better as a university community.”
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