UVA and the Dangers of Tradition

rotunda-mallWhen I was growing up in suburban Virginia, I adored UVA (the University of Virginia). I spent part of 4 summers at a summer camp on UVA’s campus, and I cherish those memories of four-square, frisbee, and girls in the midst of the austere architecture of Thomas Jefferson.

During those summers and the years that followed, I saw myself attending college at UVA. I recall a Model UN conference on the UVA campus during my senior year in high school when I debated international policies with my peers. This is what college is meant to be, I thought.

But after my college applications were accepted by UVA and a number of other schools, I went on a brief tour of those schools to gain some perspective before making such an important decision. I discovered that despite UVA’s great academic reputation, their Japanese program didn’t hold a candle to the one at Washington University in St. Louis.

Sometimes I’ve wondered about what it would have been like to attend UVA. It was an in-state school for me, so tuition would have been a fraction of Wash U’s cost. I would have been closer to home, and I like the idea of attending a school with a passion for sports. That certainly wasn’t the case at Wash U.

However, after reading the shocking and appalling article on Rolling Stone about the fraternities at UVA and the idea of upholding tradition over human decency, there isn’t a single part of me that wishes I had gone to UVA instead of Wash U.

If you haven’t read the article, I recommend doing so. It’s…I can’t really put it any other way than to say that it’s disgusting. On every level. The article suggests–the evidence is circumstantial but mounting–that at least one (possibly more) fraternities at UVA use the rape of female students as an initiation rite. Not only that, but despite numerous allegations of rape over the years to UVA administrators, not a single student has been expelled for sexual assault.

Compounding all this is the culture of upholding tradition and reputation at UVA. When Jackie, the main victim in the Rolling Stone article, told her roommate she was thinking about reporting the rape, the roommate replied, “Do you want to be responsible for something that’s gonna paint UVA in a bad light? You have to remember where your loyalty lies.”

This is after Jackie was gang raped by 7 UVA frat boys.

The whole idea of tradition and loyalty trumping basic human rights and needs is so foreign to me that I barely know how to write about it. Part of it is that I went to Wash U, where school spirit is pretty low on the list. That isn’t to say I don’t care about my alma mater–I want the school to succeed and do well–but there’s no sense of instilled tradition. I’m starting to think that’s a good thing if tradition can make people turn a blind eye to such horrible things as what’s happened at UVA.

The one parallel I saw at Wash U was fraternity life, particularly the hazing and initiation rites. I wasn’t in a frat and thus didn’t experience any of it firsthand, but a number of guys on my freshman floor were involved. Whenever I asked them about the stupid things they endured to get into the frat, they told me that they put up with them because it was tradition. Later, when I asked them why they were fine with doing the same stupid things to new rush classes, they justified it by saying they had gone through the same thing.

It’s perpetual cycle of stupidity–once you go through the initiation rites, as much as you hate them, you’re much more likely to make someone else do the same thing later.

Granted, doing silly things with people can create strong bonds with them. But silly becomes stupid and stupid becomes dangerous…you know, I don’t even know if I can extrapolate that to rape. It’s just so beyond me that anywhere along the line, frat boys at UVA decided that it was okay to use rape–a horrendous, illegal, dehumanizing act–as an initiation rite, and that they’ve somehow stuck with that tradition! How is that even possible? Who are these monsters? And who are the students and administrators who turned a blind eye in defense of tradition and loyalty?

I still cherish those boyhood summers at UVA, but I feel a little dirty that I walked along the same path as people like that.

7 thoughts on “UVA and the Dangers of Tradition”

  1. Thank you for this, Jamey. As a date rape survivor, I commend you for offering perspective to a custom that needs to end now. I normally don’t plug but you should check out Ultraviolet’s campaign to address this issue at all major campuses by disclosing campus incidents by school. For clarification, you briefly alluded to how the visits to campuses and evaluating the Japanese programs, assisted you in determining where to attend. Normally, this is what students do today. However, with the continued onslaught of violence including assault, disclosure of these incidents is a personal matter for me also. UVA is not the only campus facing this dilemma but it is the one that has received the most media attention. Again, thank you for taking a stand and I hope that your readers continue to do the same.

    • Orianna: Thank you for sharing your experience (that is very brave of you) and for sharing the Ultraviolet campaign. Hopefully the UVA article will help them and other universities do a better job of identifying and fixing the problem, as I’m sure it goes well beyond UVA.

  2. I read the article last week, and I cried. It was horrifying what these women went through. And then, to be so unsupported by their communities – that was a terrible way of prolonging their experiences.

    I wish I could say those types of things didn’t happen at Wash U. I’m sure they did, and I’m sure they still do. But I hope these exposes get to the victims and to the other students around these victims, to open their eyes to just how cruel silence can be.

    Thanks for your post, Jamey.

    • Thanks for your comment, Neeraja. I had the same reaction when I read the article–it was heartbreaking.

      I agree that these atrocities could be happening at any university, including Wash U. I hope the incidences of gang rape in particular are far and few between.


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