Quite a long read, with a lot of different topics to unpack, but it’s well worth reading the whole thing. Jia Tolentino, at Jezebel, tells us what happens as “A UVA Alum Goes Back to Rugby Road“:
It’s a blue, cold Thursday in January and I’m walking down Rugby Road on the first night of fraternity rush at the University of Virginia, brushing past groups of identical gossiping boys in matching preppy outfits: fleeces, checked oxfords, khakis, boots. “Excuse me,” they say politely when our coats touch, then turn back to each other and their offhand drawling: “What was that back there, Bronyfest?” “Not enough of a tobacco enthusiast for that house, I can’t just sit around ripping cigs.” “I wasn’t feeling them, dude, they had, like, a serial rapist vibe.”
I am startled at the boy who just threw that out in the winter night to his two friends, because all four of us are crossing the street on our way to Phi Psi, the fraternity whose huge Christmas-lit mansion is a landmark in the middle of the physical fraternity scene in a way that the fraternity itself—until Rolling Stone—was not. But the boys were talking about a druggier, prep-school frat; they’re not talking about Phi Psi.
No one here is talking about Phi Psi, at least not “Phi Psi,” the figural fraternity or the true, unchecked scourge of sexual assault that it was used to represent. (The frat has since been cleared of charges, with “no basis to believe that an incident occurred.”) In fact, if there is a single male interacting with the Greek system—or even one human on campus generally—who wouldn’t rather tuck away last semester as a bad dream, I won’t hear about it over the next five days. It was enough that Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s egregiously misreported gang rape story put everyone at Thanksgiving dinner with Grandma asking about consent mechanics between bites of mashed potato, but there were three undergraduate suicides, too, and Hannah Graham, a first-year girl found dead a month after she went to a party and then disappeared.
It was a lot. Everyone’s ready to move on. Rush numbers are robust and steady, both for frats and sororities, which rope in a third of the undergraduate population: the boys in fleeces on the street are just trying to hurry up, bro, and belong. “Those guys are so Southern I felt racist just walking in,” one says. “That one dude was gay as fuck,” says another. Their elementary language belies both the bigoted underpinnings of the Greek system that are common to every Southern prestige structure—classism, racism, homophobia, sexism—as well as the genuine desire among many participants in these structures to process and transcend the bad blood that stains the corners of their party…
… [I]n a national context, UVA’s Greek system is legitimately low-key. Sororities don’t haze or send 5,000-word emails about coating your person in Vaseline. Fraternities don’t, as they do in other places, force their pledges to beat each other unconscious. Greek students at Virginia are just trying to meet their best men and future maids of honor, just trying to find someone to smoke weed with on a Sunday; they’re just trying to follow in their grandparents’ footsteps (possible only, of course, if said grandparents are white); they’re just trying to put on a neon tank top and hook up with the best-looking rich person they can. “What’s the fucking big deal?” they might say, reading this. It’s just a good time, isn’t it? I met my boyfriend seven years ago at a sorority pre-game; he lived in a frat house and came out much sweeter than me. I, like the majority (but certainly not all) of the current and former UVA women I talked to while writing this piece, never felt unsafe at a fraternity party.
But neither did my college friend Kelly on the night that she was raped. Neither did UVA alum Jessica Longo, forcibly penetrated while unconscious in her own bed, by a guy in a prestigious fraternity who everyone jokingly called “Predator.”
It is hard for young privileged Americans to reconcile their good intentions with the violence that has facilitated their lifestyle. Students at UVA love their school sincerely. They remember their founder as a bastion of modern ideas and forget he owned humans as property. They are history majors who’d like to focus on the positive: the gorgeous brick buildings, but never who built them, or the fact that UVA as an institution purchased slaves too. The erasure of suffering exists in every transaction of power, on Grounds as it is in America. In just weeks, UVA has found millions of dollars to fund infrastructure improvements that will satisfy stakeholders who want something to be done about “the rape problem.” The school has also spent a decade ignoring a vocal, sustained campaign for them to pay their hourly employees a living wage…
… The UVA Greek system is segregated, not just unofficially but explicitly. The unmarked but almost totally white system is the school’s default: the Inter-Sorority Council and Inter-Fraternity Council are the largest student organizations on campus, with no mention of race anywhere on their literature. Shoved off to a corner somewhere are the Multicultural Greek Council, for “Latin, Asian and local” fraternities and sororities, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, for historically black Greek organizations.
No broad segment of the American population experiences sexual violence at the rates that black women do. And yet, before and after Rolling Stone’s bombshell, guess which of the above councils were never invited to the Board of Visitors meetings, to national press conferences, even to sit down for a talk? Would it surprise you to hear, after all this exhaustive media coverage, that the first reported rape at the University of Virginia occurred in 1850 and concerned three male students who took a seventeen-year-old Charlottesville slave girl out into the woods?…
Here is the difference between the way UVA treats its black Greek community and its white one. White sororities and fraternities all occupy enormous mansions leased to them in perpetuity for (often) a dollar per year. Black sororities and fraternities don’t have land access at all; not one of them has historically owned a house. White frats throw parties downstairs from their bedrooms and keep the good liquor under their desks upstairs; black frats have to rent spaces every time they want to to party, and they always pay security and often fork out for a staffed bar. The new regulations that IFC organizations are groaning about are nothing compared to the normal way black frats, and black frat brothers, have to carry on.
And, although the black Greek community—like the white one—is stocked with members who are actively trying to address and acknowledge sexual assault in their midst, Sabrina Rubin Erdely didn’t acknowledge them with a mention. Neither, in the aftermath, did UVA. Nor has almost anyone reporting on “campus climate” or institutional changes…
Tolentino talks about history, and mechanics, and potential solutions — again, I’m not reprinting more than little chunks of the whole article, so you should at least skim it before complaining in the comments, okay?