Fallout From 'Rolling Stone' Story Changes Conversation At UVA

Dec 8, 2014
Originally published on December 9, 2014 10:49 am
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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This hour begins with the aftermath of Rolling Stones' acknowledgment that there were missteps in its reporting of an alleged campus gang rape, the story that not only shook the University of Virginia but colleges nationwide. When the Rolling Stone piece of first came out, fraternities and sororities at UVA were suspended. Now there are calls for that suspension to be lifted. Student anti-rape advocates say the university should stay focused on the issue of campus rape. In a moment, some of the national reaction - but first, NPR's Jennifer Ludden spent the day at UVA. She speaks to us now. And Jennifer, what are people saying about what's transpired over the past few days?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Audie, a lot of people don't want to say anything about this, especially to a reporter. I should note that this is the beginning of final week here, so people are stressed. They're focused on their studies. Many people I asked did not want to say anything to the media. But I did manage to speak to a number of people, students who work in sexual assault advocacy. They have a lot of dismay. They feel let down by Rolling Stone backing away from this article and the victim in it having, now, her story questioned. There's also a lot of anger. I spoke with Brian Head, who heads One in Four, which is a peer education group on sexual assault.

BRIAN HEAD: I feel pressure. I think the source of this pressure is people's frustrations, and they're sort of reacting to the amount of hate that they received after the initial article came out. And I think that's the source of their frustration. I don't think - I actually think the majority of people still recognize that sexual assault is a very prominent issue.

CORNISH: Jennifer, what do these campus advocates say about the concerns that the Rolling Stone piece will distract from the conversation about what to do about rape on campus generally?

LUDDEN: They are definitely worried it will set them back. One woman told me that they'd had a number of people come forward after the article came out. Victims were coming forward to say, this happened to me. And they felt safer doing so. They worry people, women, will be less likely to report an assault and certainly less likely to speak to the media. But Ashley Brown, who heads this group One Less - it's a student sexual assault advocacy group - said, you know, the biggest problem that we've had here, our biggest enemy, has been apathy - not just from administrators, but also from fellow students who didn't want to really recognize the scope of the problem and deal with it. And even given this past few days, she feels that now the issue has such a higher profile that there isn't as much apathy. And in the end, she feels that this will still have provided a big boost for people who want to do something about the problem.

ASHLEY BROWN: People's eyes are open to how big of a problem sexual assault is, especially in college settings. And at least I know that the administration and a lot of the students are not - they're not seeing this as any reason to back down. You know, if anything, they're redoubling their efforts to ensure that, you know, this problem is squashed.

CORNISH: Jennifer, finally, the university administration - been under a lot of pressure. How is it responding now?

LUDDEN: They have said they remain committed to doing - they're on the record now for saying they want huge change. They want to change the culture. They want to address underage drinking. President Teresa Sullivan has called this one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education. Let's remember also that they are under federal government investigation, along with dozens of other universities, for mishandling sexual assault cases. Also, the Interfraternity Council, which represents fraternities on campus, say they remain committed to, quote, "being leaders in the campaign for long-term change."

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden at WVTF in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jennifer, thanks so much.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.