National fraternity and sorority leaders are calling on the University of Virginia to reinstate its Greek system, which the university suspended after an article in Rolling Stone that is now in dispute chronicled an alleged gang rape at a campus fraternity.
Greek leaders say they would like the university to apologize, publicly release records that explain the basis of its decision to suspend the Greek system and outline how it will restore the reputation of fraternities and students at the university. The requests were outlined Sunday in a joint statement by leaders of the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, the National Panhellenic Conference and the North American Interfraternity Conference.
“We believe universities must demonstrate more respect for the fundamental rights to due process and freedom of association for students and student organizations when allegations of misconduct are lodged,” the statement said. “A rush to judgment on campus all too often turns out to be wrong, especially when applied at the organizational level.”
Fraternities and sororities, whose image was marred by the Rolling Stone account, are planning a sweeping offensive for the coming weeks. Sunday’s statement was just the first step: The groups are considering a Freedom of Information Act request to uncover the university’s basis for suspending the Greek system and could take legal action should the University of Virginia not reinstate the chapters, according to a source familiar with the thinking of the national fraternities and sororities. Individual fraternities and sororities will be reaching out to the university to ask it to take action and reinstate the Greek system as well, the source said. The chapters have been suspended until Jan. 9, though the suspensions could last longer.
They’re also looking to Washington for help. A group of fraternities has hired former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Squire Patton Boggs to lobby Congress for changes in how campuses address sexual assault incidents.
“Congress needs to take a comprehensive approach to fixing these problems so that every case is handled in a manner that is fair, balanced and provides the full measure of constitutional protections to all parties,” Lott said in a statement.
Several members of Congress have been pushing to reform policies related to campus sexual assault in recent months, most notably Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who issued a survey this spring probing the way campuses handle reports of sexual assault.
The fraternity and sorority leaders said in their statement that Congress should examine whether the public interest “is being served by forcing sexual assault cases into a campus judicial process” and that the on-campus process lacks “the necessary skill sets, resources and capability needed to reach the right decision.”
The Rolling Stone story, published in late November, described a brutal assault at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at UVA. But details of the story have since been called into question by both the local chapter of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and The Washington Post, which vetted the story independently. The fraternity said Friday that it did not host a party on the night in question, and that none of its members worked at the campus Aquatic and Fitness Center — as the victim had alleged in the story — at the time.
The article was still posted on the Rolling Stone website Sunday night, but the magazine on Friday added an extensive editor’s note acknowledging that parts of the story may not be true. The note also said it was a mistake for the magazine to not try to contact the alleged attackers.
The University of Virginia did not immediately return a request for comment. But University President Teresa Sullivan emphasized last week that the new focus on curbing sexual assault on campus, catalyzed by the article, shouldn’t be compromised because of the doubts over the victim’s account.
Jean Mrasek, the chairwoman of the National Panhellenic Conference, which represents sororities, said in a statement that the group has “asked for a seat at the table” in the university’s conversation about changing sexual assault policies. But the group believes that suspending the sororities on campus doesn’t resolve the situation “and in fact, we believe it further complicates the issues at hand,” Mrasek said.
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