UVA’s Board of Visitors voted unanimously in a special meeting today to commit to a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault.
The meeting came six days after the publication of an explosive report by Rolling Stone detailing a reported 2012 gang rape at a fraternity and a culture of covering up sexual assaults on Grounds. The vote came after lengthy discussion of the story’s impact on the University community, which in the last week has seen protests, numerous statements from administrators, the temporary suspension of all fraternities and sororities, and commitments from advocates, students and school officials to change the culture around sexual assault.
“Part of the reason we got here is because we swept things under the rug,” said Board of Visitors member Helen Dragas, who shared her feelings about the story with C-VILLE in an e-mail interview this week. Dragas, who choked back tears when she initially took her turn to report to the rest of the board Tuesday, was the one who proposed the motion.
“Like so many of you, I have been heartbroken over the last few days,” she said. “I think it’s important to put into words the suffering that our victims, their families, go through.”
Earlier today, Attorney General Mark Herring announced the appointment of three attorneys with the firm O’Melveny & Myers would serve as a special counsel to the board—the promised investigatory outfit announced by Governor Terri McAuliffe last week. The trio consists of Danielle Gray, Apalla Chopra and Walter Dellinger. Dellinger is a former acting Solicitor General of the United States who successfully argued a landmark Title IX case, Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The attorneys are tasked with investigating the reported 2012 rape and its handling by the University, scrutinizing its overall policy on sexual assault, and assisting the board in determining what “cultural and institutional” changes must be made to support survivors and encourage them to come forward.
“The University of Virginia community and all Virginians have been stunned by the horrific story Rolling Stone brought to light, as well as the apparent inadequacy of the University’s response to this and other past reports of sexual violence,” Herring said in a press release announcing the counsel’s appointment. “Charlottesville Police have been asked to handle any criminal investigations into this specific attack, but all other aspects of campus sexual violence, including how school officials handled this case, will be thoroughly and independently scrutinized. I have made it clear this will be an aggressive and consequential investigation and review. The safety of our students is too important to accept anything less than a full accounting of what happened and bold ideas to ensure that no student suffers the unimaginable trauma of sexual violence or the injustice of an inadequate institutional response.”