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UVA President Announces More Changes In Wake Of Sexual Assault Coverage


The president of the University of Virginia announced more steps today to address allegations of widespread rape on campus. The allegations were made in a Rolling Stone article last month which detailed a gang rape at a fraternity and officials' mishandling of the case when it was finally reported. Facing mounting calls for action, UVA president Teresa Sullivan abruptly canceled a previously scheduled talk at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Instead, she spoke to a small group of students on campus in a speech that was also live-streamed. NPR's Jennifer Ludden joins us now to tell us more about it. Jennifer, what did she have say to these students?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Well, Teresa Sullivan talked about how distressing that article was. She said, we won't accept the behavior in it as a normal. And she said that she has committed not to just only to cooperating with this independent investigation of what took place, but also figuring out how to change a campus culture that allowed it to happen.


TERESA SULLIVAN: And let me say emphatically that how we answer these questions is not about protecting the university's reputation. It's about doing the right thing. The reputation I care most about is the reputation for following the truth, wherever it may lead.

LUDDEN: As for concrete steps, Pres. Sullivan had a few small ones. She announced a new trauma counselor at the women's center on campus. Right now, there's only one. The university will fund a police substation near campus, and there would be more joint patrols between campus police and Charlottesville police. She also said that there is an extended public comment period on the university's new policy on sexual assault. This is something that, ironically, was announced the very day the Rolling Stone article came out.

CORNISH: And what about fraternities? The alleged gang rape described in the Rolling Stone article took place at a fraternity house.

LUDDEN: Right. They - it had already been announced that they will be suspended till the spring semester, which means really largely over the winter break. Pres. Sullivan said UVA does not own the fraternity houses. She does not directly control them. But she is renegotiating the contract between the frats and the university. She said the new contracts will have to address under-age drinking, and she wants those proposals in by the end of the year. She also talked a lot about alcohol and how binge drinking is a problem on campus. She said students needed to know what they're drinking and how much they're drinking and that you can't really do that from those sweet punches that a lot of the frat houses brew in a big garbage can. And she also said this.


SULLIVAN: Yet another problem with alcohol is it can be the vehicle for some other drug to be ingested, unknown to the drinker. Let's call this by its name. This is poisoning, and it should be legally prosecuted as such.

LUDDEN: Pres. Sullivan said she wants Friday and Saturday nights this coming spring to look a lot different than they did this fall.

CORNISH: So how did the students respond?

LUDDEN: You know, I spoke with a fourth-year student who heads One Less, which is a group on campus that combats sexual assault. She says she's really helpful. She felt this was the first time she had heard Pres. Sullivan sound genuinely dedicated to, as she put it, eradicating this problem from the ground up. She really liked especially that Pres. Sullivan talked about more engagement with the Charlottesville police force, working to get more people trained in dealing with traumatized students and, again, in creating this culture where both of the victims of sexual assault and people who witness can feel comfortable in coming forward to report it because early reporting is the best way to successfully prosecute these cases before, as she said, evidence disappears, and witnesses forget or move away.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Jennifer, thank you.

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

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.

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