Monday, April 6, 2015

The Next Phi Kappa Psi

In the aftermath of the University of Virginia non-rape story and the lack of any substantive apologies to the fraternity or Rolling Stone firings as a result, one's mind is necessarily going to wander.  The "Jackie" character who made up the story is still a student at UVa, and the "Dr. Teresa Sullivan" character is still running the university as its president, even though her overreaction led to an absurd shutdown of sororities (yes, you read that correctly) as well as all the fraternities.  Neither has been punished, nor will either be.

It seems much clearer now.  "Jackie" came to UVa a somewhat disturbed person, as evidenced by her aggressively going after a male fellow student who had no romantic interest in her, and then engaging him to try to check out another male fellow student's interest in her.  That student, well, didn't exist and "Jackie" had set up a private phone number to "be" him.  Not really stable, that girl.

When some of that started to fall apart, she made up a story about being gang-raped, assuming she'd be made out the victim and wouldn't have to defend herself very hard.  Of course, when you make up the story with dates of events that didn't happen, and refuse to complain to the police who could have helped, your credibility sinks lower than that of the current president.  And, as it turned out, she made the whole thing up -- part of the syndrome and totally in character for what we have learned about this person.

Back to the aftermath.

We know that people are sexually assaulted.  We know it happens on campus, and we know that there are predatory males armed with alcohol and drugs and pickup lines.  We would like that behavior to end -- and I mean this second.  We would like there to be an environment where the victims of such assaults can go straight to the police and feel comfortable reporting it.

However -- we also know that when you extract the violence aspect of rape, you are left with sex -- and sex can be a perfectly consensual act.  This means that the physical evidence, and the testimony of the participants, are vital in determining which one, if any, actually happened when rape is claimed.  It's far too easy for a participant to claim lack of consent the next day, after having been entirely consenting during the act, but angry about something thereafter.  That's a pretty hard case to adjudicate.

And now we also know something.  We know that a rape claim can be a weapon, some might say a cry for help regarding something that has nothing to do with an actual rape.  We have now seen that the institutional response is likely to be very dramatic, and if this is in response to a fake claim, it gives the complainant a lot of the attention and publicity they want -- even if their name is never raised, their persona is publicized.

But of course, it is exactly the dramatic over-response that is the problem, because that reaction involves punishment of the innocent, and that -- a loss of due process -- should offend us mightily.  If I were a UVa Phi Kappa Psi member, I would be knocking on every door of the administration building in Charlottesville daily and asking "Excuse me, ma'am, but what office do I see to get my reputation back?"

There will be a next fake-rape UVa-type story at some college somewhere.  What will that school's Teresa Sullivan do?  Will he or she shut down the whole sorority system as well as the fraternities?  Or will he or she immediately call for cool heads and note that due process mandates that nothing be done without a reasonable police investigation into the facts?  (If you're in Vegas, bet on "A")

"Jackie" has caused great problems for actual rape victims everywhere, and she owes a lot of people an apology -- the Phi Kappa Psi chapter at UVa; the whole Phi Kappa Psi national organization and its members; the entire UVa Greek system, all for the aspersions cast upon them and the unwarranted punishment they received.  She should apologize to Teresa Sullivan for setting her up to look stupid, though I gather Dr. Sullivan was quite capable of doing that on her own.

Most of all, "Jackie" has clouded the response to future incidents -- and for that she owes everyone an apology.

Of course, like that from Teresa Sullivan, we'll be waiting a long time for it.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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  1. Rolling Stone has just been exposed as so unbelievably and unforgivably sloppy in what they pass off as journalism that they have forfeited any reason to be taken seriously. Ever.

    Columbia University's Journalism School just published their review of this fiasco. It might be possible that "Jackie" conned a predisposed and naive reporter. However, among other problems with the story, Columbia's J School discovered that "Jackie's" alleged gang rape at a fraternity party took place on a date when there were no activities at that fraternity's house. It's inconceivable that a major national magazine failed to spend a minute on the phone with the fraternity checking if there was a party on the date in question.

    Columbia's report can be read at and Rolling Stone's retraction and crocodile tears at .

    When the New York Times caught Jayson Blair plagiarizing and fabricating, he immediately "resigned" and the Times printed a major front page apology for not catching him before his stuff got in print. Before that the Washington Post's Janet Cooke "resigned" and gave back the Pulitzer that she won for slipping her fiction past not only the Post, but the Pulitzer committee. Neither has worked in journalism since. Ms. Erdely and all editors that allowed this to get in print have disqualified themselves as journalists. Like Mr. Blair and Ms. Cooke, they should never work in journalism again.

    One wag said rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read. Rolling Stone, stick to that.

    The fraternity is reportedly considering suing the magazine. I hope they collect Real Money, use a little of it to spruce up their house, and give the rest to rape recovery services.

  2. Bob, you're not the only one who wants to hear from Pres. Sullivan. Glenn Reynolds wrote, "... At the very least, Sullivan owes these fraternity guys, and the Greek community, an open, public, and contrite apology. If I were on the UVA Board of Visitors, I’d be demanding her resignation." Thanks to the Washington Post for quoting him April 6:

  3. Anthony, even this morning there are still complaints, his time in a letter to the Post, about Dr. Sullivan failing to apologize to the fraternity she defamed, as well as one asking why "Jackie" continues to be anonymous. Certainly if I come across her name (not that I'm looking hard; I have a real job) I will publish it here.