The University of Virginia is reinstating the fraternity implicated in a Rolling Stone article on sexual assault last November. But police say they are still investigating the allegations in the 9,000-word article released last November.
The announcement comes on the first day of spring classes, less than a week after fraternities were allowed to resume social activities at UVa. Spring also is the traditional rushing period for the university’s 60-plus Greek-life organizations, which include about 30 percent of the undergraduate student body.
“We welcome Phi Kappa Psi, and we look forward to working with all fraternities and sororities in enhancing and promoting a safe environment for all,” UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan said in a statement.
The university made the announcement shortly after a consultation with the Charlottesville Police Department, which has found no “substantive basis” for claims that an alleged gang rape occurred at Phi Kappa Psi, according to the university’s statement.
Charlottesville Police Capt. Gary Pleasants said the department is still looking into the matter. Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that the gang rape described in the article might have occurred.
“We are investigating to see what may have happened anywhere, including another fraternity,” Pleasants said. He added that Phi Kappa Psi has not been ruled out as the possible location of the incident.
“We aren’t ruling out anything at this time; there is just nothing that points at them that would dictate keeping them from participating in activities afforded other fraternities,” Pleasants said.
UVa spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said the administration has been advised by police not to comment on the investigation. The university’s response also is being reviewed by independent counsel appointed by Virginia’s attorney general.
“We will cooperate fully with each and stand ready to take action where necessary based on the findings,” de Bruyn said.
The Rolling Stone piece detailed an alleged gang rape at a Phi Kappa Psi party. The story slowly unraveled as details fell apart under scrutiny.
Fraternity records, for example, showed no fraternity social activities scheduled the night the rape was supposed to have happened. The accuser — identified by writer Sabrina Rubin-Erdely as “Jackie” — claims she knew one of the rapists from her job as a lifeguard at the Student Aquatic & Fitness Center. But no one on Phi Kappa Psi’s roster was on the center’s list of employees at the time.
Regardless, the story has prompted changes at the university.
Phi Kappa Psi, like the rest of the university’s fraternities, has signed an agreement to follow new rules for social functions, including the presence of sober monitors — who all would be members of the fraternity hosting the function — and a prohibition against “pre-mixed” drinks.
Beer will be served only in original containers, according to the new fraternal order agreement between university administration and the Inter-fraternity Council. Both sorority and fraternity members will have to undergo more extensive training on sexual assault and bystander intervention.
The UVa administration has not specified how it will ensure the fraternities are following the new rules. The administration will work closely with fraternity leaders to make sure members are complying, de Bruyn said, but pointed out that fraternity houses are private property.
“Should violations be brought to the university’s attention, as has been the case it the past, the dean of students’ office will investigate, and any appropriate next steps would be based upon the details of each case,” he said.
Rebecca Weybright, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, said the new rules are a step in the right direction. The sober monitors and new training could help make a dent in the problem, she said.
Weybright also said she thought the suspension was a good idea and “gave the fraternities a chance to look at themselves too and figure out whether there were changes they could make.”
Regardless of the problems with the article, Weybright said, it opened up an important conversation on sexual assault in college.
“I think we need to continue to talk about this issue and look at what happens in our society that makes someone think they can sexually assault another person,” she said. “I don’t want all this attention here now to be forgotten two years, three years from now.”
Pleasants declined to comment on Jackie's involvement in the police investigation.