U-Va President Promises Action, But Will the Plans Be Enough?

In the wake of a staggering controversy that rocked the campus, the University of Virginia plans to move ahead with plans to improve campus security, rein in alcohol abuse, reform its Greek life culture, and stop sexual assault.

According to U-VA President Teresa A. Sullivan, the university has several measures planned. First, it plans to deploy uniformed “ambassadors” around campus to escort students home or provide other help on weekends. Second, it plans to hire more counselors to help students work through any traumatic sexual assault experiences. Third, U-VA plans to revise its written agreements with fraternities, ensuring that safety becomes the top priority.

“When you have more officers and more eyes and ears there, it can help with all kinds of difficult situations,” said Sullivan.

These were just a few of the action items Sullivan discussed in a one-hour interview with the Washington Post, which was her most comprehensive interview since the Rolling Stone article that launched the controversy. In that article, Rolling Stone accused the U-VA of responding with apathy towards sexual assault victims. Recently, the magazine had to publish an apology for “discrepancies.”

Alcohol, however, has proven to be a trickier issue. While Sullivan did say she was sympathetic to those want to crackdown on underage drinking, she fears a heavy hand might have unintended, devastating consequences.

“I don’t want students to be so afraid of police that they won’t call police when they’ve got a friend who’s in trouble,” she said. “But I think respect for the law is also an important thing for us to instill in our young people.”

Though she does have a point, the issue of drinking certainly does need to be addressed. Not only is alcohol abuse a crisis across the nation, it’s an issue plaguing the microcosm of campus life. Alcohol is the number one drug problem in the United States, after all. And what’s more, a study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that about 40% of college students binge-drink.

The reason it needs to be addressed is because it’s been linked time and time again to sexual assault on college campuses. A 2013 study titled “The Relationship Between Alcohol and Sexual Assault on the College Campus” states that “As alcohol use became more problematic, the chances of a student reporting that they had been sexually assaulted increased as well … Conversely, experiencing [sexual assault] may impact drinking rates, as those who answered, ‘Yes’ or ‘Not Sure’ to being a victim of [sexual assault] were more likely to be high-risk [drinkers] (33% and 29%) and problematic drinkers (9% and 8%).”

While these action items are certainly a good step forward, they may not prove to be enough. If U-VA wants to accomplish its goals, it’s likely going to have to tackle underage drinking, too.

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