This is my second post on learning from the saga taking place up the street at the University of Virginia. But remember this is NOT just about UVa, it is about colleges all across the country. These posts are based on the Rolling Stone article and for the purposes of these thoughts and questions, the article is being treated as an accurate portrayal of the events. My objective with these posts is to engage us in thinking about our culture and our reaction to it.
These events depict a severe cultural problem. As I study culture, I am convinced that they are changed neither by university presidents nor legislative bodies. Culture is changed one person at a time. Indeed, like disciple making, intentional culture change happens not so much from a pulpit but across the table of conversation. I say that with the full understanding that implicit culture change is happening all around us through TV, film, video games, Fb, etc, etc, etc. My hope is that through considering the various aspects of this tragic story – one aspect at a time, as I see them – we can each see ways to engage in positive culture change, one person at a time. Finally, let me preface this by saying that my comments and questions do not mean that I think that the persons described here are typical of all college students. But neither would I consider them exceptions. All of us can learn, whether we are 18, 38 or 58, from these events because like it or not we are all part of a culture.
There are a multitude of different relationships in this article. The one I have chosen for this post is that among ‘friends.’ Near the beginning of the article, after the crime, the victim had regained consciousness on the floor in the room where the atrocity was committed. She left the frat house and called for help. When the people she called found her they wanted to know what happened. The Rolling Stone description picks up here:
“Jackie shook her head and began to cry. The group looked at one another in a panic. They all knew about Jackie’s date; the Phi Kappa Psi house loomed behind them. ‘We have to get her to the hospital,’ Randall said.
Their other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. ‘Is that such a good idea?’ she recalls Cindy asking. ‘Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.’ Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: ‘She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.’ 
Now, please pause and consider the reasoning:
“Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.”
“since he [Andy] and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through”
“we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”
Let that sink in for a minute.
The debate began with the question of if they should take her to the hospital after she was raped.
Their prevailing concern, as portrayed in the article, appears to be for a continuing social life including membership in a fraternal organization.
Friendship lost. Social life won.
This way of thinking by these students was not learned at UVa, there wasn’t time. If they were all ‘1st years,’ in September, they were about 90 days out of high school, probably 18 years old. They came to UVa with this mindset. Why?
I invested 16 mostly wonderful years teaching high school seniors. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people of this age group about issues of life. On numerous occasions we would discuss why people go to college. A prevailing reasoning was: go to the right school to get the right job to make enough (or a lot) of money to… fill in the blank. We’re all familiar with the business networks that exist and are, at least partial, motivation for joining a fraternal organization. These networks are part of the deal. I have to believe that many, if not all, of these factors were in that back of their minds as this discussion ensued. Again, this thought pattern was not learned when they got to Charlottesville, indeed the desire to succeed, because of being a UVa grad certainly drives the decision of many students to apply to the university. Just yesterday the Washington Post put a story on one of its blogs that UVa is among the best schools in the country for mid career earnings in both Engineering and Social Sciences. These students come to UVa to build their future. They have worked hard to get in and are working hard to get ahead. But… at what cost?
The thinking behind this decision had already been developed back home in ‘Where-evers-burg.’ They are the product of a culture. What are we learning from our culture about relationships?
My question for all of us: what are the ways that we can instill in young people (and ourselves) the desire to put the needs of people above our desire (or need) for success?
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – Jesus (John 15:13 ESV) Not long after saying this Jesus was killed, was buried, and rose from the dead – for us.
He provided us with help that we could not provide for ourselves in our natural, fallen state. In Him, we can be changed into people who are becoming more like Him. In His strength we can put others first. In him, we can become the people who love people, by putting ourselves, our social life, even our success aside to put someone else first. We should be thinking about our culture and the ways that we can change it, one heart, one person, one life at a time.
Today, the UVa Board met in an emergency session. In part 3 I wish to express some thoughts about leadership and the role of school administrations and their boards in protecting the young people they attract to their schools and then how they handle incidents like this.