Nearly two months after it became clear that a Rolling Stone article about a gang rape at the University of Virginia was mostly fabricated, school president Teresa Sullivan finally admitted on Friday that the story is “discredited.”
Sullivan addressed the fallout from the article, which was written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely and published online on Nov. 19, in a “state of the university” on Friday.
“Before the Rolling Stone story was discredited, it seemed to resonate with some people simply because it confirmed their darkest suspicions about universities — that administrations are corrupt; that today’s students are reckless and irresponsible; that fraternities are hot-beds of deviant behavior. Working together, we have soundly refuted those suspicions through our actions over the past two months,” Sullivan said.
“The story unfairly maligned UVA and many members of our community,” Sullivan continued. “Perhaps the most emphatic refutation of the story’s thesis was the collective revulsion to its allegations expressed by students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni.”
This is the first time that Sullivan has directly criticized the article, which told the story of a student named Jackie who claimed that seven members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brutally gang-raped her at a party in 2012.
Weeks after the bombshell article first appeared, Jackie’s story began falling apart. Erdely’s reporting methods were also found severely lacking.
Rolling Stone, which waffled on whether to blame Jackie or Erdely, brought on Columbia Journalism Review to determine what went wrong.
Sullivan has been criticized for failing to express support for Phi Kappa Psi — which saw its fraternity house vandalized and its members moving to nearby hotels — and for Greek-life in general.
The university placed a temporary ban on all fraternity and sorority social activity following the release of the article. And even after the Charlottesville Police Department said that there was no basis to support Jackie’s claims against Phi Kappa Psi, Sullivan and the university required all fraternities to sign a contract full of new demands before they could resume social activities.
Two fraternities initially refused to sign the contract on the grounds that the initiative was based on a lie. Phi Kappa Psi was the first to sign the agreement.
In her speech, Sullivan appeared to try to distance herself from those sanctions.
“Our decision to pause Greek social activities extended the pause that the Inter-Fraternity Council had already initiated,” Sullivan said. “The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity voluntarily surrendered its Fraternal Organization Agreement, or FOA. And an unaffiliated fraternity and unaffiliated sorority voluntarily suspended their own social activities.”
“All of us believed that this pause in activity would allow us to work together to improve safety practices, and bring calm to a very uncertain moment at UVA.”
Sullivan did not apologize directly to Phi Kappa Psi or its members in her speech.