Current Events, Uncategorized

Mr. Jefferson’s University

In 2012, a student was violently raped by a group of fraternity members at the University of Virginia, a story that was recently re-told by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in Rolling Stone. [UPDATE: SEE BELOW] Erdely’s description of the rape culture at UVa, and the reaction to the story, is especially upsetting because it shows how universities, these beautiful institutions where people have the chance to discover and maybe even contribute to some of humanity’s greatest achievements, can tolerate and protect the worst of humanity as well.

In response to the story (and notably, not to the rape allegations, which the University was aware of before Rolling Stone broke the story) UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan announced that she was suspending all fraternities until the spring semester. In that letter Sullivan wrote:

At UVa we speak in idealistic terms: honor and tradition inform our thinking, and balance our daily actions. And it is easy here, where success is demanded as much as it is sought, to let our idealism outweigh our reality. Jefferson, as he always does, provides a compelling backdrop:

It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.

It’s telling that Sullivan chose to reference Thomas Jefferson. Erdely describes the central role of Jefferson in the campus culture of UVa:

Thomas Jefferson, whose lore is so powerfully woven into everyday UVa life that you practically expect to glimpse the man still walking the grounds in his waistcoat and pantaloons. Nearly every student I interviewed found a way to mention “TJ,” speaking with zeal about their founding father’s vision for an “academical village”.

As Erdely reports, when a student was raped in the 1990’s, she was told that better lighting on campus would “ruin Jefferson’s vision of what the university was supposed to look like,” by a UVa administrator.

“It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.”

Among the (many) steps that UVa’s campus community must take to repair the wrong of rape-culture on campus, one change that must be on the list is scaling back all the TJ talk. Thomas Jefferson was a rapist. If UVa is serious about changing their longstanding tolerance for rape, they should start by withdrawing any idolization of their founder- who not only owned hundreds of people he also had an ongoing sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, whom he never freed.

Although there are many definitions of rape and sexual assault, let’s agree that sex without the presence or possibility of consent is rape. Under the institution of slavery, people who are legally enslaved do not consent to work. They work because they are implicitly or explicitly threatened with death or violence, and those threats violate slave’s rights. In other words, slavery is forced or coerced labor. Similarly if a slave owner has sex with a slave she cannot consent, because if she refuses (just as if she refused work) she could be killed or otherwise assaulted and she would have no legal rights. In other words, sex with a slave is forced sex, which is rape.

That’s why Thomas Jefferson was a rapist.

It seems strange to me that I need to spell this out, but when the President of UVa approvingly quotes Jefferson in a letter about rape culture apparently it needs to be said.

If people in higher education want to show that they are serious about condemning rape, then they should stop glorifying known rapists.

I realize that it will take a lot to change rape culture on campuses. That’s why it’s especially demoralizing that Universities are unwilling to even take a small steps toward sending the message that powerful rich men cannot get away with raping women. For example, maybe universities could start by removing famous alleged rapists from University boards and taking down the statues of Rapists from American History.

No one today even knows what Sally Hemings looked like, but at UVa, Jefferson is everywhere.



Edit: Rolling Stone issued a statement that calls into question the details of this part of Erdely’s story (more here). Still, UVa, like other universities, struggles to address sexual misconduct on campus (see this video), so the University’s endorsement of Jefferson is remains troubling.

  • Aeon Skoble

    Your final paragraph lost me. You note that Temple is sending a message about what powerful men can do to women by keeping Bill Cosby on the board and cast that as parallel to there being statues of Jefferson, its founder, on the UVA campus. These strike me as not-at-all parallel. The most obvious difference is that the Cosby situation is right now, and Temple certainly could act on the allegations. UVA can’t retroactively make Jefferson not its founder.

  • j r

    Among the (many) steps that UVa’s campus community must take to repair the wrong of rape-culture on campus…

    One of the problems with the term “rape-culture” is that it does much more signaling work than it does descriptive or normative work. It basically says that you are the type of person that takes rape-culture seriously, but it doesn’t do a whole lot to actually stop rape.

    In this incidence, the rape-culture in question is as much about the university administration’s botched handling of the case as it is about the attitudes of the students surrounding the case. And university administrators are the very people that activists and advocates want to give more power to deal with cases of rape and sexual assault.

    Thomas Jefferson held other human beings in bondage. He exploited them for their labor and there is certainly a measure of sexually exploitation inherent in the institution of slavery. We would all do well to admit it and comes to terms with it. From a criminal justice perspective, however, what the heck does that have to do with campus sexual assault? Show me a meaningful and valid mechanism by which the history of Thomas Jefferson has a causal effect on present-day occurrences of sexual assault. This is ideology when we ought to be talking about criminal justice and risk management.

    • Sean II

      “One of the problems with the term “rape-culture” is that it does much more signaling work than it does descriptive or normative work.”

      Well put. By contrast espousing the quaint idea that rape is usually caused by rapists, that gets you nowhere…socially speaking.

    • Duvane

      This, especially the last paragraph, is what I scrolled down here to see or say. Even if we accept absolutely the author’s argument (that the definition of rape should include any sexual activity with slaves, ergo Jefferson was a rapist), what value does it add to the current discussion?

      Sean II does a good job of rebutting this argument, but ultimately it’s a matter of semantics. I think even the author would agree that the rapes that occurred at UVa are completely different events, in both motivation and circumstance, than sexual relationships with slaves under any circumstances whether we label them both as rape or not. So what’s the point of connecting the two? Does the author really believe that there’s some actual, real-world connection? Does the author believe that the administration has this actively in mind, and therefore this demonstrates their lack of commitment to dealing with modern sexual assault? Does the author believe that this view of Jefferson is so widespread that mentioning him reduces the credibility of the university’s public statements on sexual assault? Or is this an excuse for the author to trot out a favorite hobby-horse?

  • Sean II

    The trouble with your expanded definition is that it’s way more expanded than you’d probably prefer.

    You now have to call a rapist every husband (and presumably every wife) in countries where divorce is illegal (past or present). That sounds weird, doesn’t it? To say “Bono was a rapist for 13 years because in Ireland before 1995 his wife could not legally exit the wider relationship in which their sex occurred, and thus she could not consent to any specific sex occurring in that relationship.”

    You may answer: that’s different, because Mrs. Bono consented to the original marriage. But no, that doesn’t work, since a marriage you cannot escape under any circumstances is enough like slavery that you must either bite this bullet or refuse the entire meal.

    In any case why stretch the definition when you don’t need to? The statement “Jefferson was a slaver, who had sex with his slaves, when he was 44 and she 14” is damning enough by modern standards. Or how about “Jefferson was a slaver who aggravated that offense, not by specific forcible rape, but certainly by an abuse of his power to gain what must have been very superficial consent, even if it later developed into something resembling love.”

    That lets you say something very like what you want, without saying anything absurd, and without running afoul of the strong historical evidence which tells of a long relationship full of mutual affection between Jefferson and Hemings.

    Of course I realize it’s much more fun to rouse the libertarian rabble by hurling a simplistic one-liner at one of their heroes, but when that party’s over I figure you might spare a penny for more sober analysis.

    • TracyW

      Well at least for all those countries for all those times before the spousal exemption was removed from rape laws.

      • Sean II

        Ah, but will you be consistent? Will you say that ALL sex occurring before the repeal of spousal exemption was necessarily rape? Just as Jessica says that all sex occurring between masters and slaves was necessarily rape.

        Will you bite that bullet? Will you say “All sex occurring within Oklahoma marriages prior to 1993 was rape”? Sounds pretty crazy. Puts a really dark spin on that beloved musical, too.

        • TracyW

          Sorry I was not clear in my earlier comment. I was agreeing with you.

  • Sean II

    I see UVA has 15,000 students. I’m gonna be generous and assume perhaps 5,000 of them actually need college to do whatever it is they’re going to do in life. That means the other 10,000 must be dangerously idle, one way or another.

    Now I know this is crazy but…it almost seems like one of the best things we could do to reduce college rape and pare down the technically-legal-but-definitely-creepy culture of campus sex is…stop sending so many people to college.

    I mean, I’m sure toppling the Jefferson statues will work great and all, but just in case I thought we might consider something with a bit more scale.

    Benefits of my plan: fewer students whose lack of cognitive ability (and productive work) makes them extra prone to violence and bad judgement. I’m talking about an immediate and predictable reduction in hulking jocks, swarming frat boys, b-school players, pre-law creepers, and non-denominational douche-bags. Since most of the problem is caused by them, I’m expecting big results.

    • Libertymike

      You forgot to include emasculated STEM students.

  • TheBrett

    Sullivan and UVA have known about this story for weeks, yet didn’t do anything until after it came out and proved it had legs. That makes me suspicious about how much they actually plan to do, temporary Frat suspension aside.

  • Conrad

    “In 2012, a student was violently raped by a group of fraternity members at the University of Virginia, a story that was recently re-told by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in Rolling Stone. ”

    Wait, the allegations have been substantiated now? When and where did that happen?

    • Sean II

      Substantiation here, just as with the Cosby allegations, comes from the combined weight of many independent accounts.

      Even if the particular story in Rolling Stone turns out to have problems*, there are enough similar stories to sustain a general charge against the school and especially its frats.

      * The article was very badly written, but that’s not the victim’s fault.

      • Conrad

        The reason I think the allegations against Cosby are credible are:

        – a considerable number of women have come forward

        – in many cases relatively independently of one another

        – many of them publicly

        – the ones who preferred to stay anonymous *have* gone on record

        The reason I find the accusations against the alleged perpetrators of Jackie’s alleged rape not credible are:

        – there is simply no other evidence that her claims are true than her own say so

        – she remains anonymous

        – no other women have come forward to make allegations against one or more of the people who allegedly raped Jackie

        – she says she is too traumatized and scared to go to the police but she does tell her story to a reporter for a cover story knowing that this will generate a lot of publicity, and choosing this route over going to the police is the one that creates the most publicity with the lowest possible chance of a factual investigation into the alleged events

        – the story she tells is simply literally incredible while at the same time it fits *perfectly* the ‘campus rape epidemic’ narrative and the biases involved in it. See this article for an excellent discussion

        – (I’m not 100% sure of the following:) The people and institutions most likely to challenge her claims have their hands tied their back legally, as e.g. the university administration is not allowed to discuss the case if it involves disclosing any personal information. The same may be true for the alleged perpetrator(s).

        To me it is astonishing that this article was published as is when it presents literally no evidence other than her word and when the allegations are so extreme and so implausible, and in a way it is even more astonishing that 95% of the people who read it or read about it just assume it is true.

        It *may* be true, but the evidence presented is wholly insufficient for the certainty with which people assume that it is.

        • Sean II

          Okay, I see what you’re saying and there’s something to it. After all, we don’t want to be like those fucking idiots in Ferguson who decided that, if a story is sad enough, it shouldn’t require evidence.

          But maybe I can persuade you to agree with these points:

          Frat houses are terrible places for women, because young men in groups often compete to show just how callous, exploitative, and brutal they can be. The fact that alcohol is present in such huge abundance not only makes the young men worse, it makes the young women less able to defend themselves. No father or brother would fail to be anxious on learning that his young daughter or sister was entering a frat house.

          At UVa, there have been many stories from many women about terrible things happening on the campus, and most especially within its frats. For purposes of the present discussion, we can “treat as though established”. Which is to say, we can assume the problem is more or less as described and talk about it on that premise…even as we allow for the fact that this or that particular example may prove false.

          Sound fair? Do we have a deal?

          • Conrad

            I’m inclined to agree that frat houses are relatively dangerous places for women to be (but I don’t know *how* dangerous, or whether the risk is even high enough to call it ‘dangerous’), given that there’s lots of alcohol and little to no supervision. That’s one more reason to lower the drinking age, so that these kinds of social events can take place in the open.

            re the stories about abuse at UVA: I don’t know. There certainly have been lots of responses to the RS article by women who say they have experienced or know about similar sexual abuse, but I don’t know how many of those claims *are* credible. I mean, anonymous accusations on the internet could come from sympathizers who want to help, e.g. from Jackie’s friends in the ‘survivor networks’. So I really don’t know how bad or pervasive the problem of sexual assault on the UVA campus / in frat houses is.

          • Sean II

            Okay, let me show a bit of good faith. When I first read that Rolling Stone piece, I thought the story of the attack seemed very credible, but the reporter’s account of what happened after the attack, not so much. I mean, everyone the victim talked to said exactly the most awful thing they could say, and said the same awful things people were saying about rape 40 years ago.

            It reminded me of all those bloggers who somehow managed to hear the word “coon” on George Zimmerman’s 911 call. As is “Hi guys, I recently took a black studies class and my conception of racism is up to date for the year 1896. Now let me impose that on this handily available current event.”

            So again I take your point. Once the ball gets rolling in a culture war battle, there are lots of people who will pile on, and who won’t hesitate to manufacture evidence, invent testimony, fake hate crimes, etc.

            But match my gesture, please: when that happens in the age of the internet, a counter-narrative usually emerges quickly. If there are holes in the story, they get found.

            That hasn’t happened here. Most probable reason: the story we heard about rape at UVa is generally sound.

          • Conrad

            I see what you’re saying and I would much like to match your gesture of showing good faith, but I’m afraid I can’t do that in the form of agreeing with the last point you make. Yes, you’re right that one would expect a counter-narrative to emerge quickly, but 3 things:

            – somewhere else somebody commenting on the RS article wrote:

            “How universities handle these allegations is a very much misunderstood subject. Sometimes they get it wrong, yes. But other times they are handicapped by how the accusers want them to handle the case (go to the police, don’t go to the police, etc.).

            And regarding accusations of secrecy, universities are forbidden by federal law to disclose personal information about students. So while the accusers can talk about these cases all they want, the universities can’t talk about them at all, except in the aggregate. It’s a classic Catch-22. If they say nothing, they are accused of sweeping stuff under the rug. If they say something, they violate student confidentiality and break the law.

            All this is not so say that universities always get this right; they don’t. But the idea that at every university there is a conspiracy to hide these cases and let rapists off scot-free has little merit. The writer of this article should know that, as should the writer of the Rolling Stone piece.”

            So the university at least (and perhaps for similar and/or for different reasons the accused as well) have their hands tied behind their backs in responding. They simply can’t discuss the details of the case.

            – Moreover, there is so little information in the RS that can actually be challenged. I mean, absent a further investigation, it is very difficult to disprove the story other than by making the general points I made above.

            One thing would be to contact the 3 friends who saw her after the alleged rape. The RS reporter only says that one of them did not want to comment because of loyalty toward the fraternity (I’m frankyl not sure whether to believe this either). And the other 2? I don’t know. The reporter doesn’t say.

            Did the reporter try to contact the alleged rapists? We don’t now.

            – Finally, it has become socially difficult to challenge these kinds of claims because you’re very quickly called and dismissed as a rape apologist, victim blamer etc. So it may not be a wise decision for people to publicly challenge the article.

            And with Ferguson, Martin-Zimmerman and Duke Lacrosse it also took some time before the few voices that challenged the dominant narrative began to be heard. I think something similar will happen in this case, with in this case the possible additional problem that if there is no actual police investigation and Jackie also does not allow the university to talk about the file they have on her accusations, then there is little opportunity for information to be discovered that would counter her story.

            My main problem with the story so far is that despite the fact that there is no evidence other than her word to support it and despite the fact that she could easily start the processes through which more evidence could actually be gathered (by filing charges and/or by allowing the UVA administration to talk about the info they have on her case), almost everybody just assumes it’s true.

            I guess the best way of expressing the degree of my skepticism is that I would be more than willing to bet up to 5 bitcoins that the story is false.

          • Conrad

            let me add that I do much appreciate our discussion here, your openness to have your beliefs challenged. I am almost tempted to just concede a point not because I think it’s actually false but because I want to show that I’m open to changing my mind as well!

          • Sean II

            Well, it looks like I owe you a concession. I should have seen this sooner but it now seems the UVa story was either embellished/uncorroborated or just plain fabricated.

            So apparently I was wrong, and instead of being a crisis for frat house misogyny this will turn out to be the Ferguson of rape culture. Naturally, mine is the only concession you’ll be getting.

            Makes sense though, right? I mean what signaling value is there in denouncing something when the facts match the story. Anyone can do that.

            The trick is to go on denouncing even after the floor of facts collapses under your feet. That really let’s the others know you’re on their side!

          • Conrad

            Again, I much appreciated your openness and your attitude in this discussion, and the fact that you took the time to revisit this thread only adds to my appreciation (and it’s probably the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do that (I’ve done it myself though)).

          • Sean II

            Hey, thanks. Given how rarely one sees them, you’d think such gestures were the hardest thing in the world.

            A couple months back there was a thread here based on the highly plausible story of a suburban cop who, cackling with malice, executed a kindly young boy in the street for absolutely no reason, by shooting him repeatedly in the back.

            I said something like “fellas…I dunno…it seems maybe…something’s missing from that account…and we should…I mean, would it kill us to wait for more info?” You can imagine the response. And you just know everyone is either a) quiet as a ninja, or b) still sticking like glue to whatever they said back then.

            Anyway, I figured it might serve the holiday spirit nicely if I did NOT do the same thing to you. Even in a comment thread, it takes some courage to speak out against an Ox Bow party. Good for you, and shame on the rest of us.

            Of course what I really mean to say is: go burn in hell, you rape denier!

  • j_m_h

    While this is more a comment on how this was reported on a radio show I heard while driving to work this morning perhpas it fits into some of the themes here. The basic thrust is the annoucement that UVA now has a Zero tolerance policy towards sexual assault.

    To which I had to ask myself: “Okay. So the implication is that before now it was not zero tolerance? So what were the tolerances?”

    • Sean II

      It was 7%. It’s listed in their prospectus.

    • BrittlePie


      The associate dean of students (who heads the sexual misconduct board) at UVA had given an interview a while back where she explained why the board had, on multiple occasions, let off students who confessed to rape. She said that the fact that they’re willing to confess to committing rape shows that they “have a level of understanding” and a “willingness to take their licks”.

      There are obviously many other things about UVA’s policy that made it “not zero tolerance” (I’m hesitant about my use of the past tense here), but I don’t kid myself that those of you who think the suggestion that a university’s sexual assault policy is too lenient is so unlikely as to be “funny” will ever change your minds.

      • j_m_h

        So it would seem my comment wasn’t “cute” or funny but in fact correct. And you want to belittle me for making the comment?! Holly crap.

        I thought they had just made a bad public statement, not thinking about the implications of the statement but you’re telling me that it was actually true. Wow.

        I wonder what the legal ramifications are for an accedited university like UVa for being complicit in covering up feloneys? Or will the state of VA and other legal authorities feel that confession “shows that they ‘have a level of understanding’ and a ‘willingness to take their licks’ and therefore should escape punishment”?

        • BrittlePie

          My apologies. I thought you were being facetious.
          They’re under federal investigation but who knows how useful that’ll be.
          Some of the staff have actually tried to defend the dean in question by pointing out that she has also been emotionally supportive of the survivors, though I don’t see how that can possibly make up for the fact that she let rapists stay on campus because she felt their willingness to confess was a sign of good character. There’s probably no better argument for not letting colleges “investigate” their own rape cases than this UVA dean, who remains convinced that she was doing the right just as I’m sure many other school officials do when they apply their twisted personal philosophies to something as serious as a sexual assault investigation.

      • martinbrock

        What were the details of rapes to which these rapists confessed? “You were both intoxicated before the sexual act, and the woman didn’t explicitly consent to the act before it occurred. Sign here.” A man signing this statement is like a dissident signing a “confession” to avoid losing his job after the Prague Spring.

        If you’re telling me that a man who brutally assaulted a woman, or threatened her with a gun or held her down and penetrated here while she struggled to resist, was ever “let off” a UVA dean, I’m telling you that I want to see the evidence.

        • BrittlePie

          “I’m telling you that I want to see the evidence”


          You still believe victims are lying *even when their perpetrators confess*, and yet you think you’re worth having them go through the trouble of bringing you every detail? As though convincing you is supporting to be of importance to them? No one cares that you don’t believe them. And no one is impressed with your convoluted theories.

          • martinbrock

            No. I never anywhere suggest that a man signing the confession above is affirming anything untrue. On the contrary, I suppose all of these confessions are true. I suppose men very often have sex with intoxicated women without an explicit declaration of consent. I never say a word about any conspiracy either.

            If you’re telling me that a man who brutally assaulted a woman, or threatened her with a gun or held her down and penetrated here while she struggled to resist, was ever “let off” by a UVA dean (a female dean no less), I’m telling you that I want to see the evidence.

          • BrittlePie

            So you think they’re real confessions, just not real rapes unless there was a gun or a fight (someone should warn victims that were unconscious, coerced, too drunk to speak, or too afraid of retaliation from much stronger men to struggle that they actually had consensual sex). I never called you a rape apologist, though you seem eager to think I did so you can complain of being slandered for asking “brave” questions. And anyway, if we go by your microscopically narrow definition of rape there’d only be a fraction left for you to apologize for.

            There’s really nothing complicated going on here. When asked in the interview why UVA has never expelled anyone for rape (*ever*), dean Eramo explained:

            “I do feel like that person admitting in that context it shows a recognition of what they have done is wrong, and a willingness to improve”

            The interview became news because this is not a reason to let them return to campus. You’re response is that you won’t denounce her statements until you see a detailed account of the confessions over the years to make sure they’re “real rape” and not “drunken fake rape”. We disagree. The end.

          • martinbrock

            My wife routinely holds me down while we have sex, and I enjoy it, so holding down is not itself evidence of rape in my way of thinking.

            You tell me that the dead of students did not consider the acts to which these men confessed worth of expulsion. It’s not that I think they’re not worthy of expulsion. We know that a female dean of students thought them not worthy of expulsion.

            I don’t know that the women in the cases you cite were unconscious or coerced. I’m asking you to prevent evidence that that the particular cases you cite above, in which a female dead of students did not expel anyone, involved women who were unconscious or coerced.

            You didn’t use the words “rape apologist”, so I’ll withdraw this characterization. You rather say that I think rape victims are lying and believe in some sort of conspiracy. I only know that, according to you, a female dean of students did not expel men who confessed to rape, and I’m asking you to provide evidence that these men had sex with women who were unconscious or physically coerced during the acts.

            I ask because I doubt that a female dean of students would excuse a man who had sex with an unconscious woman or physically coerce a woman to have sex with him. I don’t know this dean of students. Maybe she does excuse men having sex with unconscious women and men forcing women to have sex with them.

            I never anywhere suggest that drunken sex is not “real rape”. “Rape” is a legal term and means whatever lawmakers say it means; however, I am asking whether this dean of students ever failed to expel a student who confessed to the sort of sexual assault described in the Rolling Stones article linked in the opening post.

            You’re mistaken. If you provide me evidence that this dean of students excused men who confessed to the sort of assault described in the Rolling Stone article, I will agree that she has conspired to cover up rapes of this sort inappropriately.

      • martinbrock

        Thanks to Jessica’s latest link, I now know that Nicole Eramo (the dean of students in question) is not discussing rape at all in the interview you cite. She is discussing violations of UVA’s sexual misconduct policy which prohibits much behavior other than rape. In the past, this policy might have prohibited sex between students altogether, but today it only proscribes particular sexual conduct that is not rape (rape falling under another jurisdiction), in an informal proceeding where no one is required to appear at all and in which Eramo may act only on what a person confesses.

        When you accuse Eramo (who wrote a thesis on women’s studies and spent her career working with victims of domestic violence) of treating men who “confess to committing rape” with kid gloves, by not expelling them, you grossly misrepresent her policy and also defame her. We aren’t discussing rape here at all. We’re discussing a cat fight between feminists over how severely to treat men violating policies that are as questionable as earlier policies prohibiting fornication altogether.

        • BrittlePie

          I now know that Nicole Eramo (the dean of students in question) is not discussing rape at all in the interview you cite. She is discussing violations of UVA’s sexual misconduct policy.

          The confidence with which you lie is absolutely stunning. I’ve actually never seen anything like it- and that’s saying something given my interest in politics.

          1. Colleges do handle their own rape cases. That’s what this whole freaking debate is about. UVA’s policy, which you just had the nerve to describe to me when you haven’t read a word, is available online and very easy to find. It says that it covers non-consensual sexual penetration. You shouldn’t have to be told this since all college do, but again, It says of itself that it covers non-consensual sexual penetration .

          but today it only proscribes particular sexual conduct and subjects students only to an informal proceeding where no one is required to appear at all

          2. Blatant lie. They handle both informal and formal proceedings. It’s written right there in their sexual misconduct policy. Their policy says of itself that it covers both formal and informal hearings .

          In such a case, she’s presumably obliged to report a crime.

          3. No only are you making this up, but the fact that colleges are not forbidden from handling their own rape cases is the entire reason for this nationwide debate over college campuses. Again, the policy says of itself that, and I quote, “Sexual misconduct may constitute both a violation of University policy and criminal activity”.

          in which Eramo may act only on what a person confesses, not on accusations

          4. I actually can’t believe I just read this. No, they don’t. The opposite is true. They only need a “preponderance of evidence”. This, again, is what this whole debate is about. The fact that you haven’t heard about Title IX and that it only requires a preponderance of evidence makes your response even more stunning.

          When you accuse Eramo (who wrote a thesis in women’s studies and spent her career working with victims of domestic violence) of treating men who “confess to committing rape” with kid gloves

          First of all, that wasn’t my interpretation: Every news story described it as such. They used the word rape. Why? because that’s exactly what she said. And finally, I could not possibly care less that she’s a women’s studies graduate. Colleges should not be handling rape, since it denies the accused their right to properly defend themselves and as this dean has shown, it also puts victims in the hands of colleges who have an interest in brushing these things under the rug. The fact that you think her being a woman’s studies major means that she should have the ability to declare an accused “a rapist” with only a preponderance of evidence is both strange and sad for a country that used to take “innocent until proven guilty” seriously.

          • martinbrock

            I haven’t made anything up. Anyone can listen to the interview and see that.

            1. I never claim to describe UVA’s policy. I describe what Nicole Eramo states in the linked interview.

            2. I haven’t lied at all. I only claim to describe the process that Eramo herself conducts and describes in the interview, and she describes the informal process in the interview. You, on the other hand, claim that she discusses men who “confess to committing rape”.

            3. If the accuser will not press charges, I wouldn’t expect the process to report a confession, since the process is informal according to Eramo.

            4. Here again, Eramo explicitly states that she acts only on confessions. She describes this policy explicitly in the interview. I don’t claim to describe Title IX in any way. I only claim to describe Eramo’s policy, which you describe as lenient toward men who “confess to committing rape” but that she describes in terms of the broader “sexual misconduct”.

            Your interpretation is that Eramo is “pretty tolerant” of men who “confess to committing rape”. It’s still up there. I doubt that every news story used these words. Have you read every news story?

            Where in the interview does Eramo discuss men who “confess to committing rape”? Can you give me the minute?

            I agree that colleges should not be handling rape cases, but nothing you’ve described here suggests that women are denied an opportunity to press criminal charges. Is that what you’re suggesting, that Title IX forbids a woman to press criminal charges before this informal process occurs? I doubt that too.

          • BrittlePie

            The sexual misconduct policy that Eramo handles is available online, and it’s not just informal. As for this gem:

            I agree that colleges should not be handling rape cases, but nothing you’ve described here suggests that women are denied an opportunity to press criminal charges.

            Here is an exact quote from my previous comment.

            Not only is she not obliged to report a crime, but she’s not supposed to unless the accuser agrees.

            Unless. The accuser. Agrees.

            My exact words were: Unless the accuser agrees.

            The end. I don’t want people like Eramo handling something this serious. The fact that accusers want her to do so is not enough. I think the interview proves why she shouldn’t given her stance on confessions. I’m done here.

          • martinbrock

            What does “unless the accuser agrees” have to do with “women are denied an opportunity to press criminal charges”? My point is that an accuser may always file a criminal complaint. This process doesn’t preclude a criminal complaint in any way. It rather provides the university an avenue to impose administrative penalties with a much lower burden of proof than a criminal proceeding requires.

    • genemarsh

      Quite tolerant.

      “No student has ever been expelled from UVA for sexual assault, despite many reported attacks. (By contrast, 183 students have been expelled since 1998 for honor-code violations such as cheating on exams.)”

      UVA was founded in 1819.

      • j_m_h

        That’s a bad statistic — not in the sense of incorrect but disturbing to hear.

  • adrianratnapala

    From the comments, it seems the phrase “rape culture” gets people’s backs up. As a man, I share the puzzlement and concern. But Ms Flanigan is onto something. Humans have always tended to glorify people just because they are successful macho bad-asses. This cultural habit is, among other things, a cause and result of countless rapes; and over the ages has probably caused more horror and misery than any other human trait.

    We are not as bad as we used to be (see and symbolic things — such as the deflation of old heroes is part of what drives the cultural change. Personally, I would target Alexander of Macedon before Thomas Jefferson. But then again, in Virginia, the priorities can be different.

    • Sean II

      You’ve hit one of these key things that makes smart people roll their eyes when they hear the words “rape culture”.

      It’s not that they dispute the existence of such cultures. Everyone knows there is rape culture aplenty in Pakistan, for example. Everyone knows there was rape culture wherever you found hominids in, say, 40,000 BC. Indeed, Pinker would probably say we started out having a problem with rape nature and it’s culture pulling us the other way.

      But using the words “rape culture” to describe North America above the Rio Grande in 2014 – one of a few places where rape is at or near its lowest prevalence in human history (and, frankly, pre-history) – that just makes someone sound like a damn fool. All the more so, when the people who talk most about rape culture are otherwise known to be damn fools (campus feminists being the iron chefs of pseudo-intellectual bullshit). The impulse to get on the other side of such people is powerful.

      Now there are couple highly reliable ways to bring rape culture back to western societies, at least in stubborn little pockets. Frat houses are one. Immigration is another. I cry foul on anyone who ignores EITHER of those two, when discussing this problem.

      • Irfan Khawaja

        “Everyone knows there is rape culture aplenty in Pakistan, for example.”

        Well, I don’t “know” that, and I’ve got a bit of that Pakistani thing going. I mean, it’s not as if rape culture were something that uniquely existed “in” Pakistan.

        There’s rape culture outside of Pakistan, too! I mean, let’s be fair.

        • Sean II

          Man, everyone’s Pakistani once in a while. It’s Lollywood.

        • adrianratnapala

          I am not sure that Rotherham is a good example of how Pakistan is no worse than the west.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Right, it’s not meant as an example of how Pakistan is no worse than the West. (If Pakistan were better than the West, we wouldn’t have left Pakistan for the West.) It was meant as anti-Pakistan gallows humor from a Pakistani American about how Pakistani rape culture has managed to travel from Pakistan to Britain–so that it’s no longer “in” Pakistan, as Sean bhai had originally said. But when a Pakistani American has to explain Pakistani gallows humor (about Britain) to an Anglo-Indian, vhat is the point, yaar?

          • adrianratnapala

            I apologise for my obtuseness. I am Australian, born in Sri Lanka. It is the Australian side of me that it tuned to understanding gallows humour and it doesn’t often switch on when I think of the subcontinent.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            No need to apologize. But as they say, humor arises from tragedy–which is why the Indian subcontinent is one of the most hilarious places on the planet.

          • Sean II

            Indeed. That place is a RIOT!

  • martinbrock

    I’ll let Wendy McElroy say it for me:

    I’m not Jefferson’s attorney here, but Flannigan’s summary of the history is incredibly disingenuous. She states matter-of-factly that Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings while linking a site that says no such thing. The link says that the genetic evidence is inconclusive and implicates any of 25 of Jefferson’s male relatives as much as Jefferson himself, including relatives with similar access to Hemings.

    Furthermore, the genetic evidence rules out Jefferson as the father of any surviving child that might have been born to Hemings in her teens while the first site she links discredits rumors of a child conceived by Jefferson and Hemings in her teens having died in infancy. Flannigan nonetheless goes on to link a site that states matter-of-factly that Jefferson had sex with Hemings in her teens while finding him guilt of rape among other crimes.

    But suppose that Jefferson was the father of Hemings children born in Hemings’ 20s, years after the death of Jefferson’s wife Martha. Flannigan presents scant evidence of this fact, but I have no trouble believing it. Hemings herself had only one grandparent who was a slave, the other three being free. She was the half-sister of Martha Jefferson, exceptionally beautiful and “mighty near white” according to her contemporaries, all of her children having identified as “white” following their emancipation.

    Yes, Hemings was Jefferson’s property, but Martha was also Jefferson’s property (and he hers) by the standards of the time. If Thomas and Martha were married in an Anglican ceremony, both took the other “to have and to hold” while Thomas endowed Martha with all of his worldly goods, and both were bound by law to have sex only with the other, yet Flannigan doesn’t revise history by labeling Martha a “rapist”.

    If Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ children, we don’t know how voluntary the sexual relationship was in a general sense. We know that it was “involuntary” by definition by Flannigan’s reckoning, but a woman in slavery has no voluntary sexual relationships whatever by Flannigan’s reckoning. Any relationship Hemings might have had with another slave is no more “voluntary” in Flannigan’s sense, so her theory requires Hemings to choose between “rape” and chastity, an unenviable position for anyone.

    Having chosen Flannigan’s “rape” over chastity, then choosing Jefferson over another slave seems completely rational to me. Even if Hemings had not been Martha’s half-sister and “three-quarters white”, choosing Martha’s celebrated, wealthy widower over another slave doesn’t seem to me like a decision compelled by her master’s whip.

    • PapayaSF

      Thank you, martinbrock. It should also be noted that Jefferson had a wastrel brother who may be the father in question.

  • martinbrock

    Erdely’s article in Rolling Stone names none of the alleged rapists, and she apparently made no effort to obtain their testimony. She simply declares them guilty summarily in absentia. I’m supposed to think anyone doubting the story an apologist for rape, but I don’t think so. Any decent system of just necessarily doubts this story without further evidence, but we aren’t discussing a system of justice here. We’re discussing a political process wherein an emotionally compelling story is valuable regardless of any evidentiary standard.

    • martinbrock

      “Is that such a good idea? Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.”

      “She’s gonna be the girl who cried “rape,” and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”

      … the quotes are a little too perfect, a little too exactly what you would write in an ABC Afterschool Special script attempting to teach teenagers how not to behave. Also, if you read the scene closely, you realize that it isn’t at all clear that the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erderly, talked to the friends in question, that she was instead relying solely on the recollection of Jackie.

      Hanna Rosin nails it here. I had the same thoughts as I read the story a week ago. It’s all a little too tidy. Every character in the drama is one-dimensional. Every actor speaks their lines on cue. Apparently, everyone on Earth, except the people I happen to have encountered during my half century on it, cares less about the suffering of a rape victim than about their invitations to fashionable parties.

      And that’s why the story unraveled. It was so over the top, so intent on documenting an all-pervasive rape culture, that it had to demonize, or at least caricature, everyone in the story, not only the nameless, faceless, brutal rapists. No one likes being reduced to a stereotype this way, but if you need to do it for propaganda purposes, remember to target an unpopular minority, like privileged frat boys, exclusively and not to spread your paint too thin.

  • TracyW

    I’m not American and I’ve never learnt that much about Thomas Jefferson, possibly because he wasn’t a Bostonian, but I dislike the idea that we should withdraw any admiration from historical figures when those historical figures did terrible things, not just by the standards of our times but also by the standards of their own times.

    Firstly, people are very seldom all good or all bad, and that a person did some appallingly bad things does not invalidate the good they did either. To identify good principles is important even if the identifier is a hypocrite about them.

    Secondly, the approach of withdrawing admiration because a person has done both great and terrible things, I think risks leading us into dichotomising people as either good or bad, and, since we are mostly reluctant to think of ourselves as fundamentally bad, this dichotomy risks leading us to think “I am good, therefore anything I do is good.”, or “I admire this person because they have illustrated some very important values, therefore anything they do must have been good, or at least justifiable under their cultural conditions.”

    • martinbrock

      I have no respect for Thomas Jefferson, or anyone else, as a “democratic leader” or as an historical figure. Jefferson did all sorts of terrible things for which we can hold him accountable, but scant evidence supports the now common assumption that he fathered all of Sally Hemings’ children or even that he fathered Eston Hemings (born when Jefferson was 64 years old), the only child with a demonstrable relationship to the Jefferson line, as opposed to Jefferson’s younger brother for example, much less that he had sex with Hemings when she was 14, all assertions that Flanigan here takes for granted despite the paucity of evidence supporting any of them.

      Any of these assertions could be true, of course, but any of them could be false as well, and they’ve become common “history” more because they tell an emotionally compelling story than because of any careful scholarship.

      • Theresa Klein

        Yes, as I recall, when the DNA evidence was examined only Eston Hemming seems to be related. And although there was more than one potential Jefferson who might have been the father, people took this as proof that Jefferson himself fathered all of her children. This is not the conventional wisdom.
        Still, he did free all of them upon his death, which says something.

        • martinbrock

          Few if any of the descendants of Hemings who might have been fathered by Thomas Jefferson identify as black. Most of Hemings’ descendants, other than the descendants of Thomas Woodson, identify as white, and the same DNA testing that rules a Jefferson in as the father of Eston Hemings rules a Jefferson out as the father to Thomas Woodson.

          Many historians now doubt that Woodson was Hemings’ son at all. Apparently, historians were more inclined to believe that Woodson was Hemings’ son before the DNA evidence revealed that he could not have been Jefferson’s son.

          I don’t know the history, but freeing Hemings’ children could have been a matter of racial realism. Her children were white. If they all had a free father, then they all had seven free great-grandparents and only one enslaved great-grandparent.

          Hemings herself was known to be the half-sister of Martha Jefferson, and the Jefferson family never denied that the father of Hemings’ children was a family member, only that he was Thomas Jefferson. They claimed that Peter Carr and another nephew of Jefferson’s fathered Hemings’ children.

          In fact, Hemings was actually Martha’s slave as much as she was Thomas Jefferson’s slave. Thomas was Hemings’ proprietor, in their relationship to the state, but Martha inherited Sally from their father, and she also held all of Thomas’ worldly goods by writ of her marriage to him.

          After the DNA evidence, except in the case of Eston Hemings, we have no more reason to doubt the Jefferson family story than we had before. Assuming that all of the Sally Hemings’ children had the same father is just as much a matter of familial sentimentality as assuming that Thomas Jefferson was not the father of any of them.

          • Theresa Klein

            Right, Eston Hemmings passed as white immediately upon being freed, IIRC. He was something like 1/8 black at that point since Hemmings herself was only 1/4 black.
            She was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife by blood, her mother was fathered by a white sea captain who raped a slave in transit.

          • martinbrock

            According to Wikipedia, the sea captain was John Hemings. He never owned Sally’s grandmother Susanna, but he did try to buy her from her owner Francis Eppes, who called her Susanna Eppes. Since Susanna later called herself and her daughter “Hemings”, I’m not sure she felt that John Hemings had raped her, and I’m reasonably sure that John had not raped her as a matter of law at the time, so labeling him a “rapist” now is historical revisionism.

  • epaminondas

    Your basic premise is RIDICULOUS. There is no way UVa will ever scale back on TJ talk, nor is it relevant to any sort of rape culture today, so you prescribe an Rx which can never be taken.
    Rape among those who know each other is an issue which must be taken seriously from trustees and contributing alumni, to deans and those who eal with students and the victims, to fraternity MEMBERS as well as national admins, to the issue of raising the consciousness of attendees as to how utterly disgusting an act this is.
    I am a 1971 graduate of UVa and it was a time there were very few to NO women at UVa, but plenty of frat life.
    I was a member of Phi Epsilon Pi and I can tell you that such an act if known would NEVER have been tolerated among us.
    It was not some kind of wink, wink, nod, nod, cool thing and the time from 67-71 is not exactly known for Victorian probity.
    This has to be addressed by resident advisers in dorms, deans, and the fraternities and not just as some dictum from a Univ pres that ‘sighingly’ has to be read out.
    This is about an act which ruins the lives of young ladies, and permanently damages those around them, and IN THE BEST CASE places a mark in the soul the perpetrator, an in the worst goes unnoticed by a brutal unthinking semi-human.
    It has NOTHING to do with Mr. Jefferson.

  • martinbrock

    I told you so.

  • martinbrock

    … the University’s endorsement of Jefferson remains troubling.

    A few of my assumptions may be questionable, but my conclusions are not. That’s the logic of politics in a nutshell.

    Most of what you say about Jefferson is equally questionable. You simply choose not to question it.

  • CbyN


    Wow, what a powerful edit that demonstrates real accountability.

    How can this entire post even pass the laugh test at this point? You’re obviously aware that the credibility of the entire allegation has been blown into the upper atmosphere, but you happily maintain the assertion in your opening line that a student was “violently raped”.

    Maybe it’s asking for too much, but do you even realize that these are allegations, not facts? The latter requires this things called “discovery”. It’s why sexual assault on campuses should be adjudicated by the legal system rather than campus admins and Title IX groupies with funding on the line.

    But I know, I know, let’s not miss the forest through the trees. Now that we’ve shit our pants on the actual story, it’s the larger narrative that’s important. Onward and upward.

  • Earl of Sandwich

    Also, we need to finally find and kill Bigfoot.

  • PapayaSF

    Thank you to the other commenters who have defended Jefferson. Also, I’d like to say that this post exhibits the fallacy of presentism, of projecting today’s morals back into the past.