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Friday, August 7, 2015

Planned Parenthood, Mark Meadows, and the false Rhetoric of "Life"

So I signed this petition the other day: Planned Parenthood

I did so, of course, in response to the smear campaign organized by the so-called "Center of Medical Progress" and championed by the most conservative faction of the Republican party in an attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides invaluable health care to women.

When I signed the petition, the site generated an automatic letter to Mark Meadows, my right-wing, Tea Party congressman, known most recently for trying to get John Boehner fired.  Boehner, it seems, is too liberal for the likes of Meadows.  And that's terrifying.

Anyway, here's the form letter that I received from Meadows in response to the petition.  



August 6, 2015
Dear Dr. Laura Wright:

          Thank you for contacting my office with your concerns regarding Planned Parenthood. As your representative in Washington, I want to ensure that your opinion is heard.
          As you may know, on July 14, 2015, the pro-life organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released an undercover video of Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director for medical services at Planned Parenthood. The video showed Dr. Nucatola explaining the process of preserving fetal tissue and body parts of aborted children for sale. On July 21, the CMP released a second video showing former President of Planned Parenthood Medical Directors' Council, Dr. Mary Gatter, also discussing fetus tissue sales. 
          Please know that while I understand you have concerns with CMP's actions, I believe that human life is sacred and that our nation must protect it. Based on this principle, know that I am opposed to any policies that advocate abortion or use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. As a pro-life advocate, regardless of the politics, I will always fight to preserve and protect the life and health of both women and children.
          Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. If you have additional concerns on this or any other issue, you are welcome to call my Washington D.C. office any time at (202) 225-6401. To keep you informed on what's happening in Washington, please sign up for my weekly newsletter at www.meadows.house.gov.
Sincerely,
Mark MeadowsMember of Congress

MM/bw

Meadows is a "pro-life" advocate who is an avid supporter of hunters and hunting rights; the respect he has for "life," as he makes clear, only extends to "human life," which he says he holds "sacred." 


Here's the ecofeminist vegan response (in which I say nothing about ecofeminism or veganism):

Dear Congressman Meadows,

Thank you for your form letter.  

I find it utterly impossible to believe that my opinion has been heard, and I find it even harder to believe — given your voting record with regard to the Violence Against Women Act, gun control, the environment, and the Affordable Care Act — that you "will always fight to preserve and protect the life and health of both women and children.”  You are interested in birth, not life.  You are a proponent of limiting women’s access to safe health care; you are not an advocate for the welfare of our country’s children, their mothers, or the environments in which they live.

Furthermore, I am extremely aware of the way that the so-called “Center for Medical Progress” is generating propaganda in tandem with the attack on women’s rights, security, and health care orchestrated by social conservatives in your party.  And I am also aware that your stance has nothing to do with this propaganda, as your position with regard to women’s health and safety was consistent and disappointing well in advance of the release of CMP’s videos.  


It's easier to read the text here.

The rhetoric of “life” that ideologues in your party spout is blatantly hypocritical — and paternalistically insulting — to those of us you have been chosen to represent.  It is an affront to those of us who actually value life, who work to care for and nurture it, who recognize in our respect for it that we owe future generations greater care and stewardship of our planet.  If you care about “human life,” which you claim to believe is “sacred,” then your support of human beings cannot stop with unborn children.  It must extend to those children after they are born — and to their families.  



Your record makes abundantly clear that your understanding of what constitutes “human life” is extremely limited.  And it makes clear that you hold the lives of the humans that you represent in great contempt.

Because I do hold life sacred, I will do everything in my power to work to get you out of office as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
Laura Wright

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

On Walter Palmer, Cecil the Lion, and the History of the White Hunter in Africa

By now we've all read about Walter Palmer's killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.  We're all outraged; we're calling for the guy's head on a platter, for the destruction of his dental practice, for his financial and social ruin.  And he does seem like a real choice asshole.  I have to say that I feel complete hatred for this guy, but I think it might do us some good to check our outrage and to consider where it's coming from.   


Walter Palmer and some other white dude, dead cat, black man, hunting dogs

Yesterday, in the wake of the take down of Walter Palmer, I posted on Facebook that I was going to go stand outside of Whole Foods and post pictures and contact information for everyone I saw leaving with the dead carcass of an animal in their grocery bags.  I posted such a thing because to my mind -- and to the minds of many ethical vegans -- the suffering of the animals that become food in our culture is as unconscionable as the murder of Zimbabwe's beloved lion. But I'm in the minority, here, and here's my analysis of why that's the case.

In the west, we have mythologized lions and other "exotic" big game animals that exist in Africa.  The image of Africa that we have bought into is of a place devoid of human life (or filled with warring, starving, diseased human life) and instead populated with lions, elephants, and other large regal creatures that we feel should be preserved and conserved.  Never mind that actual Africans are often displaced from their homelands in the service of creating wildlife preserves.  And never mind that sport hunting -- sustained by white men from the U.S. -- provides substantial financial benefits to the economies of the countries that allow such hunts to continue.  And never mind that so-called ecotourist safaris result in much greater environmental destruction to ecosystems than hunting safaris.


Oh look, the circle of life that doesn't involve any humans or any animals eating one another.


The history of big game hunting safaris in Africa and such safaris’ current connections to contemporary notions of ecotourism, a model that promises, according to the Ecotourism Society, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (qtd. in Duffy 6), are issues that are deeply implicated in an imperialist model of colonial exploitation, one that persisted after many African nations had gained independence from their former colonizers.  In fact, ecotourism in places like Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania is based on a history of big game hunting that happened simultaneously alongside the establishment of colonial rule.  

According to Brian Herne in White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris, the term “White Hunter” originated in British East Africa after the turn of the twentieth-century, but “big game hunting was already popular in other parts of the ‘Dark Continent,’ notably in South Africa, where . . . [white] hunters . . . had been active long before Somaliland and East Africa came into vogue” (3).  Herne’s text examines the heyday of the White Hunter in Africa, beginning with the first safari business – started by R. J. Cunninghame, Bill Judd, George Outram, and Leslie Tarston around 1903 (7) – to the decades of the 1960s and 70s during which increased hunting regulations and conservation measures took hold. 

While Herne’s text focuses on, glorifies, and mythologizes the legacies of white hunters, Edward J. Steinhart’s Black Poachers, White Hunters: A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya, focuses on the ways that indigenous African peoples’ hunting practices were literally and rhetorically criminalized in order for white safaris to thrive.  Steinhart asserts that “the struggles over the definition and control of hunting and the politics and revenues which it yielded may be key to understanding the contests of power that went on for seven decades between settlers, officials, and Africans” (18).  Furthermore, this Western demonstration of domination of nature paralleled “European racial and class domination over black Africans” (Duffy 294); therefore, colonized subjects and hunted animals occupy the same rhetorical space in the colonial milieu in which big game hunting came of age.

Equally problematic, at least in some cases, is what happens when animals are protected under the auspices of wilderness refuges, a more recent phenomenon that has occurred as a result of species decimation due to historically unchecked hunting practices.  In recent decades, photographic safaris have replaced most hunting safaris, and animals are often protected – at least in theory – in wildlife preserves.  But if the colonial mindset and project traditionally equated indigenous human life with animal life and valued neither, then the wildlife refuge system has often benefited animals and corporations at the expense of indigenous human populations.  

For example, according to Martha Honey in Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?, when the Ndumo Game Reserve was established in 1924, the Tonga people of South Africa were forced to leave the area and were denied access to water within the reserve (367).  In the late 1980s, when the Ndumo and Tembe reserves planned to merge so that the Tembe elephants could access water in Ndumo, the Tonga were once again threatened with the possibility of relocating, but “in the mid-1990s, the villagers, with the assistance of rural development workers, struck a deal whereby they agreed to move farther south” (367).  

Rosaleen Duffy, in her study A Trip Too Far: Ecotourism, Politics and Exploitation, comments that “in the developing world, there is an added layer to the politics of tourism because of memories of colonial control,” and in places like Kenya, “conservation and tourism schemes have replicated the colonial system of separating people and the environment” (101).  Furthermore, most of the income generated by such reserves benefits the private corporations that run the wilderness and photographic safaris, with minimal income being generated for indigenous populations that are often displaced and disenfranchised by these business ventures.[i]  

In the current moment, according to Honey, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and South Africa permit “trophy hunting only in designated ‘blocks’ in game controlled areas and reserves” (243).  According to Duffy, ecotourism in Africa, like hunting, is dependent upon the “politically laden image of the destination country” and, in the contemporary moment, “host societies are packaged and commodified for consumption by an external audience, promising the exotic, the unspoiled, the pristine and – even worse – the primitive” (xii).  

Many African countries have opted for a more conservationist form of tourism, given the rate at which indigenous species were being decimated by hunters.  For example, Kenya outlawed hunting in 1977 and that country’s tourism industry is now based primarily on (at least on the surface) a more environmentally conscious model.  Critics like Duffy, however, claim that “ecotourism is firmly locked into notions of ‘green capitalism,’ and thus it cannot provide radical sustainable development, contrary to its supporters’ claims.  Ecotourism is a business . . . and it focuses on profit rather than conservation” (x).  Furthermore, other African countries have banned hunting only to reopen the practice because of the financial benefits that it affords.  Tanzania banned hunting in 1973, but reallowed the practice in 1978, and despite the fact that the elephant population dropped from 600,000 in the 1960s to around 100,000 in the 1990s, Tanzania still allows the culling of elephants to continue (Honey 247).  Ecotourism has a problematic relationship with hunting, which is often seen as prohibition to poaching.  According to Honey, 

Sport hunting is . . . the ultimate paradox for ecotourism.  Although most of those involved in conservation and nature tourism find hunting distasteful, cruel, and ethically reprehensible, many admit that if properly managed, trophy hunting helps curb poaching and does less environmental damage and brings in much more foreign exchange than do photographic safaris. (244) 

Because fewer people hunt than take photos and because the cost of hunting expeditions is significantly higher than the cost of photographic safaris,[ii] environmentally “friendly” photographic tours often result in more environmentally destructive issues, including more pollution, more garbage, and more destruction of terrain as photographers often drive off roads to get shots of animals stalking their prey (Honey 245).

Unfortunately, that's not how it goes

In her fiction and nonfiction, Joy Williams is critical of both big game hunting and its seemingly ecofriendly counterpart, the photographic safari, because of the false images of animals and land that both practices sell to Westerners.  In her essay “Safariland,” Williams claims that the “desired illusion here is . . . Africa,” a place that allows those on safari to feel that they “have entered a portion of the earth that wild animals have retained possession of.  The illusion here is that wild animals exist” (27).  In this essay, Williams critiques the lies of the photographic safari, particularly the lie that there exist any animal populations that have not been marked, sold, placed, trapped, fragmented, scattered, and positioned within the perimeters of the safari.  

To make this point, she provides numerous examples from a photographic safari in Botswana, a place that has been marketed as “the Africa for this type of tourist” (28), and the ways that animal movement and life have been historically restricted as a consequence of the colonial division of territory.  She describes the 1,875 miles of fence that the government started erecting in 1954, “to segregate cattle from wild herds” (29).  This fence has been an environmental nightmare: “hundreds of thousands of wild animals have died against it in their futile trek toward water in time of drought.  The fence runs everywhere, and where the fence runs, the animals do not” (29), and this fence has caused the near extinction of zebra and buffalo populations in the most of Botswana.  

Williams’ analysis of the photographic safari is a critique of not only the historical treatment of wild animals in Africa but also of the idea that what one sees when one looks through the lens of a camera is legitimate and authentic, somehow the real Africa: “but this is Africa,” the safari goers think.  “This really feels like it could be Africa at last” (39).  The Africa that is presented to them is, as Duffy claims, a “politically laden image” (xii), a marketing ploy, a lie packaged to lure the environmentally conscious tourist to a pristine, precolonial facsimile of “Africa.”  Furthermore, Williams’s essay continually undercuts the illusion that people who go on such safaris are doing something positive for the environment by pointing out the ways that the animals that fill their photographic frames are positioned as they are because of a long history of environmental exploitation that persists into the present moment.

In another of the essays that appears in Ill Nature, “The Killing Game,” Williams also takes hunters to task, particularly the rhetoric of conservation and respect for the animal they employ to justify killing as sport.  She claims,

instead of monitoring animals . . . wildlife managers should start hanging telemetry gear around hunters’ necks to study their attitudes and record their conversations.  It would be grisly listening, but it would tune out for good the suffering as sacrament and spiritual experience nonsense that some hunting apologists employ. (49-50)

The tone in “The Killing Game” is decidedly harsher than that of “Safariland,” perhaps because Williams is more sympathetic to the photographers, at least as far as their good intentions are concerned.  But when it comes to hunters, she clearly has no patience; as for the subsistence arguments, she says, “please. . . .  The subsistence line in such a cynical one” (51).  For hunters, she asserts, “the animal becomes the property of the hunter.  Alive, the beast belongs only to itself.  This is unacceptable to the hunter” (51).  By the end of the essay, Williams’s tone is scathing.  Hunters’ arguments are “self-serving,” sport hunting “immoral;” the practice is “grotesque,” and it is time, she says, “to stop being conned and cowed by hunters.”  Killing animals in this fashion is unjustifiable, no matter what rhetoric is offered by the hunter; according to Williams, “hunters make wildlife dead, dead, dead” (70), and arguments about conservation, species population control, and subsistence are transparent excuses to justify the fact that hunters are sadists who enjoy both the infliction of pain and the annihilation of animals. 

And now for something completely different.


From where I'm sitting, the outrage over the murder of Cecil looks a lot like the familiar narrative of the Concerned White Person seeking to help Africa -- never mind that white people are the cause of what's wrong in the first place.  And, yes, we're all calling out the Even Worse Than Us White Guy, but our doing so lets us hang out in comfortable self-righteous indignation while simultaneously allowing us to feel good about championing the cause of a single African lion.

It's so much easier to do this than to consider our own roles with regard to the suffering of the animals that we murder in multitudes in our country everyday so that we can eat them.  They don't register, because we would never afford a chicken (or a cow, or a pig, or a fish) the same sort of misplaced reverence we've decided to ascribe to Cecil.  And this is in no way to suggest that Cecil doesn't deserve that reverence and that his death doesn't warrant our outrage.

It is, however, to suggest that we'd do well to recognize the hypocrisy of that outrage.


[i] Honey provides statistics for several such ventures that indicate that “the involvement of and benefits to the local community have so far been fairly minimal” (368).  For more information, see chapter 10, “South Africa: People and Parks under Majority Rule” in Honey.

[ii] Honey says that “a hunter brings in 100 times more revenue than a nonhunting tourist; the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania estimates it is 55 times more.  Either way, the difference is enormous” (245).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On my 45th Birthday

So I went to Earth Fare the other day to buy some vitamins, and there were these, which I bought:


The whole "nutritional support for the mature woman" was the bit that got me.  I kept thinking, what the fuck does that mean?  Do mature women survive heart attacks? Do they run long distances (away from everything and towards nothing at all)?  Maybe they do!  Do they hold steady jobs?  Yes!

But then: would a mature woman have this particular grade of hangover (the one I had when I was in Earth Fare buying the vitamins) after drinking gin with her friend Will who was going to leave her and move to Pennsylvania?  Would a mature woman be no better capable of making adult decisions than she was at age 22 -- the point at which (I guess) I started making such decisions?

Maybe a mature woman would realize that there are no real adults.  That adulthood is a myth.  There are no adults (adulthood is a myth).

Would a mature woman continue to consult her tarot cards in the hope that they might guide her in her decisions?  Would she write down her dreams and read through their symbols for meaning?  Or get tattoo after tattoo (even though she still hides them from her parents who have no idea that she has any)?  Would she be so staunchly childless?


Would a mature woman get this asymmetrical haircut? Would she still believe in ghosts and assert with complete confidence that she's seen one?  Would she wear a Cure T-shirt from the 1980s and dance around the house for hours alone while listening to Typhoon or Live or Sleigh Bells or Father John Misty or Neutral Milk Hotel or P.J. Harvey or Sleater Kinney?

Would she panic?  Would she float away at the worst possible moment?

Oh, I don't think so.  She would
Calm. Right. Down.

Would a mature woman continue not to eat animals, when her father (still alive) informed her when she was 18 that this was "just a phase," and that someday she'd "be an adult and have a family to feed"?  Where's that family?  When will the phase end?

Would she continue to get lost in narrative, in books, in fiction, when there are real world problems to address, and would she continue to feel powerless to stop those problems?  Would she continue to think that women and men are equal, that animals are people, that people deserve rights, that rights are a human construction, that rights are a fiction?  That all of it is fiction?  That all of us deserve deep, deep ethical consideration nonetheless?

The things that marked maturity for me when I was a child are the things I will never have: assuredness, security, trust in some higher power, the certainty of a soul mate -- and the ability to impart these things as attainable truths to those less mature, those in search of their later selves.  I don't believe that the mature people who imparted these things to me believed them then either.  But I'm just being more honest.

A mature woman would give of herself.  She would avoid the conflicts and seek to assure.  She would nurture and protect, and she would be dutiful, sober, and sane.  She would stop buying Chuck Taylors.

She would listen to good advice; she would take care of herself.  She would take great care.  She would avoid the spotlight, the perceived unwarranted attention, the controversy.

She would stay out of the sun.  Or at least wear sunscreen.

I used to draw or paint a portrait of myself at every birthday: one year a woman filled with glass, another, a woman growing tree limbs.  Once pregnant.  Once a dead body covered in hungry cats; the next year a woman hanged from a tree.  An apple in my hand.  An apple in my mouth.  This year, a photo.  Me in the evening.  Me with tired eyes and the weight of many things upon me.

This is not a cry for help.  It is a love letter to myself.

Would a mature woman fall in and out of love and fear being abandoned, particularly as no one has ever given her reason for this fear?  Would she lash out and be always selfish, always self-interested, never willing to sacrifice that which she feels is her birthright?

I don't think so.  I am not a mature woman.  And this is me.  And it is my birthday.




Friday, March 20, 2015

The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror

Just got the proof of the book cover.  The book will be published by the University of Georgia Press in the fall.  Here's the first blurb:

"Combining personal narratives and gender studies with eco-feminism and pop culture, The Vegan Studies Project offers a brilliant analysis of the status of vegans and veganism on America’s cultural landscape. Laura Wright’s argument for a new field of vegan studies rings true, and this book will be the foundational text." -- Hal Herzog, author of Some we Love, Some we Hate, Some we Eat: Why it's so Hard to Think Straight About Animals




And once it's out, maybe I'll get the chance to blog again.  :)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Response to Anonymous's comment that "Maybe if you ate an occasional burger you wouldn't be such an 'absolutely' anal retentive fucking moron."

Dear Anonymous,
I'm writing to thank you for your astute deconstruction of the rhetorical failings of my "Open Letter to the Alumni of the University of Virginia."  Just so others have context for this entry, I'll post your full comment here.  First you quote me:

"I could say, rather, that she alleges that she was gang raped, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that what she claims happened to her really did happen to her."

And then you comment:

"Maybe if you ate an occasional burger you wouldn't be such an 'absolutely' anal retentive fucking moron."

So some backstory: on November 19, Rolling Stone published Sabrina Ruben Erdely's story "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA," which provided graphic details about the brutal gang rape of "Jackie" at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party in 2012.  The story pointed out the ways that UVA has systematically failed students who are victims of sexual assault, the existence of a Greek system that normalizes and perpetuates violent misogyny, and the power of tradition in the face of changing campus culture.

The outrage was immediate and national; UVA scrambled to respond, suspending the Greek system for the rest of the semester.  Students at UVA protested, calling for an end to sexual violence on campus; they vandalized the Phi Kappa Psi house.  And I wrote a righteously indignant blog, based on several things:

1. False rape accusations are rare.  But they do occur.  I have long trusted women when they say that they were sexually assaulted.

2. Fraternity men rape 300% more than college men who are not in fraternities.

3. I was in a sorority.  And then I wasn't.

4. This.  And this.  And this.  Annnnnd this.  I could go on.

5.  A credible reporter.  A national publication.

Now Rolling Stone is recanting -- or something -- the story, stating that there now appear to be discrepancies in the story, and there are issues with regard to "Jackie's" credibility.  Rolling Stone apologizes to everyone affected by the story.  Despite the extreme vagueness of the Rolling Stone statement, The New York Times sheds some more light on the issue.  The frat in question has issued a statement denying the claims made in the article.  Believe it if you will.

MSNBC notes -- and I agree -- that in scapegoating the supposed victim, Rolling Stone has made matters much worse for everyone.

So.

When I read the original article, I was devastated.  It took me hours to get through it; it told me things that I know to be true, even as I now find out that the details of this particular incident may not be.  And I wrote about it, calling out alumni, particularly Greek alumni, not to donate another cent to UVA until redress was made.  I wandered around for a couple of weeks feeling like I'd made the wrong decision by not becoming a journalist, so powerful could the pen be.  So motivational and transformative in the service of justice.

Then Rolling Stone did a 180, and all I could do was look at my computer screen and think, "what the fuck?"

Whatever is or isn't true, whatever did or didn't happen, Rolling Stone's irresponsibility, its shoddy fact checking, and its current cowardice in the face of these things will do unconscionable harm to any woman who comes forward hereafter as a victim of sexual assault.  She would have been doubted before; now, I fear, there's no way she will be believed.  And instead of galvanizing our nation's colleges and universities to act in ways that can prevent the very real sexual assaults that take place on their campuses, I imagine that the focus will shift to further discrediting victims, and, in the case of UVA, to vindicating itself of any wrong doing.

***

Anonymous, I want to get back to your comment: "Maybe if you ate an occasional burger you wouldn't be such an 'absolutely' anal retentive fucking moron."

First, mad props for the repetition of my "absolutely." Second, I'm not sure where in my original post  there is any indication of a propensity towards anal retention.  You'll need to provide concrete examples if I'm to buy that one.  Try harder.

Third, given red meat's linkage to both colorectal cancer and constipation, eating a burger is unlikely to help in the anal retentive department, but thanks for making sure to link my veganism to your ad hominem indictment of me.

Finally, I do feel like a fucking moron, and I'm supposing that everyone who trusted Rolling Stone and Erdely's story feels likewise.  I feel duped and betrayed, and I've opened myself up to attacks like yours, Anonymous, based on the fact that I was willing to trust a woman's story about a brutal sexual assault.  I don't know what is true and what isn't at this point, but my certainty has been undermined, and women's credibility -- my own included -- has been compromised.

The fact that I feel like a fucking moron and the fact that you feel entitled to call me a fucking moron demonstrate the nature of this particular beast, the way that Rolling Stone's irresponsibility ensures that calls for campus-based action (like my call in my previous post) will fall on deaf ears.

Finally, I may be a fucking moron, Anonymous.  But at least I'm not an asshole.  And at least you're not really Anonymous anyway.

Asshole. "Absolutely."


Sunday, November 23, 2014

An Open Letter to the Alumni of the University of Virginia

An Open Letter to UVA Alums:


Rape, rape, rape.  Famous comedian and beloved spokesperson for Jello Pudding is a serial rapist.  Woman after woman after woman continues to come forth, to detail how Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them, nearly all of them while they were teenagers.  The count is now up to 16.  

Cosby’s lawyer calls all of these claims “unsubstantiated” and “fantastical.”


And then more rape, gang rape, violent and unconscionable assaults all over the place at the University of Virginia, narrated in excruciating detail in Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s November 19 RollingStone article “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justiceat UVA.”  As I’m sure you already know, the article chronicles the story of Jackie who, as a first year student in 2012, was gang raped by seven men at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party.  I could say, rather, that she alleges that she was gang raped, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that what she claims happened to her really did happen to her. She was tricked into a dark room, beaten, and raped by multiple men, one of whom used a beer bottle:

"Shut up," she heard a man's voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn't some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they'd return to the party.

"Grab its motherfucking leg," she heard a voice say. And that's when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

He referred to her as an “it,” a thing, a consumable object. 

And the article also details the ways in which UVA has a long history of violent misogyny that is part and parcel of its Greek system, and it considers the way serial rapists hide within plain sight within that system:

Frats are often the sole option for an underage drinker looking to party, since bars are off-limits, sororities are dry and first-year students don't get many invites to apartment soirees. Instead, the kids crowd the walkways of the big, anonymous frat houses, vying for entry. "Hot girls who are drunk always get in – it's a good idea to act drunker than you really are," says third-year Alexandria Pinkleton, expertly clad in the UVA-after-dark uniform of a midriff-baring sleeveless top and shorts. "Also? You have to seem very innocent and vulnerable. That's why they love first-year girls."
But against that backdrop, as psychologist David Lisak discovered, lurk undetected predators. Lisak's 2002 groundbreaking study of more than 1,800 college men found that roughly nine out of 10 rapes are committed by serial offenders, who are responsible for an astonishing average of six rapes each. None of the offenders in Lisak's study had ever been reported. Lisak's findings upended general presumptions about campus sexual assault: It implied that most incidents are not bumbling, he-said-she-said miscommunications, but rather deliberate crimes by serial sex offenders.

It details the ways that the administration has failed students who have been victims of violent crimes:

Like many schools, UVA has taken to emphasizing that in matters of sexual assault, it caters to victim choice. "If students feel that we are forcing them into a criminal or disciplinary process that they don't want to be part of, frankly, we'd be concerned that we would get fewer reports," says associate VP for student affairs Susan Davis. Which in theory makes sense: Being forced into an unwanted choice is a sensitive point for the victims. But in practice, that utter lack of guidance can be counterproductive to a 19-year-old so traumatized as Jackie was that she was contemplating suicide. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing.

And it paints a clear picture of a university culture that normalizes sexual violence and silences women who come forward asking for help: "One of my roommates said, 'Do you want to be responsible for something that's gonna paint UVA in a bad light?' " says Jackie, poking at a vegan burger at a restaurant on the Corner, UVA's popular retail strip.”

Your alma mater has a serious problem – even as it’s not alone; UVA is one of the 86 schools now under federal investigation. However, according to Erdely, “it is one of only 12 schools under a sweeping investigation known as ‘compliance review’: a proactive probe launched by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights itself, triggered by concerns about deep-rooted issues.”

I won’t lie; I’ve long been a huge Greek detractor, having written about my short-lived experience in that system.  I am sick to death of reading about deaths by hazing, stories of rape, instances of homophobic and racist behavior that constantly flow out of the Greek system.  But I have alternately said that it’s not the individuals within fraternities who are necessarily bad people – although I think it should be clear that there are some very, very bad people in fraternities.  Rather, it’s the Greek system that allows horrific behavior to flourish.  My undying belief is that the entire Greek system in the United States should be abolished, but I’m also aware of how unlikely such action is to occur.  And there are good people within the Greek system, people who might be able to do something to change what looks to me like a terrifying trajectory.

Your alma mater maintains a Greek system that perpetuates horrific acts of violence, whose members seemingly regularly commit felonies for which they are never brought to justice.  They ruin young women’s lives. They attend class and graduate, going out in the world to secure lucrative jobs, all the while existing as living testaments to the fact that it’s fine to rape, to maim, to brutalize their fellow human beings.  If the story about Jesse Matthew’s abduction and murder of UVA student Hannah Graham had you up in arms earlier this year, remember that Matthew was a serial rapist whose actions went unpunished.  If you don’t condone his actions, you can’t condone those of the “upstanding” young men who regularly and systematically target, drug, and brutalize their peers in the name of Rugby Row.




This is an image of the vandalized Phi Psi house (it says "suspend us," and "UVA Center for Rape Studies")

President Teresa A. Sullivan, in response to the Rolling Stone article has suspended frats for a whopping 48 days (nearly all of which will occur during winter break) while the circumstances detailed in the article are investigated. Such an action is laughable.

There are several things that you can do to change UVA’s culture, because you have the one thing that has allowed UVA – and every other university in the same position – to turn a blind eye to it thus far: money. Particularly if you are a member of the Greek system and you’re a donor, call – very publically – for the suspension of the Greek system at UVA until the rapists within its ranks are identified and charged, until the Charlottesville police promise to patrol underage drinking at fraternity parties – and to arrest anyone serving booze to minors.  Demand that the institution stop standing in the way of the law, that it support victims of violence, and that it become completely and totally intolerant of the absolute horrors detailed in Erdely’s article. 

And let the administration, the UVA community, and most importantly your Greek brothers and sisters know that you will not donate another dollar to UVA until its fraternity men cease to treat UVA’s female student population like pieces of meat, like disposable garbage, like things.  And if it can’t do that, then let the Greek system go the way of all other arcane and vestigial institutions.