CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Women at the University of Virginia remained frustrated Saturday over a controversial request to skip the evening’s fraternity activities in order to protect their "safety and well-being" — although many said they would comply.
In a Jan. 20 letter to 16 UVA sororities, national sorority leaders called on female students involved in Greek life to stay away from fraternity parties associated with the end of “rush,” in which the houses welcome their new members. The request came less than a month after the end of a moratorium on Greek life, which was first instated because of a Rolling Stone article that detailed a graphic alleged rape at a UVA off-campus fraternity house. Details in that story were later discredited.
The letter sparked a petition calling for the policy to be revoked, and many female students at UVA expressed concern that the mandate sent the wrong message about their ability to make safe choices and jeopardized students' rights to self-governance.
“This mandate perpetuates the idea that women are inferior, sexual objects. It is degrading to Greek women, as it appears that the NPC (National Panhellenic Conference) views us as defenseless,” the petition said.
The creator of the petition, Story Hinckley, told NBC News on Saturday that she felt male students were being stereotyped as predators. "I'm having to deal with the stereotype of not being in control of my body, and just being a sexual object at these parties," she said.
Hinckley said she will stay away from the fraternity parties on Saturday night to avoid “repercussions,” but she still believes the mandate is an “impractical, unrealistic solution to sexual assault on grounds.” Some national sororities have threatened probation and fines for entire chapters, she said.
The National Panhellenic Conference, which counts the 16 UVA sororities as members, said it had nothing to do with the request but supported it because of its long-standing policy that sorority members avoid fraternity recruitment practices. “We know from experience that such events pose risk management and safety issues," the NPC said in a statement Friday.
"I'm having to deal with the stereotype of not being in control of my body, and just being a sexual object at these parties."
The statement did nothing to calm UVA students’ worries that misconceptions about women were being perpetuated, and on top of that, sorority members at the university felt they were being singled out.
“I think a lot of people are aware that this is all happening as a result of the Rolling Stone article and all the publicity UVA has received over the last couple of months,” said a female Greek life member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because her sorority asked her not to speak with the media.
But she said she will also abide by the rules, and stay away from the fraternity parties Saturday night. “I think people are trying to enact change in a way that they think will effectively cause change … rather than rebel and go to the parties, because I don’t, in the end, think that’s going to accomplish anything,” she said.
Many sororities have planned mandatory “sisterhood” events, such as pizza parties and “lock-ins” to watch the night's basketball game against Duke. UVA President Teresa Sullivan on Friday suggested doing just that, and reminded sorority members that they should abide by the rules of an organization they willingly joined.
But, Sullivan also clarified she has “faith in the students’ ability to make their own decisions.”
Third-year UVA student Erin Dyer, who penned an article in The Washington Post saying the request to stay away from the parties made her feel “penalized” for her gender, told NBC News that she doesn't "think this policy is progressive or encouraging for us as Greek women at UVA.”
But Dyer, a sorority member, hasn’t lost hope of turning a situation that many view as another blow to the Greek community into a lesson for sorority leaders. “If real change is going to occur, quitting or giving up on this amazing opportunity to empower and educate women would be just as backwards as this policy,” she said.
Katie Wall reported from Charlottesville, and Elisha Fieldstadt reported from New York.