OPINION: Lessons to be learned from Rolling Stone UVA failures

by Rich Ramos, Special to the Simpsonian

The failure of Rolling Stone magazine to do its homework in regards to the “incident” at University of Virginia presents us with an opportunity to take a step back and look at what did and didn’t happen from a completely different lens. Of course, it is very easy for me to say as we were not in the direct firing line. Had we been in a similar position as UVA, I would like to say that we would have handled all aspects so much better, but again, very easy for me to say.

I don’t think anyone will challenge the statement that sexual assault or sexual misconduct, regardless of the form or severity, is a horrible thing, and as members of this community or other communities, we have an obligation to do what we can to protect and support those who have been a victims or have known someone who would fall into that victim status. In a community such as ours, we cannot idly sit by, hoping “this too shall pass” or to wait for someone to step up. We all have an obligation to step up.

That being said, we also have an obligation to ensure we responsibly and accurately investigate whatever the situation may be. Contrary to popular belief, there were really no winners in this situation. If I had to say, the entity that will recover the fastest and easiest will be Rolling Stone magazine. As a corporate entity, other than a fair amount of the country questioning their quality of reporting, they will bounce back and, unfortunately, in a relatively short period of time.  Everyone will forget the magazine did a very poor job of reporting and those whose lives were impacted forever by this reckless reporting will be left to pick up the pieces on their own.

For a moment though, let’s look at those who will not bounce back so easily. UVA had its community torn apart because of a “reported” senseless act by some individual(s) at a party. Regardless of whether all, part or none of the things reported in the article are true, the university is left to try and repair a very fragmented community.

The fraternity and the Greek community at UVA were thrust into a negative spotlight and subjected to some intense scrutity for an extended period of time, only to find out that much of the story had not been verified or proven to be true. Please don’t take this as a statement vindicating the chapter, but more so a statement of how we all need to do our due diligence prior to making the accusatory statements the way Rolling Stone did.

Last, but most certainly not least, the young woman at the center of this incident. It’s easy for us all to pass judgement, but unless we know this woman personally, it’s impossible for us to say how she was feeling, what she experienced and how it affected her life forever. I am not even going to venture a guess as to what happened on that night as that would put me in the same category as Rolling Stone magazine. 

Rolling Stone magazine did a huge injustice to so many people by not doing their homework, and for the most part, they will walk away with a slap on the hand. Sure, there will most likely be lawsuits, but Rolling Stone can afford the best attornies money can buy to defend themselves and their so called reputation. My guess is that Rolling Stone will do nothing to help the community of UVA repair itself or do anything to help those who have been impacted by this article. They will be left to do what they need to do on their own.

What lesson should we take away from this, you may ask? We need to remember, as a community, we have an obligation to respect everyone and not take incidents of sexual misconduct and sexual assault lightly.  We have a responsibility to report or intervene when we see or know when something is happening that shouldn’t. And, first and foremost, we need to create an environment where everyone feels safe, valued and respected as a part of the Simpson College community.

Stopping behaviors like those reported in the Rolling Stone article is all of our responsibility. We don’t have the luxury of being a silent bystander anymore. Respect your friends, colleagues and others and do the right thing. Speak up and stop sexual violence and sexual misconduct.