The University of Virginia (UVA) is home to thousands of undergraduate and graduate university students. They boast of an active and large “Greek life” that includes numerous fraternity and sorority houses. These houses host parties for students, especially those new to the school and interested in the college life or possibly joining a Greek club. Traditionally, the process is grueling and highly sexualized. Such parties have always drawn attention for their drinking, drugs, and treatment of vulnerable students. Women particularly find themselves in difficult situations.
Last year, UVA confronted one of its most difficult public scandals to date. One female student at the school decided to share her story of one night at a Greek event. She went to Rolling Stone magazine and reported details about the people, the time, and most of all the rape that she suffered at the hands of multiple UVA college students. The controversy caused an uproar on campus and across the nation, provoking parents, students, and other universities to act on the problem of rape in the university system. But that is not what I wish to focus on. I want to evaluate the public relations plan executed through the Rolling Stone article. UVA has taken its own measures, but the magazine article is certainly a part of that.
Overall, the article targets readers of the music magazine. Most of these are young and culturally affluent. They know of UVA and the Greek life and may have experienced or known someone who was raped. The audience is not directly parents or only college students. Neither is it people who only watch television news or are elderly or living in the country. I think most of the readers of the article, and thus the audience, comprises younger, urban students and professionals.
How effectively did Rolling Stone communicate to this audience. The difficulty lies in the magazine’s reputation. The audience outlined above reflects the normal reader of the magazine. But the article addresses issues that would interest not only the young, urban cultured student but also most any female or male university student and their parents. It may also help those who serve the colleges, such as churches and organizations that live in the area who hope to reach students. These leaders will find the article interesting and beneficial. However, much of this population will probably not regularly pick up a Rolling Stone. This will become significant for later steps in the public relations process.
The article is quite long and its objectives are numerous. In the first place, it wants to inform and rhetorically effect the reader by recounting the story of Jackie, the lady who was raped at UVA. The author takes us through a scene leading up to the rape and then delivers the details about the whole process. The goal is thus to inform but also to affect. The story shapes our emotions, evoking pity and fear surrounding the events that Jackie suffers. In the second place, the article wants to inform the readers of the problem of rape in the wider context and convince us of UVA’s place within the scene. So, Erdley offers statistics about rape across the United States, particularly at universities and Greek life parties. She includes photographs of schools and the Greek houses, as well as law enforcement. The images accompany the statistics to offer a frightful and realistic portrayal of the sexual assault problems on campuses. The article also generalizes by way of its language just used. It informs us not only of rape cases but also the wider issues of sexual abuse and assault. But the article primarily wishes to highlight the severity of UVA and its sexual problems. It recounts a few past occurrences and scandals, and then places the current scenario within them.
I think the article accomplished these goals successfully. I left with a strong feeling of sorrow for Jackie and also those sexually assaulted across the United States. On the other hand, I wondered about Jackie’s maturity and guilt in all of this. Did she not contribute a bit to the event, placing herself in that risky scenario and being quite unprepared to get out. The UVA indictment is certainly plausible, but at the same time, I wonder how much of these issues depend upon the institution. It seems that these threats are caused more by the upbringing of the students who commit the crimes and the victims who find themselves hurt.
The focus or theme of the article seems to be that readers should pity the victim, Jackie, and blame not only the male students but the institution for what happened to her. Thus, it begins with the story of Jackie and her rape, garnering emotions and attachment to the student. Then it delivers the statistics and problems with UVA. Finally, the concluding remarks underscore the pain and future struggles of Jackie. I admire and appreciate this focus. But I also wonder how long lasting it is. Such a rhetorically heavy and emotionally laden strategy will likely affect a temporary reaction but not always a lasting response. Thus, I will not be surprised if the issue is forgotten by most already.
One tactic is denial. In the article by journalist Sabrina Erdley, the Managing Editor Will Dana now includes a preface and writes, “The fraternity has issued a formal statement denying the assault and asserting that there was no ‘date function or formal event’ on the night in question.” It seems that with this preface, the magazine undercuts its goals, or at least complicates them. Yet much of the article bolsters its strategy to affect and convince the reader regarding Jackie, rape victims, and the university situation at UVA and elsewhere. The story telling is vivid and seemingly accurate. It tells but mostly shows the pain and struggle of Jackie and other students like her. I found this quite disturbing in comparison with the objective statistics about men and women on campus. The storied form of the magazine certainly accomplishes its goal. In terms of reaching the wider audience, I think that including the photos and information about the larger university context and Jackie’s family will help to draw other readers in. The online publication will also foster greater access to the article among those who do not normally read Rolling Stone.
The timeline is quite indefinite. It may depend upon the university itself, which now releases updated information regarding the story and their response. This is exemplified in the preface by the Managing Editor. Yet the article concludes with an open ended comment about Jackie’s future. She does not know where she will go or how she will cope with her pain. This sort of public relations plan is difficult to place on a timeline. In one sense, its goals are so immediate, that it has no timeline.
I cannot comment significantly on this. I know that the budget includes paying the writer and any trips involved. Beyond that, it seems to have no budget.
- Erdley, Sabrina. “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” Rolling Stone Magazine. Accessed February 4, 2015.
- “Six Steps of a Public Relations Plan.” Electronic Handout. 2015.