I’ve written before here on elite students cheating, binge drinking, doing drugs, being racist and sexually promiscuous.
At the same time, it’s common for reporters, TV commentators, or even social scientists to explain social, educational, or economic struggles of less privileged students to a “culture” in which such behaviors that are presumed to interfere with a focus on success are tolerated.
But few of these reports of bad behavior among the wealthy have troubled me as much as this week’s deeply disturbing Rolling Stone article on rape culture at the University of Virginia and the ways in which this culture is sustained by wealth and status.
I went to grad school at UNC, so have long been aware of UVA’s reputation as very elite school where only the very best of the best were admitted. I remember being in Charlottesville for a meeting a few years ago and going for an early morning run around the campus, being somewhat in awe of the historical buildings, the Wall Street Journals delivered to the elite student housing on the quad, the sense that even on my early run, I understood myself to be in a place where I’d always just be a visitor.
And Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the Rolling Stone article, makes clear that wealth and status enable students at UVA to get away with all sort of insidious behavior:
- A brutal gang rape at a fraternity “a reputation of tremendous wealth.
- “UVA says it has been complying fully with the investigation. But Carter notes that UVA and other elite schools tend not to respond well to criticism and sanctify tradition above all else. “That’s common to more prestigious institutions,” Carter says.”
- Attorney Wendy Murphy, who has filed Title IX complaints and lawsuits against schools including UVA, argues that in matters of sexual violence, Ivy League and Division I schools’ fixation with prestige is their downfall. “These schools love to pretend they protect the children as if they were their own, but that’s not true: They’re interested in money,” Murphy says. “In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he’s held accountable.“
- Stacy insisted upon moving forward anyway, even when the wealthy family of the accused kicked up a fuss. “They threatened to sue deans individually, they threatened to sue me,” she recalls. But Stacy remained stalwart, because she had additional motivation: She’d been shaken to discover two other women with stories of assault by the same man. “
I can’t speak to whether the cultural values of the wealthy and the cultural values of the poor are so very different.
It’s just that the wealthy have limitless resources to protect themselves when those values harm others deeply.