As Rolling Stone magazine apologized not once, but twice, for its article last month about a young woman who had allegedly been raped on the University of Virginia campus, we witnessed something rarely seen these days: UVA President Teresa Sullivan, took the high road in responding to the fiasco.
“Even though the facts in the Rolling Stone story are in dispute,” Sullivan stated, “sexual misconduct does occur and it has no place at our university. We will continue our efforts to improve our policies and practices, to support survivors with counseling and in other ways, and to rigorously examine our culture and climate.”
How easy would it have been to respond with smug satisfaction to Rolling Stone’s admissions of poor investigation and fact checking on the central allegation of the story? Sullivan could easily have used the opportunity to avoid the issue that rape does indeed plague too many college campuses in the U.S. and abroad, or to stress the harm universities can suffer from such misguided journalism.
Resisting the temptation to pummel critics when they stumble requires the all-too rare capacity to see an opportunity to employ a bad situation or crisis as a means to positive ends, in this case protecting vulnerable students.
Sullivan drew attention to a problem that will not go away until sufficient focus and effort is directed to stopping campus rapes.
Taking the high road as a tactic is all too infrequently employed in high profile issues. It’s impressive to see the university equivalent of a CEO cut through issue clutter, and resist the temptation to place blame. Instead, she defined the core issue – protection of those whose wellbeing relies, in good part, on her ability and that of her administration to understand what truly matters.
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