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11/25/2014 08:45 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

Though Under Fire For Its Own Rape Response, UVA Advises Other Schools Nationwide

In April 2010, a first-year female student at the University of Virginia sat in Dean Mark Hadley’s office and told him how she had been sexually assaulted a month earlier. It was the student's first time disclosing her assault to a university official.

Hadley, an association dean, sat quietly and listened. The student, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled to The Huffington Post that Hadley’s first question to her was, “How are you doing in your classes?”

The student says Hadley then went on to warn that because she'd missed many classes since her assault, she might land on academic probation. The student says she was not offered any information about reporting, counseling or support options available to her as a victim. (Hadley did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)

That night, the student says, she attempted suicide.

The student recovered, physically and emotionally, and later got involved in advocacy work supporting survivors in the community. In 2012, she had a chance to relay her concerns about how she was not presented with options as a rape victim to Allen Groves, UVA's dean of students.

“The most he offered me was a box of tissues,” said the student, now a graduate working full-time at a research organization, of Groves' response. “What's appalling to me and other survivors is the administration clearly knew what was happening.”

The University of Virginia is currently under intense scrutiny due to a recent article in Rolling Stone that contains allegations from multiple women of being gang-raped at the Charlottesville campus. Several protests have taken place over the past week. UVA's Board of Visitors, the governing body of the institution, held an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss the situation.

The school was already the subject of a federal complaint, filed in 2011, that in turn was folded into a larger and more serious compliance review by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The agency only opens proactive compliance reviews when it suspects there may be serious failures at the school, and indeed, just 12 of the agency's 88 active Title IX investigations are of the kind UVA is facing.

Now, outsiders are asking why a school so heavily criticized for its alleged mishandling of rapes is often recruited to help come up with sexual assault policies for other colleges and universities.

Edward Miller, a member of the Board of Visitors, appeared to be aware of that concern. He said at the end of the special meeting Tuesday that “we were arrogant, we assumed we knew better.”

Over the weekend, 46 researchers sent a letter to the presidents of the member schools in the Association of American Universities, an elite higher education group, to express their concerns about a campus sexual violence climate survey the organization is developing. AAU is currently soliciting its members to pay up to $85,000 to distribute the survey. The researchers are concerned that of the 18 people chosen to design the survey, four hail from UVA, more than any other institution.

Allen Groves, in particular, has been a hot commodity. He was called in to review the sexual assault policies of the University of Oregon in 2013. Additionally, two months ago, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed Groves to a statewide task force to examine sexual assault policies among colleges in the Commonwealth.

Groves was chairman of the North-American Interfraternity Conference from 2012 to 2014. During that time, NIC worked with the Fraternity & Sorority Political Action Committee, or FratPAC, on proposed federal legislation dealing with hazing and sexual assault.

And in August of this year, Groves was named head of a national committee tasked with stopping fraternity members from committing rape.

Just a few months later, the Rolling Stone article appeared, alleging that multiple women had been gang-raped at the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi. The article depicted Groves as downplaying a federal investigation into the issues when he was questioned by the Board of Visitors, referring to the investigation as "a standard compliance review." (There is video of Groves making these remarks.) Groves later said he was "shocked" by the article's characterization, and said he was attempting to be honest in the comments referenced.

"I went back and looked at the original 2011 letter from OCR, which says it was a 'proactive' review," Groves told HuffPost on Tuesday. "I had mistakenly remembered it as 'standard.' I don't recall the letter saying that the review was highly unusual, and I was honestly saying what I knew at the time I spoke. I am not an expert in OCR investigations and I am not the University's point person on this review."

To be sure, Groves has many admirers. He is considered a champion for LGBT causes at the school. As Equality Virginia detailed in a profile earlier this year, Groves, who is gay, has had to deal with homophobic attitudes during his career in academia and while working with fraternities. When Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said in 2010 that the state university system offered no job protection based on sexual orientation, Groves responded, "Nothing anyone says will make UVA reject its core value of nondiscrimination."

But UVA's record on sexual violence remains the subject of much critique. In February, for example, student sexual assault survivors privately bristled when UVA hosted a national conference on rape, advertising that the event would "foster intellectual debate with the ability to reach interested audiences" while mostly excluding actual victims from speaking slots.

It's an irony not lost on activists that UVA -- like Harvard, like Columbia, like Brown -- is among the American universities generally regarded as leaders in research and academics, yet has been accused of some of the most grievous mishandling of sexual assault cases in recent years.

Victims' rights attorney Laura Dunn, founder of the nonprofit organization SurvJustice, emphasized to HuffPost that not all administrators on these campuses are bad.

"But," she said, "there is very much a trend of administrators who are actively violating federal law on their campuses being held up as experts."

AAU, for its part, defended the makeup of its survey design team, which includes UVA officials, in a letter last week to concerned school presidents.

"We are very confident in our survey team’s abilities, knowledge, and experience," AAU President Hunter Rawlings wrote. "Nearly all of the AAU team members are professionals with deep and direct experience, whether academic or practical, in survey research, sexual assault, gender issues, student affairs, or other related matters."

And now, after years of criticism, some feel that UVA may finally improve on sexual assault.

Emily Renda, a UVA graduate and rape survivor, told HuffPost she doesn't see the community letting the issue die by semester's end.

"I don't think people are going to let this go until they feel like something has changed," said Renda. "And they shouldn't. To be honest, they shouldn't."

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

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