UVA's 'Best Kept Secret' a Healing Balm for Rattled Campus
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The University of Virginia is still reeling after the high profile murder of a student followed by a Rolling Stone article on an alleged gang rape on campus.
In September, sophomore Hannah Graham disappeared. Weeks later, searchers discovered her body in a field outside of Charlottesville.
Then in November, Rolling Stone magazine published an account of a gang rape at a UVA fraternity house. It led to protests and investigations. But then the magazine apologized for discrepancies in its story.
Still, its description of a campus culture of sexual violence rattled the community.
Bill Wilder, executive director of the Center for Christian Study at UVA, said the Rolling Stone piece proved to be a turning point.
"In a lot of ways that really blew the lid off things and suddenly students were lining up at our doors and wanting to talk," he said.
The center and other Christian ministries at UVA have served as an anchor for Christian and non-Christian students on campus during a semester filled with grief, loss, and confusion.
The center houses multiple student ministries and provides students with a quiet place to study, think through their faith and relax. During final exams this last week hundreds visited daily for free meals and the opportunity to sort through a traumatic time.
"Personally for me it's been the hardest semester I've had at UVA," Abby Deatherage, a junior, said. "It's brought up a lot of questions in my faith, a lot of fear."
UVA Senior Matt Correa agreed.
"It's been tough. You see a lot of people, a lot of your friends that are just really broken and losing hope and wanting to throw in the towel," he said.
Staff at the center have offered formal prayer to students this semester as well as discussion groups, individual counseling, and on-going hospitality.
"For me it's been challenging as a member of a fraternity, the need for response has been felt extra heavy," Asher Noble, a UVA junior, said. "Definitely being in a community like this, having friends who are believers, has been really encouraging."
Katie Nowell serves as a campus staff worker with Greek InterVarsity. For students in fraternities and sororities, she said the Rolling Stone article has proved especially painful.
"It's really hard to talk about the brokenness," Nowell explained. "It's really hard to talk about this culture and that our brothers and sisters are being assaulted like this and we hate this. But, we know that we serve a God who brings healing and brings justice and hates those things, too."
Going forward it's clear to most that this campus needs to rethink its social culture and how best to inspire healthy relationships. For Christian students right now it's a unique opportunity to influence the campus.
"People have started turning to their Christian friends and just kind of asking them what do they think of this? How are they processing and how do they view it?" Correa noted.
Senior Heidi Mitter is also involved with Greek InterVarsity.
"I think the Christian community has been calm but also persevering in that we will band together and we will pull through this," she told CBN News. "We will maintain our hope."
These Christian students with a vision to minister to their fellow students may be one of UVA's best-kept secrets.
"For the world to say, 'Oh, it's so dark,' I'm like 'No. There's light here and there's good here and there's strong Christian men and women who are sharing the gospel with their brothers and sisters," Nowell said.
These students may be the change agents that help turn the university around after a season of ugliness and despair.