Seven Society Renews Call for Caring Community, Solicits Funding Requests

December 01, 2014

Calling for bottom-up efforts to effect cultural change, the University of Virginia’s secretive Seven Society on Monday hung banners around Grounds and offered a $57,777.77 donation “to support programs like bystander intervention training that can be offered to all students.”

The Seven Society, one of the University’s oldest secret societies, is best known for its behind-the-scenes good works and financial gifts to University initiatives – usually in amounts that include multiple digits of 7.

In December 2012, however, members of the society first took the unusually public action of posting banners around Grounds. In reaction to a reported hate crime, sexual assault and the death of a student, the society called on the University community to be a strong and committed community of caring and trust. The banners were accompanied by words from the poet John Donne:

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself. …

… Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, Send not to know

For Whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.”

On Monday, the society – again referencing Donne’s words – renewed that call to mutual responsibility, reposting the banners and sending another letter to the University. (The banners can be found at The Fralin Museum of Art, Saunders Hall at the Darden School of Business, Peabody Hall, McLeod Hall at the School of Nursing, Runk Dining Hall and Thornton Hall at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. A seventh banner will be posted at the Rotunda later this week.)

“Two years ago, the Seven Society raised these banners as a call for unity and action at the end of a semester that had seen hate speech, sexual assaults, and the loss of one of our own,” the letter says. “Today, we raise them once more. We raise them for Hannah; for Connor; for Peter; for Jackie. And we raise them for all those students whose names are not known, whose suffering is silent.”

Those referenced are second-year student Hannah Graham, who in September was abducted from Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and murdered; two students who lost their lives this semester; and a female student who told the story of her 2012 rape at a U.Va. fraternity house in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

The latter has ignited anger, sadness and a call for action against sexual assault, as well as an exploration of cultural issues in the U.Va. community.

 The Board of Visitors last week approved a zero-tolerance policy approach regarding sexual assault at the University. And on Monday, President Teresa A. Sullivan provided more detail about the path forward in an address to students.

However, “[C]ultural change cannot simply be called into being,” the Seven Society’s letter states. “It is we, as individuals, who must change the lives that we live. And it is we, as individuals, who must act on this change: we need to hold one another to the standards that were supposed to have defined us. It is now painfully clear how much wrong lies just behind the customary movements of this community. The problems of our University belong to no one but us; so must their solutions.”

In an email accompanying the letter, the society asked that proposals for allocating the donated funds be sent to Proposals.SevenSociety@gmail.com before Jan. 17.

The full text of the Seven Society letter:

To the University:

No man is an island, entire of itself.

Two years ago, the Seven Society raised these banners as a call for unity and action at the end of a semester that had seen hate speech, sexual assaults, and the loss of one of our own. Today, we raise them once more. We raise them for Hannah; for Connor; for Peter; for Jackie. And we raise them for all those students whose names are not known, whose suffering is silent.

In times like these, what are we to do with anger? What are we to do with despair? It is too easy to let the tragedies of this semester become stories about the evil of a few. But for all of the good work of survivors and of their advocates, of impassioned voices and agitated friends, these tragedies form in the end something else: this is a story of complicity. Very few of us have knowingly allowed a sexual assault to be committed. How many of us, though, have stood by while a peer was disrespected? While another was objectified? How many times have we shaken our heads at the bigotry that persists in our community – and then done nothing? With whom should we be angry, if not with ourselves? What is the source of our despair, if not a crisis of our own making?

Many have called for cultural change, but cultural change cannot simply be called into being. It is we, as individuals, who must change the lives that we live. And it is we, as individuals, who must act on this change: we need to hold one another to the standards that were supposed to have defined us. It is now painfully clear how much wrong lies just behind the customary movements of this community. The problems of our University belong to no one but us; so must their solutions.

No longer can we allow such ambitions to remain nurtured only in words and in thought. To institutionalize this kind of bottom-up cultural change, the Seven Society offers a donation of $57,777.77 to support programs like bystander intervention training that can be offered to all students. The allocation of these funds will be based on suggestions that the Seven Society will solicit from the entire University community.

This is – it must be – only the beginning. This will be a place about which we can be proud, a place free of fear, free of harm, free of hatred. This will be a place where we are never again entangled in such grief, wondering what we should have known, what we could have done. But it will only be if we make it so. And so, we say once more –

send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

1 December 2014

Sincerely,

The Seven Society

Media Contact

Anthony P. de Bruyn

University Spokesperson Office of University Communications