Group Files Sex Discrimination Complaint Against University of Mary Washington - NBC4 Washington

Group Files Sex Discrimination Complaint Against University of Mary Washington

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    Group Files Complaint Against UMW

    Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey reports on a complaint filed against the University of Mary Washington accusing the school of failing to protect students from cyberthreats. (Published Thursday, May 7, 2015)

    A feminist group at the University of Mary Washington is accusing the administration of failing to respond to cyberthreats of rape and murder against its members.

    One of the group's officers, Grace Mann, was killed last month.

    "My first thought was, 'Oh God, what if this has something to do with the threats?'" said Julia Michels, president-elect of Feminists United.

    The group filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Thursday. National feminist leaders were on campus to stand with the students who say they've lived in fear this semester.

    The members of Feminists United say the trouble started last semester when the school's rugby team was suspended for a chant that glorified rape. 

    When the president of Feminists United wrote about the issue in the campus newspaper, members of the group were blamed for the team's troubles. Threats of sex assault and violence began to appear on Yik Yak, a social media app that lets users post anonymously.

    The threats were chilling. "Dandy's about to kill a b---- or two," read one. "Gonna tie these feminists to the radiator," read another. That comment was followed by a description of a violent sex act. 

    Friends say Grace Mann was mentioned by name in some threats.

    Michels said she was so fearful she ended up seeking counseling.

    "I didn't know if the person threatening to hurt me lives across the hall from me," Michels said.

    In a statement issued late Thursday, the university said it had been actively engaged with Feminists United and other students to "address issues of safety and campus culture."

    The university said it disagreed with many of the details in the morning news conference, but added, "We do share the ultimate goal of maintaining a safe environment in collaboration with campus partners. This University takes any allegation of gender-based violence very seriously."

    The university said it would cooperate fully with the Office of Civil Rights during the investigation into the complaint.

    Feminist United members asked the university to block Yik Yak on campus, but were told that would infringe on free speech. The popular app — which allows anonymous commenting — is widely used on college campuses.

    "I'm not exactly 100 percent sure why Feminists United expects the university to shut down Yik Yak," said University of Mary Washington junior Yireda Jillili. "I think it's more of a Yik Yak issue."

    "This is not free speech when it's violent threats of assault and rape and murder," said a lawyer for the group Thursday.

    University officials say they've responded to every direct threat of violence.