U.S. Education Department Launches Civil Rights Probe Into University of Mary Washington - NBC4 Washington

U.S. Education Department Launches Civil Rights Probe Into University of Mary Washington



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    Trinkle Hall at the University of Mary Washington. Photo: Morgan Riley, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation into the University of Mary Washington after a member of a campus feminist group was murdered.

    Members of that group – including 20-year-old Grace Mann, who was killed in April – said they had been threatened with rape and murder on the location-based social media app Yik Yak.

    Yik Yak allows users to remain anonymous and is popular on college campuses.

    Attorney Debra Katz had filed a complaint with the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, charging that the Fredericksburg, Virginia university, had failed to protect students from a "threatening and sexually hostile campus environment."

    "The goal is to make colleges safe for all students – women, people of color, the LGBT community," Katz said at a press event Wednesday, "and to put a legal obligation firmly on schools to make that happen."

    The university said it welcomes the investigation and the guidance of the Department of Education.

    "At the University of Mary Washington, the prevention of sexual misconduct is an institutional priority," the university said in a statement. "Appropriately, it is also a priority for the federal government."

    Mann was found dead in the Fredericksburg house she shared with several roommates, including former University of Mary Washington student Steven Briel, who has been charged with Mann's abduction and murder.

    One of Mann's female housemates testified in a June court hearing that she received a chilling text from Briel before she got home the day of Mann's murder asking when she and another roommate would be home. Briel wrote he had been in Mann's room, "and I made a mess," the roommate testified.

    According to the testimony, Briel admitted to strangling Mann during a disagreement. The two female housemates said they found Mann's body under a comforter with several plastic grocery bags stuffed into her mouth and another over her head.

    The exact motive in the case remains unclear.