This post was originally published on The Blue & Gray Press, the University of Mary Washington’s student newspaper. It is republished here with full permission.
Last semester I was asked if I thought the University of Mary Washington was a “feminist friendly campus.” At the time, I said yes it was, citing the record-breaking number of sign-ups Feminists United received at Club Carnival, the wonderful faculty in the Women and Gender Studies Department and the enthusiasm of our members. While Feminists United still has dedicated members and the faculty of the WGST program continues to offer important courses, I no longer find UMW to be a “feminist friendly campus.” What is unfortunate is that my answer changed around the time that the club increased its visibility on campus. We went from a club that met Wednesdays at 8 p.m., to a club that tried to affect change on campus, pulling back a thin veil of a “feminist friendly campus” to expose the insidious misogyny and hatred very much alive at UMW.
Here is why my answer changed. As many students know, a motion passed through our student senate last semester proclaiming that the UMW community would support institutionalized Greek life on campus. What many students do not know are the troubling arguments made in support of the motion. When one student senator argued that the Greek system is inherently discriminatory in that is only allows people of one gender to join, another countered that UMW already has sex discrimination in the form of the Women’s Health Center. When the argument was made that research shows that institutionalized Greek Life on campus increased the rates of sexual assault, a fellow senator said this statement (which is supported by numerous studies) is simply a stereotype and to stereotype fraternities in such a way was the equivalent of racial stereotypes.
Here is why my answer changed. Once the motion passed the Senate, there was a town hall meeting on the subject. While the meeting appeared well mannered and cordial, this was not so. When I spoke, I asked the members of the pro-Greek life side to address the studies and research which shows that institutionalized Greek life on campus increased the number of sexual assaults. I asked them to explain how they plan to address this issue when, as of right now, UMW has far to go in adequately supporting victims and survivors. As soon as I finished, people were “yakking” (using the anonymous social media site, “Yik Yak”) about how “this feminist needs to calm the hell down” and how I was “scary.” Later on that evening more “yaks” circulated about “the feminists” using insulting and disgusting words to describe a group of students who asked that the safety of this student body be counted as a top priority.
Here is why my answer changed. Eventually, the club was able to meet with administration members about what more UMW can do to prevent sexual assault and support victims and survivors. These meetings were productive and the administration was open to our ideas. After one meeting with our Title IX Coordinator, Dr. Leah Cox, a group of us walked home on College Ave. We had no posters, t-shirts or anything on our persons that would indicate that we were the executive board of Feminists United. As the cars drove by we heard someone yell out a window “**** the feminists!” While street harassment often leaves people with a feeling of discomfort and fear, this time was especially worrisome. Not only were we confronted with an act of aggression, we were singled out and identified as “the feminists.”
Here is why my answer changed. It came to our attention at the end of last semester that the men’s rugby team performed a chant one night at a party. The chant discussed violence against women, including murder and battery, sexual violence against women, including assault, necrophilia and rape, and used derogatory words to describe the women in the chant. I would ask the members of Mother’s Rugby to consider the words of Dr. Chris Kilmartin, a professor in our psychology department: “Although the vast majority of the men are not sexual predators, their participation in these chants provide support for the sexually aggressive men who were present. We should ask ourselves if we would be so comfortable if the chants were racist in nature. Sexism is still an acceptable social activity in many sectors of society, and it has got to stop.”
Here is why my answer changed. As soon as Feminists United started affecting change on campus, we were faced with aggression and hatred. To those who are responsible for the examples I have described please know one thing: Feminists United will continue to push forward in trying to make UMW a safer and more equitable place for all students. We are not going anywhere. We will not stop.
Paige McKinsey is president of Feminists United on Campus and former intern at the Feminist Majority Foundation.