University of Mary Washington students and on-campus group Feminists United came together with Feminist Majority Foundation this week to file a Title IX Sex Discrimination complaint against the university for failing to address sexually-based stalking, cyberstalking and online harassment, and threats of physical and sexual assault directed at feminist students over anonymous network Yik Yak. Below is the statement that Julia Michels, Feminists United President, read at the press conference announcing the complaint.
On the morning March 26th, I, along with other members of the executive board of Feminists United met with several members of our school’s administration. In that meeting, we read aloud to them a “yak” from an anonymous person on our campus. The yak threatened rape, and was very clearly directed at members of Feminists United. This is only one of about thirty harassing or threatening yaks that we read allowed to the administration, and one over 800 that were directed at us over the course of the last two semesters. The anonymous comments range from threats of physical and sexual harm, to harassing statements that include derogatory slurs, harmful stereotypes and statements, as well as some with elements of cyberstalking. Several of my friends were mentioned by name. We showed all of these things to the administration.
In response, they sent out a school wide email telling us to contact yik yak if we encountered bullying on their app. I wish I could say that this is the first time my beloved school’s administration has thrown my friends and I under the bus, and ignored our genuine concerns. I wish I could say that, but I can’t.
Over the course of the last semester, much of the hatred Feminists United has been receiving was due to a Fall of 2014 incident involving members of the men’s rugby team, in which they sang a chant glorifying rape, mutilation, and necrophilia. It is true that when our club heard about this chant, we spoke to the administration about it, wanting to make sure that they were taking the issue seriously. They assured us that they were, and that was the extent of our involvement. Unfortunately, much of the student body seemed to develop a belief that Feminists United had some sort of impact on the administration’s actions on this case, and on it’s outcome, but I assure you, we do not have that power. Sadly, however, the administration made no effort to dispel these rumors. No announcement was made regarding this incident until the middle of March, and even then, the email sent out was vague and uninformative, leaving students once again to speculate and to lay their blame on the only relevant public group, Feminists United.
We met with President Hurley that day, and he told us to our faces that he intended to rely on the “student grapevine” to inform people about the sanctions handed down. We implored him to see that this was a bad idea, and that failing to be fully communicative and informative would only result in more vitriolic hate against Feminists United. We were right. The next day, President Hurley sent out a more informative email, but it was too late.
It was around this time that the already constant threats and messages of misogynistic hate grew even more serious. People gave out the locations of our members, and threatened to rape and kill us. I was terrified. I did not know if the person sitting next to me in class had just threatened to hurt me anonymously, and I had no way to gauge the seriousness of these threats. I began strategically carrying my key and whistle when I walked the thirty feet between my apartment and my car, and I began to seek help for the psychological and emotional damage I was feeling.
I have never before experienced anxiety and fear on the same level I did during this last year, and I know for a fact that my grades and schoolwork suffered. I said all of these things in the presence of President Hurley. Still, my school has done nothing to protect me.
It’s nearly three weeks to the day now that my good friend Grace Mann was murdered. I don’t know if her death had anything to do with these threats. I hope it did not. But I know she had been mentioned by name on Yik Yak, and I know she was scared, as I am. I know she was angry, as I am. Most of all, I know she was disappointed in her school for failing to protect her, just as I am disappointed in UMW for failing to protect me.
I am hopeful, however, that we can work together to make UMW the safe, positive environment that it should be.