Letter: Rugby controversy needs to result in significant change at university
To the Editor:
The evening of March 18, I was made aware via social media of a disgusting, misogynist, necrophilia-ridden chant that the rugby team of my recent alma mater, our own University of Mary Washington, apparently sings on a regular basis.
You can imagine my shock and surprise. Well, perhaps you can’t. Let me put it into context: UMW is the institution that helped me shape my strong feminist beliefs. Five years ago, I laughed at feminists. I thought of them as angry, bra-burning, man-hating harpies who were not intelligent enough to realize that the women’s liberation movement had come and gone, and we did not need to keep fighting. We had the vote and the ability to keep working after marriage – how were we not equal to men anymore?
Slowly, as I took class after class, my eyes were thankfully opened. I was given the vocabulary and tools necessary to see and express the fact that there are little (and big) inequalities happening every moment with regards to gender, race, sexuality, physical abilities, etc., and that’s not OK.
Mary Washington gave me my feminist education.
So now you must be able to imagine my shock and surprise when I learned that students who attended the same university I did think lyrics like: “God damn son of a b***h we’re gonna find a w***e! Finally found a w***e. She was right and dead! Well god damn son of a b***h we’re gonna get it in!” and “S**t. F**k it. I’m pissin’ on her too. Around the head oops they’re dead. I wanna f**k that s**t so hard,” are perfectly acceptable.
You can argue that it’s just a song all you want, but the fact of the matter is, songs have a very strong influence in this world. Music has the ability to affect feelings profoundly – that’s why there are pump-up songs, meditative songs and sad songs, among others. If music has the ability to move a person to tears, why, why, why, would anyone ever argue something is “just a song?” This disgusting chant (chants, by the way, are frequently pump-songs for violent physical activity) is so important because it is a song. Perhaps no one who sings it will ever kill a prostitute and then rape her dead body. But the violent spirit of the song is not going to encourage any good things to come of it.
I was similarly surprised by the administration’s response. Rather than come out clearly on the incident at the time it happened – in the fall – the administration kept it quiet. Last week, when the rugby team appealed, their sexual assault and harassment training was suddenly cancelled, even though some of the players threatened members of the Feminist United on Campus club for trying to ensure that the team was sanctioned.
On March 18, post-appeal, UMW President Rick Hurley sent out a vague email on the topic to the student body. Rather than tell students what was going on and that the school would not tolerate it, he harped on about codes of ethics and things while never actually addressing the incident.
His second email on March 19, while less vague, was similarly disappointing. Rather than firmly taking the stand that UMW would both not stand behind such lyrics and that the student body has the right to be informed of such incidents and stands, Hurley implied that the release of such sickening lyrics on social media was somehow offensive to the administration, but the rugby team would be sanctioned for the incident.
It needs to be said: the release of those lyrics onto social media – I should say second release as they had already been released on YouTube by the team members involved – should not have been offensive to the administration. No one was forced to read those lyrics. They were posted to inform the student body in lieu of the administration informing them. And thank god for social media – these days, we can keep ourselves informed.
So to the administration: I will not apologize for educating the student body on poor decisions made by their peers. I will not apologize for showing people what your vague email was referring to. I will not apologize for using the words you gave me to expose your attempt to keep a disgusting incident quiet.
At the end of the day, I’m glad that the University stood by its principles and suspended the rugby team, as well as requiring them to attend sensitivity training. The punishment is symbolic: “We as an institute do not stand for oppression.” Today, it doesn’t matter how we got there. Just that it never happens again.
Cara Wood is an alumna from the University of Mary Washington, Class of 2014.