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The Blue & Gray Press | August 19, 2017

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President Hurley sounds off on FUC, FMF in email to students

President Hurley sounds off on FUC, FMF in email to students

*The following is a letter from University of Mary Washington President Richard Hurley in response to the allegations made by the Feminist Majority Foundation:. All of the below text is directly quoted from an email sent to the UMW community.*

Dear Ms. Smeal:

I write to respond to the allegations raised in the Title IX complaint filed against the University of Mary Washington, which we understand the Feminist Majority Foundation funded and recklessly publicized. As an initial matter, we were surprised to learn that you scheduled a press conference on May 7 to publicize the allegations in the complaint, particularly because we had already scheduled to meet with you on June 3 to discuss concerns raised by student members of Feminists United on Campus (“FUC”). You did not inform us of your intent to hold such a press conference. Instead, you sought media attention to publicize the fact of the filing of – and the irresponsible allegations in – the complaint. It is regrettable that you chose to preempt the opportunity to meet with me to gather information to assess the concerns being raised by a handful of UMW students.

The primary premise of the complaint is that UMW “ignored” students’ concerns regarding comments made on the social media app Yik Yak. That allegation is demonstrably false. With the recent rise in popularity of this app, which allows anonymous postings by individuals within a 10-mile radius, UMW and colleges across the United States have been struggling to balance their utmost concern for the safety and welfare of students with the First Amendment rights of anonymous posters. UMW has met this challenge head on. As you know, I have had more than one in-person meeting with FUC’s leadership to discuss their concerns. We have consulted with legal counsel on permissible actions we might take to limit Yik Yak’s impact on campus. We have worked extensively with our Title IX coordinator to facilitate an open dialogue on campus among students regarding sexual assault and harassment. We provided extra security – including a campus escort – for an FUC member who reported comments that could be considered a true threat. In late March, we sent a campus-wide email reminding all students that the University takes seriously any threats and encouraging even anonymous ones to be reported to Campus Police and to our Title IX officer. We received no reports after this reminder. We also encouraged reporting threats directly to Yik Yak.

Although I understand that FUC may be upset that UMW has not ceded to its demands to ban Yik Yak from campus, it is important to understand that as a public university, UMW is obligated to comply with all federal laws – not just Title IX. The First Amendment prohibits prior restraints on speech, and banning Yik Yak is tantamount to a content-based prohibition on speech. (And in any event, banning Yik Yak from UMW’s network would be ineffective because students could still access the app using their personal wireless data plans.) I trust that FUC and the Feminist Majority Foundation – two groups that regularly exercise their civil right to petition the government and engage in protected First Amendment speech – understand and appreciate these concerns.

Indeed, the majority of the offending Yik Yak comments submitted with FUC’s complaint demonstrate the point. Most were reactions to an op-ed piece that then-FUC president, Paige McKinsey, wrote, submitted, and had published in the UMW student newspaper. In that op-ed, Ms. McKinsey asserted that there was an “insidious misogyny and hatred very much alive at UMW.” In support of that position, she cited the effort by some students to establish a Greek system on campus and the actions of certain members of the men’s rugby club in singing an obscene chant at an off-campus party. Ms. McKinsey is the only student referenced by name in any of the Yik Yak comments included with the complaint, and those comments primarily refer to the opinions she expressed in her public statement. Some of the Yik Yak comments were certainly offensive and appear alarming in isolation, but must be placed in context. In particular, two of the comments highlighted in the complaint (and repeated most often in the press) are a direct quote from a sketch by the comedy group Whitest Kids U Know and a paraphrase of dialogue by a character on the television show “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” In the single instance where Yik Yak commenters suggested that concerns be addressed directly to Ms. McKinsey at a public meeting where she was scheduled to speak, UMW made specific arrangements for campus police to escort Ms. McKinsey throughout the evening in question, although she did not request such protection from Campus Police

Moreover, UMW does not have the legal authority to demand that Yik Yak provide the names and contact information of the posters of offensive material. Yik Yak’s policy is to cooperate with law enforcement professionals investigating actionable threats, but Yik Yak will not disclose user account information unless required by law to do so. In addition, Yik Yak does not require users to provide their real names, phone numbers, email or mailing addresses, or other identifying information, so any ability to track down posters to hold them personally accountable is limited.

By far, the most troubling aspect of FUC’s and the Feminist Majority Foundation’s complaint is the implication that there is a connection between the concerns raised by members of FUC and the murder of Grace Mann. Grace’s death was a terrible tragedy, but it is irresponsible for FUC and the Feminist Majority Foundation to opine that it was related to the rise in explicit and offensive comments on Yik Yak. Ms. Mann was killed in her off-campus house, and her housemate has been arrested for the murder. The housemate is a 31-year-old part-time student who returned to UMW to complete his degree after an eight-year absence. And contrary to misinformation in the media, the suspect in Grace’s death was not a member of the current rugby club (and had not been a part of that club since 2006), nor does it appear that he was friends with members of the current rugby team. Moreover, prior to Ms. Mann’s death, UMW received no reports of threatening or inappropriate behavior by the housemate since his return to campus.

Although Ms. Mann was involved with FUC, neither Ms. Mann nor any member of FUC reported to Campus Police or University administrators that she was a target of any anonymous threats on Yik Yak. To date, we have not identified any such threat. Furthermore, Ms. Mann’s role as a student leader allowed her to develop a close personal relationship with our Title IX coordinator and with UMW’s Dean of Students. Indeed, they were both invited to speak at her funeral and were honored to do so. Had Grace felt scared or threatened in her last semester on campus, she never mentioned as much to either of these individuals.

Other than the fact that Ms. Mann’s housemate played rugby eight years ago, and Ms. Mann was a member of FUC, the Feminist Majority Foundation and FUC have not identified any evidence that Ms. Mann’s death is linked in any way to her activities with FUC – much less that it is related to threatening posts on Yik Yak. Unfortunately, this unsubstantiated connection has attracted much attention from the media. But at the end of the day, pursuing a media campaign based on speculation is likely to undermine FMF’s and UMW’s mutual goal of affecting positive change.

UMW is committed to fostering a supportive, safe and positive environment for all of our students – men and women alike. The reprehensible and offensive comments posted on Yik Yak are inconsistent with UMW’s values. Nevertheless, as we have seen recently with other institutions, the publication of unsubstantiated allegations and false narratives hurts not only the reputation of the affected institutions but also the reputation of the proponents who fail to investigate before taking their concerns public. And in this case, the speculative connection FUC and the Feminist Majority Foundation claim exists between Grace Mann’s death and Yik Yak commenters spreads misinformation, and worse yet, it adds undue pain for the grieving Mann family.

In the future, I encourage you to explore fully the allegations you hear from students before you initiate a highly-publicized media campaign with unsubstantiated claims and misinformation. In addition to the electronic copy of this letter, a hard copy has been mailed to your office.

Richard V. Hurley
President, University of Mary Washington

RELATED: Feminists voice outrage with UMW administration and yik yak in a Title IX sexual harassment complaint

http://blueandgraypress.com/2015/05/07/feminists-voice-outrage-with-umw-administration-and-yik-yak-in-a-title-ix-sexual-harassment-complaint/

Comments

  1. ghritit

    GO HURLEY!!!! Absolutely wonderfully written reply to the situations going on at UMW with the FMF and FUC. Couldn’t be more proud of a university president as I am now.

  2. finally!!!

    Finally hurley has put them in their place. You ha e earned my respect good sir

  3. Yore

    Pretty God damn sick of hearing from my friends about the antics of this University’s misguided “feminist” population. This is absolutely beautiful.

  4. Anonymous

    This was extremely well written and researched. Thank you for intelligent response to a difficult topic, and I can assure you that a majority of the student body stands with you.

  5. Anonymous

    Thank you so much, President Hurley. I appreciate all you do for this University. I supported FUC until they exacerbated the situation with the lawsuit, so on behalf of the rest of the feminists on campus, thank you.

  6. 2012 Alum

    Incredible response from Hurley. UMW will have a hard time finding a president to fill his shoes when he retires.

  7. Emily

    Oh Hurley. Steadfast and well-spoken throughout it all. Thank you for being the voice of our university.

  8. The Bro

    The Blue and Gray should have taken a stand on this sooner (have they yet?). The frats did nothing wrong, the actual rugby club did nothing wrong, and Hurley did nothing wrong. Let’s call it what it is – we have had a few professors and a bunch of dramatic bullies grinding the school’s face in the dirt for precious media exposure – and they have cheapened our degrees I worked so hard to pay for.

    Next time someone just simply lies – let’s remember how this started – maybe we can come to their defense sooner.

    Free speech means free speech. Those that don’t like it can certainly transfer out of a public school, maybe out if the country. Booyahkasha. Respect.

  9. Anonymous

    Hurley said its premature to rush to conclusions as the investigation is still on going but he did just that when the Rolling Stone article came out.

  10. Anonymous

    While I applaud this letter, I find it disturbing that you only uphold the first amendment when you yourself have been attacked. Where were those beliefs when an entire club team was disbanded because a limited few chose to sing a song (off-campus)? You are a hypocrite in the worst way. The University of Mary Washington deserves a leader with a spine. Fortunately, that is not you, sir.

  11. Anonymous

    This has to be the worse school newspaper I’ve ever seen. Do you just publish official statements from the school or do you do actual reporting where you get both sides? The week the rugby incident happened the only article I could find was about how the rugby team did some charity event.

  12. 2011 grad

    This is the last thing I expected given the political climate at colleges these days, especially from Mary Wash. Bravo, Hurley.

  13. Anonymous

    A lawyer clearly wrote the letter.

  14. Anonymous

    Comments above about Hurley being hypocritical are absolutely correct.

  15. Anonymous

    Bullies hiding behind the word “feminists”. Actions speak louder than words, Hurley, a well said piece but you let these groups manipulate you early on.

  16. Anonymous

    Hurley, you have made me proud since I was there in the early 2000s. You continue to do so. Great work, well researched, and thank you so incredibly much for standing up to these bullies. I hope the men’s rugby team is able to get back on their feet after having their Spring National Championship bid ruined by these mudslinging gals. #proudalum

  17. Demosthenes

    FUC = McCarthyism
    End the witch hunting!

    Criticism /= threats

  18. Ross Presser

    Why is the font on this page so damn small?

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