There was a suspicious fire on commitment flags that were hung near the Monroe Fountain as part of the Red Flag Campaign a little after midnight on Sunday, Oct. 21, according to the University Police.
The Red Flag Campaign is an effort to raise awareness of dating and domestic violence on campus.
Last week, the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA) partnered with University of Mary Washington students and organizations, including People for the Rights of Individuals of Sexual Minorities (PRISM) and Student Anti-Violence Educators (SAVE) to lead the campaign, which involved members of the university community stamping their hand prints on a “red flag” and pledging to stand up to dating and domestic violence.
The commitment flags were hung on strings throughout campus, including near the Monroe fountain. Hannah Hudson, a freshman biology major, was walking from the Nest toward Virginia Hall around 12 a.m. on Sunday when she heard people running and laughing. She did not see anyone, but she saw the burning flags and said it was apparent that they had just been set on fire.
Hudson stamped out the fire with her foot as her friend took a picture, which was later put on Hudson’s Tumblr blog and received more than 60 notes, including many comments condemning the suspected vandalism.
Hudson then called the University Police, who investigated the scene and questioned Hudson about what she saw and heard. The University does not have any suspects nor do they know what the vandal’s motives were. The investigation is ongoing.
The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of sexual violence on campus and encourage people to speak up to stop it, as well as to raise awareness of resources for those who have been victims of sexual and relationship abuse.
“It’s important that we stand by victims of violence and abuse and let them know that we care and support them,” said Meagan Holbrook, a senior geography major and president of SAVE.
Jessica Bell, a prevention specialist with RCASA and 2012 graduate of UMW, assisted with the Red Flag Campaign. She heard about the suspected vandalism from a student very early on Sunday morning.
“My first reaction [was] rage,” Bell said.
According to Bell, no matter what the motives of the vandal were, the burning of the flags “sends a pretty powerful message.” Bell immediately emailed UMW President Rick Hurley, who promised her that UMW would investigate the incident.
Doug Searcy, vice president for student affairs, sent an email to the university community on Monday, Oct. 22, that condemned the act of vandalism, which, according to the email, “showed disrespect for the efforts and free speech rights of others,” and asked that any one with information about the incident contact the University Police.
“The University is committed to this program and stands together with victims and advocates to assist students in our University community who need support,” Searcy said in the email.
Bell, however, reiterated that the purpose of the Red Flag Campaign is more important than pointing fingers at the vandals.
“The important thing for us is not to figure out who did it or why they did it,” Bell said. “The purpose is to show victims of violence we stand behind them.”