By KELLI MUSICK
The University of Mary Washington is not a feminist-friendly campus. I acknowledge that by putting forth this statement I open the metaphorical floodgates for criticism, backlash and general opposition. I make this statement so that direct and lasting action can be taken in moving forward. I do so confidently, despite knowing I will not personally experience many of the positives to come. Because of this, I have been asked, “Why do you do it?” The answer is simple. I love the University of Mary Washington.
As vice president of Feminists United, this university has, at times, been a place of great support. Other times, I have received more pushback than I ever imagined possible. To the professors and peers who challenge me and this club to more critically examine the world, this school and ourselves: I am thankful. I am a better person and feminist for that.
This is the legacy of feminism and of all great social movements: that the struggle allows and demands those involved to become more focused and determined to effect change. My lived experience of sexism, rape culture, harassment and deeply-entrenched misogyny at the University of Mary Washington will not allow me to stand on the sidelines and be an observer. Nor can I allow myself, my opinions or my passion to be marginalized.
There exists a pattern within both the broader context of society and our charming microcosm of UMW in which women’s experiences are challenged, dismissed and denied. In a previous op-ed, my colleague Paige McKinsey had her personal experiences refuted in a public forum. Fundamentally, she was attacked. By speaking on behalf of a wider feminist collective, the experiences of club members were also mocked and denied. Nearly a dozen different commenters referenced Feminists United as bullies.
Fundamentally, Paige and our club were attacked. Rather than expressing horror at a Mary Washington rugby chant comprised of lyrics supporting sexual and physical violence against women, anonymous commenters denounced both she and our club for smearing the name of a prominent sports group. Rather than expressing empathy for Feminists United as victims of targeted online and street harassment, an anonymous student Yakked that they are “trying to have FUC listed as a hate group/terrorist organization.” Additionally, we were told to “Go join the caliphate if you desire so ardently to regulate human behavior” by another anonymous commenter named “PRIVILEGED MALE.” Both comments are done without the author taking any responsibility for their words, yet the assertion is that the latter is a valid critique of Feminists United and the former is a “far from a credible source,” according to article commenter “Billy Bob.”
What cannot be mistaken is that the ability to hide one’s identity is a historical tactic used by countless oppressive groups and cowards throughout history. Before the advent of technology, groups used clothing to hide and shirk ownership of their hateful actions. Today, well-dressed individuals seated next to one another in Town Hall meetings post factual lies and personal attacks from their cell phones via anonymous social media apps. While tangible inventions change, tools exist in every century to keep oppressors in a state of power by creating an unidentifiable, vague concept or mass, while the focus and debate is directed toward their individualized targets.
Feminists United will continue to educate, disrupt, dismantle, organize, strategize and fundamentally affect change at this campus. For me, this is unequivocally rooted in my love for the University of Mary Washington. As a liberal arts institution, the academic atmosphere fostered here is one of intellectual rigor, personal integrity, and dedication to excellence. From within many peers I see a relentless drive to make a difference, unparalleled by students at other institutions. Nonetheless, there are students and administrators who seek to cement the status quo rather than chip away at the gender, racial and religious hierarchies that continue to permeate campus dialogue and life. To conclude, I hark back to my opening: The University of Mary Washington is not a feminist-friendly campus because life is not feminist-friendly. We have the power to change that. By creating a collegiate space in which the fight for liberation is not exterminated, but rather encouraged, we can make both Mary Washington and our world a better place.
Kelli Musick is vice president of Feminists United