By COLEMAN HOPKINS
Following the brutal terror attacks in France, Secretary of State John Kerry went to Paris along with singer James Taylor to show solidarity through a performance of his famous song, “You’ve Got a Friend.” The song couldn’t bring back those killed by radical Islamic terrorists, but it did help to bring the U.S. closer to a country that we have been on friendly terms with historically and to assuage fears that America was disinterested in the plight of the French.
In recent weeks, two op-eds have created a rift between different parts of the University of Mary Washington student body that also seems to require a diplomatic song from Taylor. While it may be difficult to secure a visit and performance by Taylor in Fredericksburg, I believe that is time for the UMW community to come together to resolve some petty differences and to move forward together on an issue that has been dominating the campus for the past few months.
On Jan. 29, an op-ed written by Feminists United on Campus’ President Paige McKinsey touched a raw nerve within the student body.
The article, titled “Why UMW Is Not a Feminist Friendly Campus” received plenty of feedback and attention, some positive, but most negative. It even drew out a second response by the club’s Vice President Kelli Musick.
The opinion piece presented several different anecdotes before coming to the conclusion that our school is not “feminist friendly.”
The article cited the popular anonymous, location-driven app, “Yik Yak,” as a piece of evidence that UMW is not as progressive or egalitarian as it may seem. Specifically, McKinsey noted that people “yakked” about the club, using derogatory language to, as she saw it, try to impact or deter the club’s message.
Though other forms of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, have become acceptable to use as evidence in opinion pieces, some have viewed the decision to cite the app as controversial because of the anonymity factor. Certainly some people only “yak” on the app for attention, resulting in plenty of outrageous and offensive content. It is because of this that it is difficult to determine whether or not a few immature and ignorant “yaks” are representative of our more than 4,000 member community’s collective culture.
Other evidence put forth by McKinsey included the allegation that the UMW men’s rugby team chanted an offensive and perverted song late last semester that promoted rape and sexual violence against women.
Some have praised this segment of the article for its specificity, while some have felt that this unnecessarily and very publicly portrayed the men’s rugby team in a poor light that was not meant to promote dialogue or solve problems.
Additionally, McKinsey recounted a walk back from an FUC meeting in which obscenities were launched at her and other FUC members from a car on the street. The insults were specific and meant to hurt at the very least, but, as she saw them, they spoke to the greater anti-feminist sentiments of the campus.
The article also touched on the recent Greek Life debate at a UMW town hall meeting. Specifically, McKinsey wrote, “When the argument was made that research shows that institutionalized Greek Life on campus increased the rates of sexual assault, a fellow senator said this statement (which is supported by numerous studies) is simply a stereotype and to stereotype fraternities in such a way was the equivalent of racial stereotypes.”
The piece ended with a warning to detractors that FUC is not going anywhere and is committed, now more than ever, to “[making] UMW a safer and more equitable place for all students.”
The biggest complaints that I have seen against the FUC have been in their methods and in their arguments.
There are many arguments against Greek Life – the desire to maintain UMW’s traditions, to be against an uptick in partying or to preserve a quiet campus, to allow the student government to be fully representative when deciding on serious changes, to try to maintain a respectful relationship with the city of Fredericksburg and its people – yet the one presented by the FUC is simply too shaky an argument to seriously use.
If one tries to say a group cannot be included in society because of the negatives associated with the group that may be statistically common, then there is the risk of opening up a very large can of worms because most groups of people have some undesirable traits associated with them. Moreover, this very same argument has been used to justify racism and the mistreatment of LGBT people, and that is not a point to dismiss with a passing comment.
I fully understand some peoples’ fears about Greek Life, but I also believe that there are better ways to state reasons for being against Greek Life than to use such a poor argument that comes off as thoughtless.
Another issue that some at UMW have voiced about FUC has been their methods in dealing with problems. Mckinsey’s op-ed painted an entire group at UMW in a very negative light.
Rape and sexual assault are horrendous things that we as a community need to address in order to limit them as much as we possibly can. With that said, calling out multiple members of our community here at UMW with an opinion piece over a stupid decision at a party is, at best, misguided. I am not standing up for the rugby team, because it is gross and immature to make light of rape, but again, there are better ways to resolve problems here at our small school than taking to the newspaper.
When anyone takes combative positions against fellow members of the UMW community, even in the unstinting belief that you are right and they are wrong, it increases the risk of alienating people normally sympathetic in a community the size of UMW.
While there are problems to resolve and improvements that can be made to improve our community, UMW is a feminist school. Moreover, we are an extremely inclusive school with something for everybody, which I believe is why many of us chose to call this place home for four years.
I feel confident in saying that we are the most inclusive school in Virginia, with a thriving LGBT community, many political clubs for people with various ideologies and an acceptance of those with disabilities that is hard to beat anywhere.
There is always room for improvement, and I believe that is why FUC is such a valuable part of our community. There needs to be a greater effort to explain what feminism is, which is what FUC needs to lead on because feminism itself is often misunderstood, and as has been the case the past few weeks, the message has been lost in the delivery.