I am writing today, as a recent alumna, to share my thoughts on the recent disbanding of the Mother’s Rugby team. It is important that I make myself clear when I say I am not for or against either “side,” but rather I am for the proper treatment of the situation, which I believe was severely mishandled. Following the release of the video, featuring some rugby players, along with other members of the University of Mary Washington community, chanting a rather uncivil song, I believe the administration should have recognized that it was a great opportunity for a teaching moment. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the pressure universities – and administrators in particular – are under in regards to sexual assault, but the need to quickly make a ruling, rather than take the time to see the cold hard facts, is what baffles me.
President Hurley wrote in his statement that what occurred went against the Code of Conduct we have at UMW, but look what the code actually says: “Disorderly or Obscene Conduct: No student shall be involved in disorderly or obscene conduct. Such conduct includes, but is not limited to: fighting, creating a disturbance, obscene language, verbal or physical harassment, making excessive noise. Disorderly or obscene conduct on campus, at any UMW-sponsored event, or while operating or traveling in any Mary Washington or state-owned vehicle, should be reported to the Office of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility, or, in urgent situations, to University Police.” It is clear that what occurred would not qualify for any penalty under this code. The party was, first of all, not on campus and, second, was not a university-sponsored event. In the Student Handbook, however, there is a section on “Off-Campus Misconduct,” which is where this incident would fall. It states, “violations of civil or criminal law are subject to University adjudication in cases where the interests of the University may be affected.” Again, no law was broken during the night in question.
It concerns me deeply that a group of students cannot sing or say what they want at a private party (even if what they say or sing is disturbing), yet we will hire people such as Mac Miller for a concert on campus, where he raps about drugs, sex and other various vulgar topics. Where do we, not only as members of the UMW community, but also simply as people, draw the line?
I pride myself on being a feminist, yet at UMW I find myself ashamed to call myself one today. Instead of fighting for equality and unifying the UMW community, the group on campus, “Feminists United on Campus,” has divided the university community by not contributing to a teaching opportunity. They have the opportunity to show leadership in this situation, and as a feminist I hope it is not too late for them to do so. It is true, we do unfortunately live in a world where sexual assaults happen every day, and a woman in the college setting has a one in four chance of being assaulted, but that does not mean people should be punished for something they did not do. Given that most of the players were out of state at the time of the incident, I question the administration’s decision to punish them as a group.
From where I am standing, I see two possible outcomes: one, Mother’s Rugby remains disbanded, the school continues down the road it is on and loses the perfect opportunity to have an open discussion and educate the members of the community; or, two, the school can take a good look at the facts and seize the opportunity to have this teachable moment.
I used to look at my diploma and feel a sense of pride in the school I called home throughout my college career, but now I feel a little ashamed. Mary Washington prides itself on honesty and justice, so to be honest with the administration, I feel like there was an act of displaced blame when they took the easy and fast way out by punishing a group of individuals (where more than 80 percent of the players were out of state representing the UMW community in a game) instead of bringing the community together and addressing the issue in a proper manner. I used to be excited about coming back in May to walk at graduation, but now I find myself questioning whether I want to come back and walk across the stage.
It would have been easy for me to not let my opinion be heard, but I thought the administration should, and want to, be aware what people in the UMW community have to say.
Sara Akbari is an alumna of the University of Mary Washington.