After Grace Mann, 20, was allegedly strangled to death by her male roommate last month, her friends at the University of Mary Washington were devastated.
Mann belonged to a campus group called Feminists United, whose members had been “cyberstalked” on the social media app Yik Yak before her death, the group’s president, Julia Michels, told Business Insider.
The environment on campus for women hasn’t always felt so scary, according to Michels. For her, the negative sentiment towards women on campus was spurred by a more active Feminists United presence this year, while in the past she describes them as more under the radar.
“And then we started coming out this past year and trying to make change on campus and trying to educate people about sexual assault,” Michels said. “That’s really when we started to see this kind of misogyny that I’m sure had always been here but had been very hidden because we also were very hidden.”
In a disturbing complaint filed with the Department of Education after Mann’s death, members of Feminists United said they were targeted after one of their members wrote an op-ed for the school newspaper accusing the university of being an unfriendly place for feminists.
That op-ed cited the men’s rugby team at UMW as an example of her claims, pointing to a chant of the team’s that supposedly mentioned “violence against women, including murder and battery, sexual violence against women, including assault necrophilia, and rape.”
After that op-ed, students posted derogatory and threatening comments about the Feminists United on Yik Yak, social media app that is very popular on college campuses, and allows people to post anonymously.
A lot of the fear around campus was due to the anonymous nature in which members of the Feminists United were “cyberstalked” on Yik Yak, according to Michels. It’s extremely scary not to know if people using threatening language are in the same classrooms or living right next door, Michels said.
Michels says the university turned its back on the women’s group and said there was nothing it could do to help.
“It does become frustrating when we’ve been trying to work with them the whole year, and every time it just seems that they come up with an excuse not to work with us, not to help,” she said.
The complaint, however, does not claim UMW is responsible for the death of Mann. Since her death in April, Steven Vander Briel, a former UMW rugby player, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, according to The Washington Post.
The members of Feminists United are continuing to grieve the loss of Mann, the daughter of a local judge. Michels was close friends with Mann, explaining that she would see her three or four times every week as part of the Feminists United. She said she, and members of the group, are still in shock. The group’s Facebook page features a picture of Mann.
The University of Mary Washington says that it has been actively engaged with members of Feminists United and other students to address issues of safety and campus culture throughout the year. It will cooperate fully with the Office of Civil Rights regarding the concerns in the complaint, a representative previously told Business Insider.
We reached out to the university for comment on Michels’ specific allegation that the university didn’t adequately support Feminists United, and we will update this post if we hear back.
For its part, Yik Yak says the app isn’t intended for threatening or inappropriate statements and that the app guards against misuse.
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