One year after the Department of Education released their list of 55 schools that had current title IX sexual violence investigations, a feminist organization at the University of Mary Washington filed a complaint for failing to protect its students from a sexually hostile school environment. This complaint follows multiple instances of harassment and the recent murder of one of the group’s members, Grace Mann, an active leader for feminist and LGBTQ causes.
Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Many of the schools that have current complaints are higher education, though title IX encompasses any educational institution, including primary and secondary schools. While the familiarity of Title IX has an imbalanced emphasis on athletics, sports programs are only a small portion of the law. The issue of equity in sports is of little focus today. Presently, women’s groups are focusing on the sexual assaults that persist at American colleges and universities.
Sexual violence against women is not a new phenomenon, but sexual assault has become a major issue as there has been an exponential increase in recent years on college campuses. Feminists United, a club at UMW and affiliate of the Feminist Majority Foundation, charged their administration with “systemic failure to protect students from a sexually hostile school environment, from sex-based cyber assaults, from threats of physical and sexual violence and from the University’s failure to take immediate effective action to eliminate the sexually hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.”
Feminists United’s main claim regards cyber threats originating from an app called Yik Yak, a social media app that allows users to post instant messages anonymously. The focus on cyber threats as opposed to sexual assault is what makes this case unique. There were numerous dehumanizing and violent posts directed to members of the group. It is especially disconcerting that there were comments made specifically to Grace Mann, the group member who was murdered in April.
Most of the comments were in response to FU’s staunch stance against fraternities and derogatory chants made by the UMW’s rugby team. FU and it’s leaders repeatedly informed administrators that they were being threatened and were in fear. They requested that the University remove access to the app Yik Yak however, the University took no action citing free speech concerns.