Did Yik Yak Attacks Culminate in a Murder?

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The University of Mary Washington campus. Photo: Norm Shafer/The University of Mary Washington

On April 17, Grace Mann, a college student at the University of Mary Washington, was strangled to death. Last Thursday, the campus’s Feminist United Club (FUC) filed a federal complaint alleging the university permitted a sexually hostile environment and ignored the spate of threats group members faced.

The climate had become heated last November, when a student secretly recorded a Rugby frat party chant about raping a dead “whore” and reported it to the school. When the university hadn’t done anything after two months, an FUC member published an op-ed — “Why UMW Is Not A ‘Feminist Friendly Campus’” — and the group sent an email to the university president urging him to deal with the matter. On March 17, four months after the incident, the university dissolved the Rugby team indefinitely and required all 46 members of the team to take a sexual education course.

Subsequent outrage was directed largely at FUC, which received numerous threats via Yik Yak, an anonymous social-media site. One messenger said he’d “tie these feminists to a radiator” and rape them, another called for euthanizing members, and a third promised to “kill a bitch or two.” Despite the severity of the threats, which included rape and death, FUC alleges the university took no action to protect members.

Before she was killed, Mann was a member of the President’s Task Force on Sexual Assault (a group that consulted on the Rugby incident) and also served on the executive board of FUC. She’d told friends she feared for her safety in the months before her murder. In the federal complaint, members of FUC allege they were terrified on campus, where they carried rape whistles at all times and walked in groups. It is not yet clear if Mann’s death was tied to her activism on campus, but Steven Vander Briel, who was arrested for her murder, is a former member of the Rugby team.