A prominent college feminist was strangled to death, and her friends say the campus is a hostile place


University of Mary WashingtonScreenshot

Tragedy struck a small university in Virginia last month when a 20-year-old student was allegedly murdered in her home by a male roommate.


That Mary Washington University student, Grace Rebecca Mann, belonged to a group called Feminists United, which has filed a disturbing complaint with the Department of Education.

Mann's death followed months of mounting concern voiced by Mann and other female students who said they felt unsafe on the Virginia campus, according to the complaint, which is asking the Department of Education to investigate the college.

Mary Washington - a public liberal arts university with about 4,000 students - condoned a sexually hostile environment that disregarded students' safety, the complaint alleges. That complaint claims female students were abused over Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app that lets people post or "yak" to people within a 10-mile radius. 

University of Mary WashingtonScreenshotUMW held a memorial service for Grace Mann and offered counseling services to grieving students.

Members of Feminist United allegedly received over 700 "yaks" about the group as a whole or individual members, many of which were threatening or overtly sexist. And it claims that though the administration was alerted to the situation, nothing was done to protect students.


For its part, Yik Yak says the app isn't intended for threatening or inappropriate statements and that the app guards against misuse. A number of safeguards are in place, such as warnings and moderation, to guard against abuse, according to Yik Yak.

Feminists United allegedly became the target of vitriol on campus after a member of Feminists United 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."

The rugby team's violent and sexually explicit chant then leaked, exacerbating anger against Feminists United on Yik Yak, according to the complaint, which also said Yik Yakers used racist epithets and told African-American students to "Go back to Africa."

There's evidence suggesting that members of Feminist United did indeed feel unsafe before Mann's death. On March 23, the group posted this chilling message on its Facebook page:


To all of our members, if at any time you feel unsafe or threatened, or just need someone to talk or vent to, please feel free to reach out to any of e-board, or at least have someone you trust that you can talk to. If any of you receives any threats, however, please also make sure to contact the UMW police! No matter what happens, remember that Feminists United is here to support our members, and that your safety and well-being comes first.

The complaint 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 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 spokesperson told Business Insider.

Meanwhile, the members of Feminists United are continuing to grieve the loss of Mann, the daughter of a local judge. In addition to being on the executive board of Feminists United, she had been appointed to the university president's task force on sexual assault, according to the Washington Post. Feminists United is remembering her on its Facebook page.