UMW Men’s Rugby Club Suspension A National Conversation
By Susan Larson
News that the University of Mary Washington suspended the men’s rugby club this week over a “chant that contained sexually explicit, derogatory, and violent language” has been shared in print, online and broadcast news sites and blogs all over the country.
View the stories and posts “UMW Men’s Rugby Club Suspended ” on Storify
According to Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel, a few members of the team were at a party in November 2014, celebrating a victory. “[S]inging escalated in enthusiasm and obscenity,” Ryan wrote.
“[One] student, disturbed by lyrics referencing necrophilia, rape, and violence against women, posted his clip to YouTube and reported it to the school’s administration days later, which triggered disciplinary proceedings against the team. On Wednesday, March 18, four months after the incident, the administration handed down a decisive verdict: the entire men’s rugby team would be dissolved indefinitely, and all 46 members of UMW’s Mother’s Rugby would be required to attend sexual assault training classes. (At UMW, rugby is a club sport and is therefore not subjected to NCAA sanctions.)”
Following is the letter from UMW President Richard Hurley, obtained from the Office of Public Relations and reprinted in its entirety.
University Response to Violation of UMW Code of Conduct
for Club Sports
“At an off-campus party at the close of the fall 2014 semester, several members of the UMW men’s rugby club engaged in a chant that contained sexually explicit, derogatory, and violent language. Some students have now been exposed to those offensive and lurid lyrics due to posting by others on social media.
“No student on our campus should feel unsafe, ostracized, or threatened. Understanding that the offensive chant is antithetical to UMW values, and will not be tolerated, the University pursued action against the men’s rugby club. At the beginning of the current semester, sanctions were imposed on the rugby club for willful violations of UMW’s code of conduct for club sports.
“After an appeal by the accused, the disciplinary process concluded on March 18 with this ruling: All rugby club activities have been suspended indefinitely. Further, each member of the men’s rugby club is required to participate in education and training sessions regarding sexual assault and violence. UMW’s Statement of Community Values informed the process and response to this situation.
“The University will not stand for such behavior. It not only violates our community values, it is not how members of this collegial campus live, and it is not reflective of the Mary Washington we all know and love.
“University policies prohibit discrimination, harassment, threats, and derogatory statements of any form. We pride ourselves on being a diverse, accepting, caring community, and we must live up to that ideal.
“President Rick Hurley
March 19, 2015”
Some are questioning the University’s response. Should the entire team have been punished for the actions of a few? Or does suspending the club as a whole send a stronger message?
Are universities censoring free (albeit explicit, derogatory and violent) speech?
Are there better ways to handle these situations?
Sarah Seltzer writes on Flavorwire:
“Instead of a positive discussion resulting from the discipline of the team, [Erin Gloria] Ryan describes a campus torn apart, with both rugby players and campus feminists feeling “unsafe,” targeted by rage and online threats. Her piece implies that the administration acted in self-interest, out of fear of bad PR and the threat of being accused of fostering a “hostile environment.” Yet their blanket punishment of the team won’t make the campus safer.”
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