- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The University of Mary Washington did not ignore the fears of some women on campus who were the targets of violent and sexual cyberthreats, the president said Monday.

“That allegation is demonstrably false,” President Richard V. Hurley said in a lengthy response one month after student members of Feminists United on Campus filed a gender discrimination Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

While Mary Washington denied the allegations when they were first made, Hurley’s response added much more detail to the Fredericksburg university’s response to complaints by the women.

Hurley said the public university attempted to balance “the utmost concern for the safety and welfare of students” with the First Amendment rights of anonymous posters. Some women suggested the social media application not be accessible through the campus server.

Hurley also said he had met with Feminist United members to discuss their concerns.

The complaint, he wrote, contained “irresponsible allegations.”

Many of the threats against the group were on Yik Yak, a smartphone app that allows users to post and read messages anonymously in real time.

Hurley’s letter also said he was troubled that the complaint implied a connection between the cyberthreats and the slaying of Mary Washington student Grace Rebecca Mann, 20, of McLean.

Hurley said there is no evidence to date that Mann was the target of any of the threats.

Mann, a board member of the group, was found in her off-campus apartment on April 17. Her roommate, part-time student Steven Vander Briel, has been charged with first-degree murder and abduction.

Police have not revealed a possible motive. Mann was strangled.

One of the attorneys representing Feminist United called Hurley’s comments “irresponsible” and said he doesn’t understand his obligation under Title IX.

“What he did essentially was to throw his hands up and say he was without any power to do anything,” Debra S. Katz said in an interview.

Hurley could have been much more forceful and public about addressing the cyberthreats, “and he did none of that,” she said.

Katz also disputed Hurley’s statement that Feminist United attempted to link Mann’s slaying with the threats.

“We hope there’s not a connection,” she said. “But what we do believe is members of Feminists United were threatened and one member was killed.”

The Education Department has said it does not confirm Title IX complaints.

A university found in violation risks losing federal funding.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.

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