The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Recent rock painting calls attention to safety concerns involving harassment and predatory behavior

5 min read
UMW harassment

RSU painted the spirit rock to make a statement to President Paino about recent sexual harassment incidents. || Jess Kirby / The Blue & Gray Press

WILLIAM LAWSON

Staff Writer

Several UMW students were approached by a white male in his late 40s with dark brown hair around the library and HCC on the weekend of Sept. 17. The man, who was identified as Daniel Appel, had viewed several students’ social media accounts before approaching them on campus. Some students filed reports to the UMW Police Department about this man, and the Radical Students’ Union painted the spirit rock last week in response. 

Student encounters with Appel

Appel’s full name was identified by a student employee on a receipt when he made a credit card purchase at Katora. 

One student, who wished to remain anonymous out of concerns for her safety, was approached by the man in the library. Appel told her that he had previously looked through her personal Instagram account. 

“He came up to me and asked if he could ask me a question,” she said. “I thought he was going to ask for directions since he appeared like he was in his 40s, and instead he asked about what I did in the past based on something he saw on my social media in 2017.” 

Appel asked her many personal questions, then asked if she had any weekend plans. 

“I had the gut feeling that I needed to get away and that he was not someone I should talk to,” she said.

She then reported the incident to the UMW Police.

“The police chief took it seriously, but the first officer I spoke to didn’t seem to be too concerned until after around 45 minutes of conversation, in which case, he told me I could call him if I felt unsafe,” she said. “It also may have been the case that I wasn’t effectively expressing my concerns.”

She said this incident has impacted her feelings of safety on campus. 

“I avoided walking alone for the entire weekend and just started walking alone a couple days ago, and that is strictly during daylight hours,” she said. “I also started carrying an alarm.” 

Emma Skelly, a sophomore psychology major, had similar encounters with Appel both on campus at Katora and downtown at Mian Noodle House. 

“He would ask questions about our weekend plans, where we are on campus and where downtown Fredericksburg was,” she said. “He refused to wear a mask inside and was very creepy with his eyes and grin.”

Grace Sylvia, a sophomore elementary education major, said her roommate was also approached by Appel in the library. She said Appel had found information about students from the class of 2024 Instagram page. 

“The police did nothing about it after students informed them of it,” she said. “The police asked one of my friends ‘what do you want us to do about it?’ [Appel] was also asking students how to get into buildings.” 

Responses from the UMW Police Department 

According to UMW Police Chief Michael Hall, Appel’s actions were not against the law.

“The ‘law’ is specific as to what actions or behaviors constitute criminal misconduct (such as stalking, harassment and sexual assault, etc.),” he said. “Clearly, individual opinions and perspectives are important, it is ultimately that code of law that prescribes our law enforcement actions or options.”

Hall continued, “The situation/encounter last weekend, I’m sure was uncomfortable and a true concern to the student and community. It’s in these instances that the full resources of the university, including Title IX and the Department of Public Safety, are available to support the community member or members and resolve concerns. This is why students are encouraged to immediately call campus police.”   

Skelly turned to the UMW Police Department. 

“I contacted UMW police on Friday after he had found me and my friend downtown at Mian Noodle House,” said Skelly. “The police over the phone asked many questions about his appearance, almost like they’d received a similar report. They then said I could come to Brent Hall and make a report. I went with my friend and spoke with the sergeant.”  

Skelly said that the sergeant, Michael Cornelius, told her that there was nothing they could do but advise her to travel in packs and continue to be vigilant.

“I was frustrated and asked to file a report,” she said. “He said I couldn’t since the predator never ‘did’ anything to me. I wrote down what happened and was given a case number.”

“I despise the way UMW handles serious inquiries from students of all races and genders,” said Skelly. “They brush off large issues, especially safety involving strangers on campus and sexual assault cases. I never walk alone on campus, day or night, anymore. I believe campus PD just drives around campus on golf carts with a loaded gun and does nothing. I don’t feel protected and neither do many of my friends and coworkers. I am disgusted with how we are treated and how our concerns are being handled.” 

Spirit rock painting 

The Radical Students’ Union (RSU) painted the spirit rock to draw attention to the recent events on campus, as well as to bring awareness to sexual harassment and assault at UMW. The rock says in capital letters, “Mr. Paino, how many reports to catch a few predators,” with tally marks on the side. 

“Those of us who did paint the rock, we did not initially want to claim that RSU was with people painting the rock,” said Salem Smith, a senior English major in the five-year education program, speaking on behalf of the Radical Students Union. “We try not to publicize our membership and talk about who is organizing what actions because I, as the chair, have already experienced harassment. And we are at a predominantly white institution and our e-board is mostly people of color. We’re not trying to have more violence brought against us.”

Smith expressed that all students are welcome to join.

“Anybody that comes to RSU should know that there’s already a seat at the table for you, the seat at the table is waiting for you,” they said.

On Monday, Sept. 27, University President Troy Paino said he was made aware of the spirit rock over the weekend and is preparing a response. 

“I have been trying to get up to speed on this matter,” he said. “I was out of town attending to my elderly parents when these incidents had occurred. My Chief of Staff sent me a photo of the spirit rock that invokes my name, but I had no context and have tried to get up to speed since returning to campus. Over the weekend I asked for the police reports concerning these incidents and I am following up to gather more information later this morning. I’d like to reserve any further comments until I am able to assess what happened.” 

Joey Zeldin, a junior political science major and SGA representative, described measures being considered by the SGA to improve safety on campus.

“We are currently in the process of passing a resolution up to administration right now to address student safety, one of which would hopefully convince administration to allow students the right to carry pepper spray on campus, something we at SGA have wanted for a long time,” he said.

Bernadette D’Auria contributed to reporting for this article.

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