Rosemary Osbon, former secretary of the JMU College Republicans, sent in her letter of resignation June 22.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Osbon wrote that her resignation comes after an alleged incident of sexual harassment by College Republicans general member Alex Rodriguez, which she called “ultimately the reason I decided to resign.”
“As a woman, I am not willing to put up with sexual harassment in a college club,” Osbon wrote in her statement.
Osbon said the incident occurred during a College Republicans executive board meeting held over a Zoom call on June 22.
The meeting was originally called by current chairman Wyatt Blevins, multiple executive board members said, to discuss the unintended leak of information about messages of dissatisfaction from local Republican donors in regard to the club’s prior choice to sign the Student Government Association’s Bill of Opinion calling for the renaming of campus buildings named after Confederate leaders.
Osbon alleges that Rodriguez — who’s a past chairman of the College Republicans but no longer serves the club in an executive capacity — joined the meeting partway through and said to her, “You and your fuck buddy can just leave.” The reference, she said, was to Kyle Ford, a general member of the College Republicans who resigned Wednesday and who Osbon said she shared the sensitive information in question with. Ford was not at the meeting.
Ford has condemned the way the College Republicans executive board handled the situation, and he agreed with Osbon’s accusal, saying, “That’s full-on sexual harassment by weaponizing someone’s sexual history, especially at a meeting.”
Rodriguez said Osbon’s account of the meeting is inaccurate and that she falsified his words. Rodriguez claims his words to her were instead, “Rosemary, I’m sick and tired of hearing about your fuck buddy,” with no implication that Osbon should leave the meeting or the organization. He said her accusal of sexual harassment is “frankly absurd.”
“What I said was inappropriate,” Rodriguez said. “However, her statement was not what I said, and other members of the executive board that were on the phone call at the time would refute several of the points raised in that statement she made.”
In agreement with Rodriguez, College Republicans digital advertisement coordinator Evelyn Munsternam, social media chair Karin Ohanessian and an executive board member who requested anonymity all said Rodriguez never told Osbon to “leave.” Instead, they alleged, Rodriguez expressed his frustration that Osbon had shared that sensitive information with Ford, but he never instructed the two to leave the organization.
Treasurer James August said he’s “not sure if there was a ‘leave’ part of that,” and The Breeze was unable to reach Wyatt Blevins, the current chairman. Executive board members told The Breeze Blevins is on vacation without cell service.
“[Rodriguez] never, ever told her to leave, and he never told Kyle [Ford] to leave [the organization] either,” the anonymous board member said. “Those words were never used. We had no intention of making her resign. The intention of the meeting was just to discuss what happened and try to keep it from happening again.”
Ethan Gardner, a JMU alumnus (’20) and previous Student Government Association Legislative Affairs Committee chair, posted on Twitter saying that he’s heard Osbon’s version of events confirmed by multiple individuals. Gardner also said that even if the wording isn’t exact, the reference to Osbon’s personal relationship constitutes sexual harassment regardless of if Rodriguez specifically told Osbon to “leave.”
“There’s any number of rude things anyone can say in a meeting when they get heated,” Gardner said. “But, when you take a personal relationship and you leverage that over someone’s head to make them feel bad and to embarrass them in a meeting around their peers, that’s where it becomes sexual harassment.”
Additionally in her statement, Osbon alleged that at the June 22 executive board meeting, it was agreed upon that from that day on, everything discussed in those meetings would be confidential and that anyone caught talking with someone outside of the executive board about anything said would be asked to resign — including that meeting. This meant, she said in her statement, that if she told Ford he was brought up in the meeting, she would be asked to resign.
Instead of remaining silent, she resigned and released her statement.
“This kind of behavior has happened before, and I really wasn’t here for it anymore,” Osbon said. “I can still be a Republican and not be in [the College Republicans] and do just fine.”
When asked by The Breeze if this confidentiality rule was discussed and put in place, Rodriguez said that he’s talked to “pretty much everybody that was on that call” and “that was never something that was discussed.”
Everyone else who attended the meeting also disagreed with Osbon’s recount of a new confidentiality rule. However, only Rodriguez denied the conversation happened.
August, Munsternam and the anonymous board member said that while there was a discussion about keeping sensitive information within the board, there wasn’t a rule put in place mandating that going forward, all meetings would be confidential. All three said that the intent of that discussion wasn’t communicated well to Osbon but that there was never a hard-and-fast rule established.
However, Ohanessian, while maintaining that it wasn’t said that anyone who discussed something talked about in an executive board meeting would be asked to resign, said there was an agreement developed that going forward, everything discussed in board meetings would be considered confidential.
Osbon said in her statement that at the June 22 meeting, Blevins said he didn’t care how the information about the donors got out, but she “knew that that was not the consensus of the group.”
“We, as an exec board, like to be transparent to the general body,” Munsternam said. “But, this was information where we wanted to gather everything first and to keep in the exec board.”
In the meeting, Osbon said, she told the executive board that she talked to Ford about the pushback the club received from the local Republican donors, but she insisted he hadn’t told anyone else, therefore absolving her of responsibility for disseminating any sensitive information. However, the anonymous board member said the evidence Osbon provided — allegedly, a screenshot of a conversation between Osbon and Ford in which Ford says he told no one else — didn’t absolve Osbon of guilt.
Shortly after Osbon released her explanation of why she resigned, the College Republicans published a statement on the club’s Twitter page denying Osbon’s claims of being sexually harassed and bullied. It claimed the club doesn’t tolerate behavior of that kind. The statement also said additional claims made by Osbon were falsified, including that she was pushed out of leadership by the executive board.
“Rosemary Osbon published a letter accusing the JMU College Republicans of creating a culture of ‘sexual harassment and bullying,’” the club said in its statement. “This cannot be further from the truth and the rest of her letter detailing the events that led up to her resignation as Secretary are filled with false accusations and over embellishment of details.”
About two hours after originally posting the statement, the College Republicans removed it, but not before receiving significant backlash for what many labeled as an attempt to cover up inappropriate behavior. The anonymous board member said the post was taken down at the advice of the College Republicans Federation of Virginia, an organization associated with the Republican party that charters College Republicans chapters across the state.
Osbon said this incident wasn’t the first time she’d witnessed behavior within the College Republicans that made her uncomfortable. She ended her statement by saying, “Today, I am only telling this story. There are many more.”
Gardner said the entire situation calls into question the ability of the leaders in the College Republicans to handle such a volatile situation.
“I think it’s an open question whether the current leadership is responsible enough to be taking this seriously or if there needs to be a cleaning house of that in general,” Gardner said. “The fact is, like, the [College Republicans] represent one of the two major political parties on our campus, and I think it’s really important that JMU has two healthy organizations representing those parties.”
CORRECTION (Jul. 3, 9:35 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that Osbon sent in her letter of resignation Wednesday, when in actuality, she sent the letter in on June 22.
Contact Jake Conley, investigations editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.