Friday, January 14, 2011

CU football player arrested for sexual assault

Kudos to University of Colorado for not trying to bury this incident, but rather speaking out about the charges against Michael Sipili who was arrested for sexual assault this week.
Sipili is being referred to as a "former football player" because his eligibility expired with the end of the fall season. But he is still enrolled as a student and my guess is that he is still involved in football team activities--at the very least on a social level. In other words, this is semantics. All it means is that he won't be suspended from the football team because, technically, he is no longer a member.
But CU has expressed its disappointment in Sipili, whom they let back on the team after a previous violent incident (he punched someone). Administrators were quick to point out the many steps they have taken to combat a culture of sexual harassment and assault that existed on the campus. These steps, of course, were required as part of the settlement from the 2001 sexual assault of two female student-athletes at a football recruiting party. (Other posts about this case can be found under the University of Colorado tag.) And CU seems to have taken the issue of climate change seriously. I speak as an outsider, of course, and realizing that it would not have been wise for officials at a school where sexual assault by student-athletes has been a problem to NOT say something when there has been another incident (though the circumstances, as noted in the above-linked article are quite different).
I don't have any particularly profound assessment. I think a school can have the best intentions and make concerted efforts to combat hostile climates, but these students have had 18 years of living in and participating in climates/situations with varying levels of hostility and prejudice. It's not easy work to dismantle these things. Some of us try to do it every day in classrooms--and other venues. A one-credit mandatory course is simply not going to create radical shifts in thinking in everyone. This is not to say it should be eliminated, but that we should be realistic about the results. I am pretty happy with the mini epiphanies I get to see among my own students. And I just hold out hope that others will have those moments long after they leave my classroom. It's too bad Mr. Sipili didn't have one before his alleged actions. But whether CU is supposed to shoulder some of the blame for this is not clear at this point.