Thursday, December 28, 2017

Major failure at Oregon

I have a healthy suspicion of mass firings as a cure-all for problems with intercollegiate athletes who commit sexual violence (see for example, Baylor). Firings do not automatically change culture (see Penn State and the vehemence with which students protested the firing of Joe Paterno).

In the case of University of Oregon, however, a house cleaning was in order after a 2014 report of sexual assault by several basketball players, one of whom had transferred to UO after being kicked out of Providence College for alleged participation in a gang rape. Despite the allegations by an undergraduate female, the players were not suspended from the team until after the post-season; a move that drew considerable criticism. We blogged about it several times including when there was a settlement that ended the lawsuit brought by the victim against the university; a lawsuit that included head men's basketball coach, Dana Altman.

Altman and others at the university including the Title IX coordinator and the president are now implicated in the case involving basketball player Kavell Bigby-Williams who was under investigation for forcible sexual assault ALL OF LAST SEASON.  

Last season was Williams's first. He transferred from a junior college, Gillette College, in Wyoming. His former school, which he was visiting right before moving permanently to Eugene in the summer of 2016, is where the assault took place. Allegations include non-consensual sex with a female student. One of the Gillette police investigators attempted to speak with Bigby-Williams and when she was not successful she contacted a detective with UO police who also tried to interview Bigby-Williams until she received a call from the lawyer representing the athlete; the lawyer is based on Wyoming and is Bigby-Williams's former assistant coach. 

Oregon's Title IX coordinator was alerted but she never reported the investigation and allegations to the director of student conduct and community standards per UO's own published policies and procedures--revised after the 2014 allegations. A team should have convened to assess the situation and determine if emergency action needed to be taken to protect members of the campus community based on the evidence available. Some administrators contest that this does not always takes place, while others says there was not enough information about the allegations in Wyoming to move forward. This was not true because the Wyoming police had sent police reports to the school. Nevertheless UO never conducted its own investigation into Bigby-Williams who continued to play on the team and make the coach who recruited him very happy.

Altman claims he did not know about the exact allegations and others at UO corroborate his story by saying they shielded him from knowledge of the exact nature of the allegations because there was not going to be an investigation.

The logic is dizzying--and the "defense" is likely not true. The student journalist who was covering the story requested the coach's (publicly paid for) cell phone records. The university took over 100 days to produce them and charged the student almost $500 for the records which revealed a series of calls between Altman and the deputy Title IX coordinator and Altman and Bigby-Williams's former head coach--all within 48 hours of the school's notification of the assault investigation.

Here is the recap: a current UO basketball player was accused of rape at another school. Oregon was notified of the allegations and was sent extensive police records. They did not follow their own procedures when they failed to do an immediate assessment and subsequent investigation. They have apparently lied about who knew what when. And, in general, they have continued to behave badly. President Michael Schill was asked about his awareness of the situation by student journalists in the early fall. He said he didn't know anything and then got snippy--and highly unprofessional--with them: "In any event, I can’t comment on an individual student. What if I was asked by another reporter about you being obnoxious? Would you want me to tell them that?"

Oh yea, and the athletics department is currently facing sanctions from the NCAA over program violations--which they are contesting. They self-reported the violations* in men's and women's basketball as well as track and field. But they are disputing the severity of the infractions (NCAA has a four category violation hierarchy). Athletics Director Rob Mullens said of the coaches involved: "they have the highest ethical standards on and off the court, and each acknowledges the infractions that took place within their programs."

That he can say that just weeks after the Bigby-Williams situation came to light is gratingly hypocritical as are his pat-ourselves-on-the-back references to the monitoring program that found the violations and the compliance training that will be done in light of the violations.

Where is the program monitoring the character, behavior, and potential issues with recruits and athletes currently on campus? Where is the accountability for administrators who are not only not doing their jobs, but breaking the law?

I initially thought this was a complicated situation what with two sets of campus police and two sets of administrators. But it is not complicated. Oregon had a duty to investigate once it was informed that one of its students had been accused of rape. They did not. At least a handful of people have apparently lied at various stages to the Oregon community and certainly to the public if not to each other.

Yet, no one seems in danger of losing his/her job.**

Maybe that's because the Ducks are currently first in the Pac-12 despite all these "distractions."

It's not complicated at all.

* Also noted for the record, the university in 1981 had a violation deemed "lack of institutional control" over several programs, including men's basketball.

**  If I had to speculate, the Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinator will be ousted if there is a call for accountability.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Is #metoo for colleges and sports?

The recent, daily, and ongoing revelations about sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood, the media, and government may be disheartening, heartbreaking, maddening but likely not surprising.

If there was ever any question that sexual assault and harassment is an epidemic, that question should now be answered. The past several years, however, in which we saw more and more activism around and attention given to campus sexual assault should have been an indication--in the form of a giant, blinking neon sign--that this is a problem.

I have been thinking a lot about the recent accusations, confessions, and the general discourse and how it relates to what we already know, steps already taken, and what comes next. The rest of this post includes my initial thoughts about how what has happened on college campuses is related to the current moment.

As someone who has written and spoken about campus sexual assault for a very long time now, I am somewhat dismayed at the cultural shock over the idea that some men behave very badly. College women have been telling us for decades about sexual violence in higher education. To think that incidences of rape, assault, and harassment decrease after college is naive--at best; as if men grow out of the behavior or women become less susceptible. So I find it curious that no one (that I have seen) has made any connection between the movement to hold colleges and universities (and K-12 as well) accountable for investigating and ultimately decreasing sexual violence and the recent news about the assaults committed by powerful men in influential industries.

Perhaps it is because the recently accused men are famous and most of the college males accused are not. (The exceptions, of course, are the athletes in big-time athletics programs--more on this in a moment.) All these famous men were once anonymous young men, too. Power is certainly a factor--but is it a factor in who commits these crimes or in how it enables some to get away with them for so long?

One reason for the campus sexual assault epidemic being ignored in the current discourse about sexual violence is because it happens in the context of college. It has been very difficult to overcome the popular image of college men and women drinking too much and making "bad choices." The siloing of sexual violence committed by college students continues to perpetuate these stereotypes about how college men and women act and thus normalize sexual violence on college campuses. This is evident in how both the accused and the accusers in the recent stories are being treated.

I see far fewer people supporting the accused. In cases of college sexual assault there is still a very active backlash movement in which accused men are suing their schools--sometimes using Title IX--accusing administrations of gender discrimination during the student judicial process. There is not a lot of complaining about the actions (firings, suspensions) being taken against the recently accused famous men of Hollywood and mainstream media. And only a few--Roy Moore, most notably--have fought the accusations against them. Just like the student conduct processes many accused go through, the actions against these famous men are occurring outside the criminal justice system; again with very little questioning of this version of "justice."

Related to the above: far fewer people are questioning the accusers. While I am pleased to see this, I am shocked given what I have seen and read about in cases of campus sexual assault. How much did she drink? What was she wearing? Did she not know about that fraternity's reputation? Maybe she just changed her mind. How many other people did she kiss that night? Did she have a boyfriend? Most people seem to be believing the women who have come forward with accusations--even the ones who have done so anonymously. Campaigns to #believewomen are great, but I do not see them being extended, with the same force, to college women.

I do not know if we will begin to connect the dots--that sexual assault and harassment is product of (mostly) capitalist institutions imbued with patriarchy and misogyny whether that is a college or Congress. But we need to if we want college women's accusations against their male peers to be taken as seriously as actresses' charges against studio bosses.

Maybe we will. I have seen more and more accusations by current or former students--especially graduate students--against professors. There is a similar power dynamic in these relationships: someone controls another's future, success, career. How will these accusations be treated in light of those against the growing list of powerful men? While I will not guess at that, I do predict these accusations will grow. More former students, emboldened by those who have come forward, will speak out about the harassment and assault by men in academia.

What I remain uncertain about is whether the cultural moment will create a space for the women who have experienced sexual violence within sports cultures. If Jameis Winston had been accused last week of rape would Florida State have reacted differently than it did three years ago when it did nothing (except protect Winston and let his accuser be run out of Tallahassee)? Is the so-called tipping point we have allegedly found in regards to sexual violence going to spill all over the hallowed football fields of American universities and colleges?

We must also look at professional sports culture and sports media. Regarding the latter, the women of the Burn it all Down podcast addressed the lack of accusations in sports media where misogyny and harassment of women are well known and sometimes even documented (see the case of Erin Andrews).  As for the former, I wonder what will happen when the next woman comes forward to accuse a famous professional male athlete of rape. Will we believe her like we believed those who have spoken of the abuse by Louis C.K.? Or will we accuse her of being a gold digger or someone looking for 15 minutes of fame?

We have not "tipped" as a culture toward addressing and taking seriously sexual violence and harassment unless we take college women's accusations seriously and our concern for these issues extends into the behaviors of the powerful men in collegiate and professional sports and sports media.