Campus Safety: The Fault in Our Schools

Colleges and universities are not infallible when it comes to managing issues of sexual misconduct and assault. Educational efforts are touted by Student Affairs departments, information gets distributed to students and parents during orientation, and systems are set up to provide support for students struggling through incidents of sexual harassment or assault. Unfortunately, the system does not always work out as intended. There are many students who have felt challenged by policies and procedures that delay or complicate their hope to resolve their situations. Over 55 schools have come under fire for their work to manage and support students through cases of sexual misconduct.

One such case involves the recent issue at James Madison University, involving the expulsion of students after their graduation.

The University of North Caroline, Morgan State University, Frostburg State University, Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard University, to name a few, have all come under fire by the Department of Education for the mishandling of cases.

While the policies and procedures are for the Department of Education and the universities to review and manage, students still have an opportunity to take preventative measures to avoid needing to enact the sexual misconduct processes. While many sexual misconduct cases include alcohol, many of them do not. To be safe, students should take the following precautions:

  1. Be aware of your environment. How well do you know the people around you? Is the area well lit? Do you know where blue light phones are located?
  2. Be aware of your resources. While self-defense classes can be helpful for confidence, it is better to know what resources campus police and departments provide. Are there phone apps or important numbers you should program into your contact list? Are there transportation services provided by public safety or transportation?
  3. Know your friends and acquaintances. While 80-90% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows, social pressure is a dangerous tactic used to complete the act. Substances sometimes contribute to the misconduct. Clarity in saying no can help, but any resistance to sexual acts needs to be respected.
  4. Keep records. If someone sends offensive or threatening pictures or texts, save them. If they leave obsessive or aggressive voicemails, save them. They can be used as evidence if safety becomes a serious concern.

It is the responsibility of people to protect themselves and to recognize signs of resistance to prevent and avoid issues of misconduct. If an incident happens, reporting is the best option, but persistence is required to come to a resolution.

If you have suggestions for proactive and reactive measures, please feel free to comment below.

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Greater Than the Death Penalty: The NCAA’s Reactions to the Sandusky Scandal

Released today were the sanctions imposed by the NCAA on Penn State in reaction to the child abuse scandal and cover-up by university officials, including Joe Paterno, the university presidents and the athletics director. This is actually not the end of story, as there will be additional court battles down the line for civil lawsuits by each of the families affected, but this could symbolically be the biggest penalty enacted on the football program and athletic department. Included within the sanctions are the following:

  • $60 million of fines, which will be used to set up an endowment for the protection of victims and families discovered in the future.
  • Revenues of approximately $13 million from Big Ten bowl proceeds over the next 4 years will be allocated to child protection agencies in the Big Ten community.
  • A 4-year postseason ban for the football program.
  • A reduction of 10 scholarships initially and then 20 scholarships per year for the next 4 years.
  • The opportunity for players to transfer out of the program without any waiting period at the potential new schools.
  • A wins will be vacated from the records between 1998 and 2011, including postseason play.
  • A 5-year probation of the program.
  • A partnership with a representative for academic integrity, as chosen by the NCAA board.

To say that these sanctions will make up for the wrongful acts is completely false. There is nothing that could be done to fully repair the damage to the lives of the victims and families. The scar that this leaves on the university and the Penn State community is one they will have to wear for the rest of their existence.

This combination of sanctions are actually unheard of, as no other schools has been penalized in such a crippling way. A “death penalty” ruling would have stopped the program for whatever time period of the committee’s choosing, but this will drop the program into a pit much deeper and difficult to get out of than “Hell on Earth” from The Dark Knight Rises. Players have the opportunity to leave the program, Penn State will be unable to recruit the same kind of talent they were used to and the decreased revenue will more than level their ability to compete at the D-Ia level for years.

It is about a culture change and punitive damages that can be used to support purposeful causes. Still, some of the elements seem to be out of place in the grand scheme of the situation. The financial penalties seem 100% justified, and everyone can be sure that there will be more forthcoming. The probation and the scholarship reduction both seem to support a reduction of support for the program during a time that they need to be taken off of their pedestal. The academic integrity partnership is one that should hopefully provide guidance toward a new direction for the program. Allowing the current and future players to leave and compete elsewhere provides a protection for those who no longer want to be associated with a tarnished program, while also taking another knock of the program off of the pedestal.

Where the potential challenges arise are with the penalties that do more to punish those not involved in the scandal than those who are. The process of vacating wins is something that is seemingly just for the record books, but the scandal had little to do with the team’s on-the-field success. One could argue that the cover-up protected Paterno and his crew from the possible limitations of recruiting and management if the scandal were unleashed sooner. All of this could have been avoided if they had simply reported Sandusky the instant they discovered his wrongdoing. Still, this penalty tarnishes the records of more than just Paterno and the program (which is justified). All of the players at Penn State will be associated with the scandal and their wins during this time period will be called into question, even from the symbolic standpoint. Also, if you are not going to impose the “death penalty” for such heinous acts, why take it out on the current players if they are able to perform at a championship level? The ability to transfer helps players take matters into their own hands, but the process could be more difficult that initially identified for these players to transfer.

It is important to keep everything in perspective, as even I had mixed reactions to the final announcement of the sanctions. The main purposes for the sanctions were to acknowledge the wrongdoing at the university, break the program from its pedestal and begin to rebuild anew. The struggles for the victims and their families have not ended with these sanctions or even the incarceration of Jerry Sandusky. At the same time, people in power at the university are ultimately the ones responsible for the wrongdoing, and it is challenging to think that their egregious actions (or inaction) are going to tarnish the history of the players, alum and community who knew not of the crimes, as well as the current players who saw Penn State as an opportunity for their future. Sandusky has left the ultimate mark of shame on Penn State and college sports, and Paterno and the Penn State elite did nothing to help their university community.

For ESPN’s reporting on the sanctions, please take a look at the link below:

Approaching the Problem with Alcohol: Reflecting on the UVA Tragedy

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Hoover discussed the recent decision in the trial of a former UVA lacrosse player convicted of killing his girlfriend. While the defendant was found guilty of 2nd degree murder, his attorney was able to justify his behavior and action based on one key element: alcohol. Contributing to the defense’s testimonies were former teammates, coaches and his father, all of whom explained that they knew George Huguely had an alcohol problem and had gotten worse in the time closer to the heinous act. What is wrong with our colleges and society that we are too afraid to help someone who clearly has been identified to have a problem? When did being a “stupid drunk” (as his defense attorney claimed) become an excuse of irresponsible and illegal acts?

Alcohol has been labeled as a part of the college experience, but everyone can recognize that there is a controversy about what part it is supposed to play and what changes (if any) need to be made to fix the situation. From the student perspective, more students are actually engaging with alcohol at earlier ages and are coming into the college experience looking forward to less oversight from the parents, but not necessarily having their first taste of the drink. They believe that little to no accountability is necessary from police or university officials and that no harm comes from consumption. Administrators and professors are mixed on the subject but tend toward the side of regulating the access to and follow up for alcohol issues. Student affairs educators are probably the most significant group of university members who want to increase education and decrease dependance on the substance.

With this case coming to its conclusion, is there any way that people can continue to ignore the negative effects of alcohol and the need for regulation and accountability? The UVA case is not the first one to identify alcohol’s negative influence on decision-making and violent actions, but it adds a strong proponent against some previous arguments to lower the drinking age. A handful of university presidents came together to propose that schools are going about alcohol education incorrectly and proposed lowering the age down to 18. Doesn’t this just push the problem on high schools? Would this actually eliminate the problem on college campuses? Students would still come to campuses with less parental influence and the same expectations that alcohol is part of college. Lowering the age does not improve education or decrease excessive use.

To refocus on education, there is not just a need to increase the education about alcohol use, but also look at how to identify signs of trouble and what to do to get someone help. Many schools have adopted the amnesty initiative that allows students to bypass conduct hearings if they actively seek out help when a student is in trouble. This policy may decrease the barriers that scare students about getting help, but they still need to understand at what point their friend needs that help. Health & wellness, residence life and fraternity & sorority life  departments should continue to rethink the methods they use to reach out to students and give them the tools they need to make smarter decisions about consumption and approach individuals students may identify for having a problem.

In summary, the UVA trial reenergizes the conversation about addressing alcohol issues and even which issues are the mostly pressing. It would be a mistake to forget that in the course of identifying these current challenges, a young woman lost her life in a brutal fashion. The trial will not necessary bring true justice but I wish the best for her family and friends through this tough time.

A Tragedy in Happy Valley: Scandal Shocks Students, Nation

Over the past week, there has been an obsession with the news out of State College, PA. At first glance, it is easy to get swept up in the drama of the fall of one of the greatest college coaches of all time. Joe Paterno is responsible for 409 victories, 24 bowl victories, 3 Big 10 championships and 2 National Titles. Penn State football has been an institution within the college sports world. With his contract ending at the conclusion of the season, Paterno was considering retiring after starting as an assistant coach in 1950. As the news of a scandal began to surface, he officially announced that he would step down as head coach after the final game of the season. While his announcement came first, the university determined that the scandal and his involvement was too severe to allow him to finish on his timeline and terminated him on Wednesday evening.

Without going into the entire details of the scandal, Jerry Sandusky was arrested on Saturday November 5th  for 40 counts of child abuse over a 15-year period. In 2002, Joe Paterno was informed by a graduate student (Mike McQueary) that Sandusky had engaged in a sex act with a 10-year old in the locker room showers. Paterno reported the issue to Athletic Director Tim Curley the next day, but his actions ended there. For Paterno specifically, the question is not whether he did anything but whether he did enough. Concerns have risen about his level of knowledge of Sandusky’s actions or even simply the accusations of Sandusky’s conduct. Allowing a potential sex addict and child abuser to use the university facilities could be easily seen as negligent on Paterno’s part. Along with Paterno, President Graham Spanier, AD Tim Curley and Senior VP Gary Schultz are all being investigated and have had their ties cut from the university.

There have been a lot of different perspectives about the scandal but the most disturbing one is that the legacy of a football coach is more important than trauma experienced by the victims of sexual abuse. Students and fans have been devastated first by the news of Paterno’s involvement, second by the announcement of his retirement at the end of the season in light of the events and finally the university’s decision to remove him as head coach. Riots have broken out over Paterno’s termination with students crying out for the reinstatement of their beloved coach or for justice in comparison to the other individuals involved. Students have been damaging property and starting fires in their outrage. Many students have been recorded on camera claiming that Paterno is being used as a scapegoat and is innocent of any wrongdoing.

At what point did sports top human rights? Unfortunately this is not the only example in our history. Although not related to college athletics, the Catholic church has gone through similar accusations of representatives mistreating young boys. In both situations, there certainly is a feeling of a tarnished record for the larger organization, but the reality is that individuals messed up and the rest of the institution does not have to fall apart under the identified mistakes. The Catholic church still supports millions of followers in supporting their faith and spirituality, just as Penn State football will continue to press on with a different coach and even still play their game tomorrow against Nebraska. The icons within each organization may have to step aside but their involvement and legacy are forced to be sorted out over time.

I am a huge fan of the Daily Show. Jon Stewart has a way of turning comedic bits about current events into easy to swallow presentations of real breaking news. Much of his time recently has focused on Herman Cain’s sexual misconduct and refusal to recognize that “no means no” and Rick Perry’s blackout on stage during a Republican debate, but on November 10, 2011, Jon took a couple minutes at the end of the show to talk about his perspective on the Penn State riots. My comparison of the Penn State scandal to the Catholic church came from his discussion last night. For those two minutes, he simplified the Paterno story to highlight the god-like status students have bestowed on the coach and they have made it out to be more important than the actual victims. As he wrapped up the monologue, he called out the students for the fact that they will not have to actually miss out on any football as to diminish the chance of any trauma to their college experience as they could not handle that scar in their lives. When he nearly apologized for taking the time out to air his thoughts and the thoughts of his staff, I was in immediate support for him still choosing to broadcast the clip. Since then, it has been shared widely on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

In the end, the Paterno madness will die down and the students will gain some perspective. Unfortunately, the game tomorrow will not help the cause. There are hundreds of subplots and potential explosive points, which actually indicate that it would be smarted to cancel the game, forfeit it to Nebraska or reschedule it at Nebraska or a neutral site. The media networks are planning to get BCS Bowl Game-size audiences watching the game to experience the matchup and the drama associated with the scandal. Will Paterno appear at the game? What will the student reaction be regarding the individuals involved in the scandal? Will there be bigger support for the victims or for the former coach? In the end, this game will need to come and go before every can return their focus on what’s important.

Here are some of the videos that reference the events of this past week:

Jon Stewart’s Reaction to Penn State Riots

Mother Speaks Out

Student Reactions Post-Riots

Anderson Cooper Highlights Possible Involvement of Many Individuals

Wrong Focus for the Penn State Riots