“No one has to do everything, but everyone can do something to help stop sexual assault and domestic violence.” The words from Johnson & Wales University volleyball coach Callie Phillips were a fitting end to a panel discussion held Thursday night in Austin Auditorium.
Phillips, who graduated from Wingate in 2013 with a master’s in sport administration, had just been presented the first Distinguished Alumni Award from the Master of Arts in Sport Management program.
A doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she took a moment to encourage the Lyceum crowd to continue the struggle to bring awareness to the problem, an issue they had just been briefed on via MASM’s first Sport Speakers Series.
MASM director Dr. Dawn Norwood opened the presentation with news footage about sexual-assault scandals at Baylor and Stanford universities. She wasted no time in asking Dr. Renae Myles, Dr. Norman Spencer and attorney Hank Harrawood detailed questions about the definition of consent, attempts by some college athletic departments to handle cases involving athletes “in-house” and potential pushback from coaches when reports are made to administrative authorities.
The problem of the NCAA allowing athletes who have committed crimes to cover their tracks by transferring and the recent rollback of protections related to Title IX procedures were also part of the discussion.
Spencer, who is the volunteer coordinator for the Sexual Trauma Resource Center at Safe Alliance, emphasized the importance of understanding consent in sexual situations, especially if alcohol is involved.
“Basically, consent is permission or agreement for something to happen,” he said. “Both partners have to be fully aware. With drug or alcohol use, once someone is intoxicated, they have no ability to consent.
“Also, the final part of it is that the consent has to be active, not passive. It cannot be retroactively applied.”
Who should investigate?
Both Harrawood, who serves as director of compliance at UNC-Charlotte, and Myles, senior associate athletic director for internal operations and chief operating officer at Winthrop University, took a hard line on whether it is ever appropriate for athletic departments to handle sexual-assault investigations.
“Let’s get real, y’all: We play ball. We do not handle sexual assault and sexual violence,” Myles said she tells anyone trying to intervene in a case involving an athlete. “We are going straight to the Title IX coordinator and Student Affairs to report this.”
She said that parents are entrusting colleges with the care of their most prized possessions and that those in authority should treat students like they would want their own children to be treated.
“As an administrator, I may want what’s in the best interest of the athletic department, but as a parent, I want what is in the best interest of the student,” she said. “Every last one of you, Dr. Norwood, should be acting like parents to these kids when they are away from home.”
Harrawood said that as an athletic administrator he understands that some colleges don’t have legal departments and may try to handle cases in the athletics arena, but as an attorney, it is not what he would recommend.
“Kicking anything involved with Title IX out of sports is the best policy,” he said, going further to explain the Clery Act, the 1990 federal statute that requires colleges and universities to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. He also explained the importance of universities’ offering thorough training to those employees who are legally bound to report criminal activities.
“Athletic trainers, for instance, they know everything that’s going on with athletes, but they often don’t know that they are mandatory reporters,” Harrawood said. “If they know about an assault and don’t report it, they could be breaking federal law.”
He defended the NCAA to a degree, saying the organization is driven by university presidents and athletic directors.
Myles echoed his sentiments, telling the audience, “We (member schools) are the NCAA.” She said the organization is making progress on this issue and is requiring, by May 2018, that every member institution provide evidence that it is educating every staff member and athlete about sexual violence.
Enforcement is essential
Spencer said rules — whether mandated by the NCAA or in the community at large — are only as good as the society that will enforce them. “You can have the most fantastic statute on the books, but if you don’t have a group pushing it, it won’t happen,” he said.
Spencer addressed the issue of the changing rules regarding Title IX complaints, specifically Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ rescinding of the President Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letter that spelled out protections for victims of assaults on campuses.
“While it was not surprising – these regulations done by executive action come and go – when it was rescinded it generated a lot of fear in the advocacy community,” he said. “On a positive note, prior to the exit of the Obama administration, we were able to get a survivor’s bill of rights that guaranteed some provisions.”
Harrawood said upping the standard of proof from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence,” which may be one effect of DeVos’ announcement, may have a chilling effect on crime reporting. Spencer agreed but said the number of reports was likely to rebound as the legal pendulum swings back in the opposite direction.
He dismissed the idea that many false reports are being filed. “Studies show that at least 95 to 98 percent of reports are founded,” Spencer said. “There may be false reports on Pluto, but not here.”
After the audience was given a chance to ask the panel questions, Myles turned the table to ask students if they knew whom to go to if they learned about a sexual assault. Members of the crowd shouted out a range of answers, from Campus Safety to Residence Life to Counseling.
“The point is you have somewhere to go,” Myles said. “You need to know that regardless of the rescinding of the Dear Colleague letter or any other changes, you have somewhere to go where someone can direct you as to how to get help.”
Patrick Biggerstaff, chief of planning and operations, is Wingate’s Title IX coordinator. For more information, see this list of frequently asked questions.
Oct. 31, 2017