Seven women, including six current students, have filed a Title IX complaint against the University of Connecticut, alleging that the school failed to protect female students from sexual assault on campus and did not respond to sexual assaults that did occur as required by federal law. Included in the complaint is junior Rose Richi, who told the Hartford Courant that she was assaulted by a UConn athlete who remains enrolled at the school.
“The thrill and excitement I felt being a student at UConn was shattered when I was sexually assaulted by a male student athlete,” Richi told the Courant. “I am still waiting for the university to take action in response to the complaint that was made on my behalf.”
Another of the seven women said that UConn failed to protect her after she complained about the athletic department’s new Husky logo, which replaced the old, friendlier Husky with a more fierce and aggressive mascot. In an open letter to UConn president Susan Herbst, the student, Carolyn Luby, wrote that the new logo represented UConn’s failure to respond to the rape culture that existed on campus, that a more frightening logo came while the “face of real life UConn athletics is certainly capable of frightening college women.” Afterward, she was criticized online and targeted by Rush Limbaugh and subsequently received rape and death threats, but Herbst and university police remained silent through it all, Luby said.
Though it is unclear from the complaint which athlete was involved in Richi’s alleged assault, two UConn athletes have been arrested in connection with domestic violence incidents in the last year. UConn running back Lyle McCombs was arrested in October 2012 for “yelling, pushing, and spitting” at his girlfriend during a dispute outside a campus residence. McCombs was suspended for one quarter of the team’s next football game. Basketball player Enosch Wolf was arrested in February for domestic violence. Wolf was suspended indefinitely, though the charges were dropped later because he completed counseling. Wolf left UConn to play basketball in Germany.
The problem isn’t limited to athletes, and neither is UConn’s culture of ignoring sexual assault, according to the complaint. This month, the university failed to condemn an on-campus performance that explicitly mentioned a “rape trail” that used to exist through a wooded area on campus. Two female students reported being sexually assaulted in a “wooded area” of campus just days later.
Neither is the problem limited to athletes at the national level. Students at a growing number of major colleges and universities, including Swarthmore, the University of Southern California, and Dartmouth, have filed complaints over their school’s sexual assault policies and practices. Is the influx of complaints due to an increasing number of assaults? Or are women on college campuses more connected with activists and more aware that the issue is prevalent across the country, and thus more empowered and willing to speak out?
It’s certainly easier to be aware of the fact that this is taking place everywhere, especially because sports have raised the profile of sexual assaults on campus. We’ve heard about Notre Dame, where a student committed suicide in 2010 because she felt the school failed to take her sexual assault allegations against a football player seriously, and other cases, from Vanderbilt to Steubenville High School to, now, Maryville, Missouri, have become national news stories. The list of college football programs where athletes have been accused of rape and sexual assault goes on and on, and it’s happening at the high school level too, whether in Steubenville or Maryville or right there in Connecticut.
“Our response protocol for these and other alleged incidents of sexual assault is in line with or exceeds best practices,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz told the Courant. “We are confident at this point that these cases were handled thoroughly, swiftly, and appropriately.”
UConn will have its time to prove all of that true in court. What is clear in the meantime is that even if UConn did everything right, as a country and as a culture, we’re doing it all wrong — and far too often, we’re far more committed to protecting football players and other athletes instead of the women and girls on campus.