More than four years after an alleged sexual assault involving a University of Michigan football player, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the university’s handling of the case, the Detroit News reported Tuesday.
Michigan students protested the school’s handling of the case on Tuesday, raising questions about why it took the school four years to act on a case involving former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons allegedly raped another student-athlete at a party in 2009, and the incident was reported to both campus and Ann Arbor police. Gibbons was arrested but no charges were ever filed.
Michigan expelled Gibbons in January 2013 for violating the school’s sexual conduct policy, and an investigation from the Michigan Daily, the school’s student paper, found that his expulsion was directly related to the case. During the years between the incident and the expulsion, a former Michigan professor and activists on campus publicly questioned why the school had failed to act.
The Gibbons case — and potential mishandling of it — comes after a year when sexual assault by college athletes, and football players in particular, was unfortunately prevalent in the news. Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston faced rape allegations in the fall, and his case was marred by accusations from the victim’s attorney that police and state attorneys had mishandled the investigation into the case. Before the season, Vanderbilt University dismissed four football players who were allegedly involved in an on-campus sexual assault.
Each of college football’s last two national title games has involved a school dealing with a troubling sexual assault case. This year it was Winston’s Florida State; in 2012, it was Notre Dame, where a female student at neighboring St. Mary’s College committed suicide after the school failed to seriously address her rape allegations against a football player.
Those incidents are only three on a long list of sexual assaults involving athletes, many of which faced concurrent allegations of police and university mishandling.
But the problem isn’t limited to cases involving athletes. The Office of Civil Rights also confirmed that it is investigating Michigan State University’s handling of a case that doesn’t involve athletes, and dozens of schools across the country are facing complaints under Title IX for failing to address sexual assaults on campus. Those complaints stretch from prominent athletic schools like the University of Connecticut (where the complaint includes a case involving an athlete) to those that aren’t, like Harvard, Swarthmore, and Dartmouth.