Sexual Assault on College Campuses and Title IX: Part 1

A great debate is underway at the University of Oregon, concerning a female student who says the university mishandled her sexual assault case. The survivor reported that three student athletes cornered her in a bathroom and raped her multiple times. The university’s internal investigation found that the students were responsible for sexual misconduct and suspended them for 4-10 years; they were also removed from the basketball team (only after the Pac-12 conference tournament). The assault was also reported to law enforcement, although prosecutors believed there was not enough evidence to file charges. During the investigation, it was discovered that one of the students even had a history of prior sexual misconduct: he was suspended from Providence College midway through his freshman year due to sexual misconduct. The University of Oregon’s basketball coach recruited him and awarded him a full scholarship despite the circumstances of his suspension, and neither the coach nor the school notified any students or the community about his history.

The survivor is suing the University of Oregon and their basketball coach for violation of Title IX, which requires the institution “to take immediate action to eliminate [sexual] harassment, prevent its recurrence and address its effects.” Title IX requires schools to do as much as they can to prevent sexual violence on campus and among students, and also governs how they respond to assaults that do occur. The survivor’s lawsuit states that UO’s disciplinary actions to the assailants (delaying the investigation by over two months, using a disciplinary process other than that outlined in their policies, suspending rather than expelling them, agreeing not to include the reason for their suspension on their transcripts, and refusing to provide a copy of the investigation’s outcome to the survivor) were not sufficient, and that the school was negligent in recruiting a known sex offender. The lawsuit alleges that the university violated the woman’s Title IX rights because the university’s actions before and after the alleged sexual assault “deprived her of access to educational opportunities and benefits by creating a permanent and extreme hostile educational environment.” The survivor also wants UO to implement and enforce comprehensive and rigorous policies to handle future cases, expand services for survivors, and conduct annual, independent reviews of the athletic department’s compliance to the policies.

It disturbs me that a student who has received academic and legal consequences for sexually assaulting other students would be actively recruited by athletic programs at other schools. Brandon Austin, who was suspended from both University of Oregon and Providence College due to sexual misconduct, was then recruited by Northwest Florida State College.  Northwest Florida State College admitted knowing that he was suspended by both schools due to sexual misconduct, but chose to give him a basketball scholarship and start him in every game so far this season. Other schools refused admission to Brandon and the other UO students, but Northwest Florida State College coach Steve DeMeo stated,"The College has decided to give this young man an opportunity to continue his education.  We have the experience, support and resources to help Brandon get back on track towards graduating and help him be a successful student athlete on and off the court." 

I can’t help but think, had this individual not been a star basketball player, would the university overlook this history of sexual abuse? Alcorn State University ignored their own policies to start a football player who’d been kicked out of Vanderbilt after admitting his role in a gang rape there, Arizona State University re-admitted an athlete they’d kicked out for sexual misconduct and destroyed evidence when he raped another woman, and more.  When it comes to athletics, some school officials seem more concerned about putting up points and winning championships for their school than for the well-being and safety of the other students.  

Michelle Eller

Michelle Eller is a Speakers Bureau volunteer and intern with our Sumter office. She is a psychology major at Francis Marion University and a pharmacy technician at McLeod Regional Medical Facility in Florence. Her blog on sexual assault, college athletics, and Title IX is the first in a short series that will accompany the release of The Hunting Ground at The Nickelodeon on April 28th at 7pm.