Athletes and sexual harassment

A culture has been created that promotes the exploitation, objectification and degradation of women.

by Abby Bar-Lev

Harassment of women students on the University campus needs to stop.

The Minnesota Daily has received and published columns from women students who have felt harassed by University athletes in particular. This harassment is part of a larger story.

Only recently – just last year – did the University change its policies regarding athletics recruitment. Prior to last year, the University could recruit athletes by taking them to strip clubs, providing them with alcohol and a host of other tactics. Recruits had been taken to Déjà Vu, a local strip club, and some recruits told local media that they had also been taken to bars.

Just because these policies are no longer allowed does not mean that their effects are not felt on campus.

When prospective student-athletes are enticed to the University by strip club visits, it creates a very unhealthy culture in athletics. It creates a culture that promotes the exploitation of women, a culture that promotes the objectification of women, a culture that promotes the degradation of women. Inevitably, this was going to lead to problems with harassment. It has.

The Aurora Center’s 2005 Annual Report documents that from July 2004 to June 2005 alone, 264 students visited the Aurora Center. Of those 264, 229 were women, 103 were victims of acquaintance sexual assault, 49 visits stemmed from dating/relationship violence, 17 came for help from stranger sexual assault and 40 people were victims of harassment or stalking.

The columns the Daily received were from women who felt harassed by student-athletes on the wrestling and football teams. Although the University changed its policies of allowing inappropriate or illegal behavior to recruit student-athletes, it has not ebbed the harassment of University women.

It does not help that the University of Minnesota wrestling coach, J Robinson, is a leading advocate against Title IX, part of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act. Title IX bans sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, be it in academics or athletics. Title IX requires proportional participation opportunities for men and women. It necessitates that “male and female athletes receive the same benefits of athletic participation,” as the Women’s Sports Foundation put it, including equipment, uniforms and supplies; equal access to weight room and training room; equal practice facilities; same size and quality locker room and competition facilities; equal access to practice and games during prime time; same quality coaches as boys teams; opportunity to play the same quality opponents; the same awards and awards banquets; and so on.

Without Title IX, women would be lacking equal access to educational and athletic opportunities.

In a July 12 story by the Daily, “Survey clarification raises debate,” Robinson said he believed that women’s interest in athletics just is not present and questioned why laws of proportionality are not in effect for extracurricular groups, such as glee club, where women are more numerous than men. Men have not been actively discriminated against in glee club the way women have been excluded from sports for decades, precisely until Title IX was put into effect.

If women are not supported in sports and academics, if they continue to be unsafe and harassed in their own campus and homes, women are not free. Am I saying that Robinson is to blame for the harassment of women by wrestling student-athletes? Am I saying that football and wrestling students are the only ones committing harassment on campus? Certainly not, but being so adamantly against Title IX – which helps women gain equality in academics and sports – does not exactly create an environment that respects women.

Granted, the University has taken steps to keep its women safe. For starters, it did change its athletics recruitment practices. Now athletes can no longer be enticed to attend the University by strip club visits. That is certainly a start.

Additionally, the University has a campus escort service that is free for students, staff members, faculty members and University visitors. If you ever feel unsafe walking or biking to or from campus and nearby neighborhoods, the campus escort service will walk with you until you safely arrive at your destination. All you have to do is dial 624-WALK.

It is not macho to harass women and it does not make one a better athlete. Harassment and intimidation of women by University athletes in particular is a large problem, and this column only touches the tip of the harassment/assault iceberg of University women. While there is much already being done, we need to take further steps together to ensure that women are safe on campus.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected].