Amid a swirl of allegations, suspensions and a boycott involving the University of Minnesota football program, a simple, three-word phrase summarized the debate dividing the campus over the school’s sexual assault policy and punishment process: “We had enough.”
Written as a social media hashtag, some team members used the phrase to express exasperation that the university had indefinitely suspended 10 Gophers players even though they hadn’t been criminally charged or received a school hearing over an alleged sexual assault of a woman in September.
Yet even without knowing all the facts surrounding the incident, much of which began trickling out in university investigative reports that surfaced late Friday, students and others quickly took sides, either to support the team in its boycott over a scheduled bowl game or to show revulsion over what had allegedly happened that September morning in an off-campus apartment building.
The controversy, set locally in one of the nation’s largest universities, arises at a time when schools across the country are grappling with a push to re-examine their response to campus sexual assaults.
Hunching over a phone after a biology final exam Friday, students Johnny Dietz and Anna Boyd pulled up one football player’s Twitter account and saw the hashtag, nodding as they scrolled.
“These [players] have dreams of the NFL and going to school but are being held guilty by association,” said Dietz, a 21-year-old self-described Gophers football fan. “Now their reputations are completely diminished. It’s unfair.”
“I still feel for the girl involved,” Boyd said. “But if [the players] were cleared by the law, there’s no point to the suspensions.”
In a nearby study area in Coffman Memorial Union, 22-year-old Elliot Past’s take was decidedly different: “I’m sure women have also ‘had enough’ feeling unsafe on this campus,” he said.
No charges filed
The debate roiled amid many unanswered questions about the early morning Sept. 2 scene in which a woman claims she was sexually assaulted by a line of men in a football player’s room in the hours after she’d had five or six shots of vodka.
Though police were notified later, prosecutors declined to file charges. Police wrote in a report that in three videos totaling about 90 seconds from that night, the woman appeared lucid, alert and somewhat playful and that sexual contact appeared entirely consensual.
But the U’s disciplinary process, which requires a lower standard of proof than the courts, resulted in a different outcome.
According to university policy, school officials must decide if it was “more likely than not” that an assault occurred.
The university has a policy of affirmative consent, requiring “informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.” Consent is not obtained where there is incapacitation due to the influence of drugs or alcohol, the policy says.
The school is required to investigate reports of sexual assault and take appropriate action under federal guidelines for all colleges and universities receiving government funds. The school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) conducted that investigation, and the athletic department last week suspended 10 players. Some face possible expulsion.
Between finals on Friday, before KSTP-TV posted online the EOAA’s report detailing what happened Sept. 2, university students dashed off to study in libraries or to rest in the Coffman Memorial Union. Many were ambivalent about the suspensions, saying they did not know enough about the timeline of events.
Valentina Sierra, a senior vocal performance student, rolled her eyes on hearing about the team’s reaction to the suspensions.
“It’s ridiculous that the team is stepping up [in support of the suspended players],” Sierra said. “Why would you put your team first? You’re talking about women here.”
Concern for reputations
By Friday afternoon, chatter about the boycott had drifted into the shops and eateries across Dinkytown, the campus neighborhood.
Pub employees watched for updates on ESPN as they waited for the happy hour rush. Inside Al’s Breakfast, the grill had already gone cold as employees swept the floor, wiped counters and talked Gophers football.
“Most people seem to be asking why [the punishment] is happening now, after the [criminal] investigation,” said Doug Grina, who co-owns the restaurant and has worked there for 39 years.
Grina said he’s seen sexual assault on campus balloon into a major problem.
“It’s awful,” Grina said. “They definitely have a situation with the behavior of young men.”
On Saturday, hours after the Gophers players agreed to lift their boycott, 200 protesters gathered in subzero temperatures outside TCF Bank Stadium to show support for the woman involved amid chants of “She is not alone!”
Lauren Husting, a 35-year-old doctoral student at the U, stood heavily bundled with a Styrofoam sign supporting fellow sexual assault survivors. She said scars from her own sexual assault have left a profound effect on her life.
“[The players are] not kings of this campus and can’t do whatever they want,” said Husting of Minneapolis. “I want them to respect women and make sure we’re training — and raising — good people.”
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report