A year after accusations of rape between a woman and several Gophers football players brought national scrutiny to the University of Minnesota, the school continues to work on efforts to reduce sexual misconduct.
After an independent investigation released in mid-August cleared the university’s handling of the case, the school is moving forward with reforms that envision “a university community that is safe and free from sexual misconduct and violence,” the school’s dean of public health John Finnegan told university regents in August.
Those changes include strengthening the school’s sexual misconduct policy, an effort that began in February. The proposed policy would add what the independent investigators described as a more “robust definition of affirmative consent.”
If affirmative consent is not granted during a sexual encounter, it is already considered an assault under university policy.
The proposed definition specifies that if there is any question that someone may be incapacitated, consent cannot be given.
“What we need now is a public health approach where the focus is on prevention,” Finnegan told the Star Tribune.
U President Eric Kaler appointed Finnegan in May to lead a sexual misconduct initiative, which will provide recommendations to the regents during October.
The alleged incident took place at an off-campus apartment during the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2016, where a student told police she was raped by several football players. Twice the Hennepin County attorney’s office declined to bring charges in the case. However, after the school investigated, 10 players were either suspended or expelled. Following several appeals, four players were expelled and one was suspended for a year.
The accuser declined to comment for this story. The football players also declined to comment.
In their probe, the independent investigators praised new training to be provided this fall, such as the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office providing in-person education to fraternity and sorority leaders.
The program director for the office of fraternity and sorority life, James Ehrmann, said other prevention initiatives were launched in the last year. Among those: Each chapter will identify an advocate to participate in a six-hour training with the school’s sexual violence prevention center to become a point person in accessing resources.
The investigative report also listed several initiatives already underway to prevent sex assault before the alleged rape last September, including mandating that all first-year students watch a play that addresses campus violence and discuss it afterward. That training will continue this year, the school said.
Many of the programs the school had already implemented to prevent sex assaults will be strengthened, university leadership said. This year, student athletes will receive training at a team level, rather than in meetings with the entire department, the school said. And where prior years students received about four hours of training on issues related to school conduct, that is being bumped up to seven hours. That will include meetings with leaders from the school’s EOAA office.
Before the alleged assault, the football players had already been required to attend trainings by prevention experts in June 2016. Those will continue, the university said, but with increased presentations and training, which included Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman meeting with the team this summer.
Sex assault prevention advocates praised the university’s efforts, but said they still fear that the campus is not yet safe for women.
“It would take a massive shift in how our society raises boys to become men,” said Sarah Super, a U alum who organized rallies in support of the woman who accused the football players of rape. “It would also take a shift in our justice system to hold rapists accountable.”