Post-practice discussion part of sexual assault reporting conversation at MU

Monday, August 25, 2014 | 9:39 p.m. CDT; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 26, 2014

COLUMBIA — Missouri's Mitch Morse only knew Derrick Washington a couple of months before Washington was dismissed from the team — but Morse will tell you that Washington's presence lingers.

"They don't want you to say it," Morse said, "but ... there's a special emphasis brought upon that subject (sexual assault and rape) that's kind of correlated to what happened prior to Derrick Washington leaving."

On Friday, when head coach Gary Pinkel and Missouri athletics director Mike Alden responded to an ESPN report released Thursday, Pinkel said defensive backs coach Cornell Ford "handles" sexual assault education "every year in August" with the team.

Monday, in the wake of Sunday's "Outside The Lines" segment titled "Victims of Inaction," players such as Morse commented on Ford's training and the football program's emphasis on sexual violence prevention. Missouri's inclusion of education in fall camp illustrates Title IX's impact on college campuses.

Morse, a team captain and senior offensive tackle, said that "treating women with respect" is one of the football team's "core values."

"They're constantly harping on it," Morse said. "And after every two-a-day practice in the morning, they have a coach come and give a certain specific life lesson. So that's coach Ford's life lesson."

Morse remembered Ford talking with the team about respecting women and sexual assault for five minutes at one point during two-a-day practices. Darius White, a senior wide receiver, remembered a 10- to 12-minute conversation after practice.

"It's right after practice, so it's always a good learning experience," White said.

Ford was not available for comment Monday.

In addition to post-practice speeches, Pinkel said in the news conference that during Thursday team meetings, the team talks about the different aspects of assault and being respectful to women.

Matt Gregory is the associate dean of students at Louisiana State University and president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration, a professional organization of college administrators responsible for overseeing student discipline processes. Gregory said the number of complaints of sexual misconduct rose in the past 15 years, especially among the 19- to 24-year-old age group.

The rise in reported complaints paralleled two documents released by the United States Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights, both pertaining to Title IX.

Title IX, a portion of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, requires all universities to properly report cases of sexual assault on campus.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' 2001 guidance focuses on peer sexual harassment, misconduct and violence. The office's revised guidance, released in 2011, supplements the 2001 guidelines by clarifying schools’ obligations to prevent and address sexual violence on campus.

Within months of the release of the guidance, more than 50 colleges and universities revised their sexual violence policies and procedures consistent with the guidance, according to the Department of Education.

A violation of Title IX compliance could result in an Office for Civil Rights investigation and an agreement between the Department of Education and the institution in question on what went wrong, how it will be fixed and how to progress going forward.

Gregory said schools have reflected on their practices and policies of reporting sexual assault. From his standpoint as a dean charged with upholding the student discipline process, he recommends these three steps.

First, reports of alleged sexual assault should be investigated by someone who will not be involved in adjudicating a discipline case that might result from the investigation. Second, if the investigation warrants further action, a swift and thorough student discipline process should ensue. Third, the student discipline process should be facilitated by a highly trained . 

Anyone involved in the investigation or adjudication processes should receive ample training in trauma, victimization and stereotypes, Gregory said.

Changes in the way universities report Title IX violations were implemented at MU in the spring.

In April, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe issued Executive Order 40 that requires all UM System employees — excluding those bound by confidentiality such as health care providers, counselors and lawyers — to report all known information about sexual harassment or assault of a student to the Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator position, currently held by Linda Bennett, was made a full-time job in June.

Two ESPN's "Outside The Lines" episodes focusing on MU's failure to report sexual assault — the recent piece on Washington and the January report on Sasha Menu Courey, a former Missouri swimmer who committed suicide after being sexually assaulted by one or more football players — both alluded to MU's cultural problem related to Title IX compliance.

When Morse was asked about ESPN's portrayal of his team and university, the offensive tackle's face sank. It was difficult for him to talk about Washington's association with Missouri football.

"I heard about it, and it was a little upsetting," Morse said. "Nothing we can do about it. The only thing we can focus on is playing our best football out there. I watched a little bit of it — turned it off."

Supervising editor is Erik Hall

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Michael Grinfeld August 26, 2014 | 1:15 p.m.

Hmmm…there are other things you can focus on when you're in college other than football, like learning. Just a suggestion that may improve Mr. Morse's experience.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether Mike Alden and Gary Pinkel's recruitment policies overemphasize football prowess at the expense of carefully evaluating intellectual and emotional readiness for higher education. No one seems to want to discuss that more specific, performance-related issue. Perhaps, they're the ones who really need the counseling, retraining or discipline. Just something to think about. (And at least ESPN is supervising them.)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 26, 2014 | 7:24 p.m.

@ Michael Grinfeld:

You seem to have good ideas but you are trying to apply them to the wrong UM System campus.

Only two of the four UM System campuses have football programs; the other one has NEVER in a long history allowed football to be taken seriously, and has compiled a sad win-loss record to prove it. Does that bother us? No.

We do have a bad habit of obsessing over such minor matters as teaching and research. We think that's why we're in business.

You (plural) are invited to make the 95 mile (one way) drive to our campus to view our magnificant football stadium, which puts those 100,000+ seat stadiums at Ann Arbor, Michigan and Knoxville, Tennessee to shame. Autumn is a good season to make the scenic drive but then so is spring, when the wild dogwood trees are in bloom.

(Report Comment)

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