The University of Minnesota—Twin Cities' decision to suspend 10 players and consider an additional five for expulsion in connection with a campus sexual assault on September 2, 2016, is garnering attention for all the right reasons. While many campuses have handled the issue of sexual assault poorly, U of M decided to go the other way in hopes that bringing attention to real consequences will show solidarity with survivors and set a precedent for future instances of campus assault. One major difference between this case and past campus assault trials is the fact that while there were no criminal charges against the players and one recruiter who was involved, the school decided to take action. According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, in a trial held on November 1, 2016, the Hennepin County attorney’s office chose not to charge any of the players. However, in December 2016, it announced that its lawyers would revisit the investigation. Later, County Attorney Mike Freeman released a statement that denounced the players' "deplorable behavior" and concluded that U of M's investigation offered "no new significant evidence" that would lead to criminal charges. However, Teen Vogue reports that the "University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) concluded in an extensive 82-page report that the alleged victim’s account was much more credible than that of the players’ and recommended that 10 university football players be disciplined for their respective roles in the assault."
Despite the police investigations, the University of Minnesota decided to move forward with its decision to suspend the players involved, even though the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that "players promised to 'boycott all football activities,' including the December 27 Holiday Bowl." In addition to the consequences the players faced, U of M also fired coach Tracy Claeys and much of his staff after a tweet he posted seemed to condone the players' behavior.
"This decision is about the future of Minnesota football," U of M athletics director Mark Coyle said in a statement. “Moving forward, we need a leader who sets high expectations athletically, academically, and socially.” The case shows that while many instances of campus assault often end up as alarming statistics, many institutions are working to change that. Though critics of the university believe that such strong actions are unwarranted without criminal charges, many see the decision to suspend and expel those involved as an indication that in this case, at least, sexual assault charges are to be taken just as seriously as college sports.
"Our department will never lose sight of our responsibility to uphold the university’s values and to provide a great experience for all university students," Coyle said.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).