Colussi: The student conduct double standard

We all know how important sports are to our university. The athletic department brings in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Our basketball team made it to the Final Four last year, which is a huge accomplishment considering the UO hasn’t made it to the Final Four in 78 years. However, just because sports are a great source of revenue and student pride, doesn’t mean players should get a free pass when it comes to student conduct.

During the 2016-2017 men’s basketball season, the university allowed a player accused of sexual assault to play all 37 games of the season, even though they found out about his assault allegation two days after the fall term had started. Kavell Bigby-Williams, a 6’11” forward from London, was accused of sexual assault at an apartment near Gillette College in Wyoming, but the police at the college eventually dropped the charges and closed the case. Bigby-Williams has since transferred to LSU, with no repercussions. If the UO had followed its own Standard Operating Procedures for Sexual Misconduct, Bigby-Williams could have been suspended without being expelled had UO determined he posed a threat to the community. But they didn’t, most likely because he was an athlete who would help the Ducks make it to the Final Four.

The UO has a history of avoiding allegations of rape and sexual assault when it comes to athletes. In 2014, three men’s basketball players were accused of rape. One was a transfer student who came to Oregon after being suspended due to an allegation of sexual assault at Providence College. The university learned about the rape allegation on March 9; the first game of the Pac-12 tournament was on March 12. Head coach Dana Altman knew about the allegation and let the players to play in the game anyway, after getting approval from the university. The UO didn’t even dismiss the players until May, two months after they were made aware of the gang rape allegation.

In an email sent on September 23, President Schill said, “The new federal Title IX guidelines continue to require schools to address sexual misconduct cases with fair, impartial and timely investigations that are free from conflict of interest or bias.” Getting the men’s basketball team to the Final Four is a pretty big conflict of interest. This is about the value of sports over serious student conduct violations.

Schill has even participated in outright victim blaming. In another email he said, “As a community of scholars, we must look out for each other. This starts with having zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence. It means respecting yourself and not abusing drugs or alcohol.” A common form of victim blaming is arguing that since the person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he or she is at fault instead of the perpetrator. This shows his disregard for the needs of survivors and further invalidates his alleged dedication to solving the sexual assault problem on this campus.

Meanwhile, students that protested Schill’s State of the University address are being targeted with student conduct violations. The right of the people to peaceably assemble is included in the First Amendment. The protesters did just this; there was no violence and nothing was broken. They simply took the stage to protest President Schill’s lack of support of marginalized students, the increasing financial burdens being put on students, the lack of support for staff and student workers, as well as his decision to allow white supremacists and their hate speech on campus.

ASUO President Amy Schenk wrote an opinion piece for the Register Guard, mentioning that The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has said that the UO has an “ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.” She goes on to say that the actions taken against the recent protest demonstrate the university’s attempts to censor student viewpoints when those viewpoints are inconvenient for the administration. All the protestors wanted was to draw attention to the issues that matter to students on campus, and address administrative inaction and outright apathy.

Clearly as long as you play for the men’s basketball team, student conduct violations don’t apply to you. If you criticize President Schill and his administration however, you’ll be prosecuted for having the courage to speak about how this university can be improved.

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Elaina Colussi

Elaina Colussi