It was only a matter of time until somebody wrote a piece like this, and while I endorse a good portion of the sentiment in this column by The Nation's Steven Hsieh, I think we need to talk about a few things here.
Less than one month ago, Outside the Lines, the same program that brought this week’s historic interview, revealed how Mizzou failed one of its students, Sasha Menu Courey.
It didn't "reveal" it; it asserted it. Mizzou disagreed and shared a whole hell of a lot of information to back its case.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Menu Courey was a former Missouri swimmer who reported that she had been raped in 2010 by a member of the school’s football team. (According to a friend who was on the team, several players were involved in the alleged assault.) The next year, after spiraling into depression, she committed suicide.
The OTL investigation revealed Mizzou administrators failed to take appropriate action to investigate the alleged rape, despite finding out about the incident more than a year ago.
We can debate whether Mizzou was too passive here -- I've gone back and forth on this, and I obviously also don't know the method and frequency of the communication -- but the intent was clear: Get permission from the parents, then investigate. Her parents "lost faith" in Mizzou at some point, and I'd love to find out more about exactly why, but per Mizzou's official statements, the parents never responded to their requests, so they didn't investigate.
According to OTL, Menu Courey told at least six campus medical officials and one athletics administrator about the alleged rape. After her suicide, additional school administrators were made aware of the claims by a 2012 newspaper article, as well as online chat transcripts that came to light after records requests by her parents and OTL.
Unless I'm misunderstanding the law, the six campus medical officials were, by my understanding, not allowed to pass along that information without her consent. And as far as I am aware, she did not give consent. This continues to be a key piece of the "Mizzou failed Menu Courey!!" narrative, and it is very, very frustrating. And the "athletics administrator" disputes being told. And hey, maybe she's lying about not being told, but we don't know that.
The report adds:
Under Title IX law enforced by the US Department of Education, once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what happened. The law applies even after the death of an alleged victim.
The school explained its own interpretation and gave evidence to prove why it thought it was correct. ESPN found an official to say "Nuh uh," but I'd like more discussion on this piece before simply deciding Mizzou failed in its Title IX responsibilities. And if Mizzou didn't fail in its Title IX responsibilities, then it's hard to figure out what the university did wrong here.
Mizzou initially took a defensive stance, claiming "it did everything possible" for Menu Courey, and that it declined to open an investigation upon learning of the rape allegations because her parents did not ask for one.
But just days later, the Columbia Police Department opened an investigation of Menu Courey’s rape allegations with the cooperation of university officials.
Because the OTL report showed that the parents wanted an investigation.
University system president Thomas Wolfe sent a letter to chancellors asking for an independent review of Mizzou’s handling of the case.
Tim Wolfe, but yes, this was the correct move in every possible way. No problems with it.
So, Mizzou didn’t respond to a rape allegation until it absolutely had to.
Unfortunately, this irresponsible lack of urgency is typical of too many universities' responses to rape.
Consider this: it took Mizzou's Athletic Director Alden just a little over an hour to make a statement responding to Michael Sam’s big announcement. Compare that to the response to OTL's investigation of Menu Courey's case—Alden remained mum for over a week before finally apologizing and saying the school would look at the case with a "very critical eye."
I would have been all for Mike Alden responding to the Menu Courey case earlier, but he wouldn't have said a single thing that the comprehensive responses from Chad Moller and MUtigers.com did not. And when Tim Wolfe, Alden's higher-up, also got involved, there wasn't a single thing for Alden to say. He could have said something, sure, but I've never been the type to need to hear something from a figurehead. I was completely and totally satisfied with Mizzou's series of responses, and Alden didn't need to be a part of that at all. And if this is the thing Mizzou screwed up the most, I'll take that.
Mizzou’s bungled handling of the rape allegation before OTL aired its story, and Alden’s delayed response after...
...is another stark reminder of how rape culture plagues college campuses across the country. Mizzou itself has seen at least two other athletes accused of sexual assault in the last three years alone.
In one case, a player was kicked off the team before being convicted. In the other, the player was removed from the team and school without even being officially charged. That rates Missouri quite high on the "Proactive" scale. I hate that two players that I root(ed) for were involved in such things, and I hate that up to three more may have been involved in the alleged Menu Courey assault, but the action Missouri and its athletic department took in the first two cases was pretty assertive, whether it gets credit for that or not.
In an opinion piece for the Columbia Missourian, Mizzou grad student Stephanie Ebbs writes:
The rape culture will not go away just because people stop talking about it. Menu Courey was not the first to accuse MU athletes of sexual assault, nor will she be the last. This was not the first time allegations of sexual assault have been mishandled, nor will it be the last.
I agree wholeheartedly to the first sentence. I sadly agree to the second sentence. And I ignore the third sentence.
So as we celebrate Michael Sam's courage, let's not forget Sasha Menu Courey.
Sexual assault is devastating and subhuman, and I don't want to be in some way enabling it just because I enjoy (and base my career on) sports. And mental illness is one of the most difficult, pressing topics involving not only college-age students, but everybody in the world. Its impact affects all of us in one way or another. These are vital topics when it comes to the health of the culture as a whole.
There are a lot of difficult discussions we need to have -- "we" being this university, all universities, writers, politicians, the country as a whole, etc. -- about "rape culture" (man oh man, do I hate that term, even though I can't come up with a better one). Mizzou has, for reasons correct and frustratingly incorrect (or at least loose with facts and narratives), had the spotlight shined on it in this regard. This gives our university a chance to address the cultural issue, take initiative, take part in the conversation, etc.
But I really, really hate that there's apparently nothing the university can do to change the "BUNGLED! IRRESPONSIBLE! THEY FAILED SASHA MENU COUREY!" narrative. It is set in stone. No matter how many legitimate issues Mizzou can raise with the original Outside the Lines reporting -- and wow, were there a lot of issues -- it doesn't matter. Mizzou failed Sasha Menu Courey, enabled rape culture, and "didn’t respond to a rape allegation until it absolutely had to."
As I wrote previously, I almost want to find a specific mistake(s) Mizzou made here so it can be addressed and never happen again. Point it out to me. Please. Maybe the independent investigation will turn some things up. Maybe the university really was too passive in contacting her parents. Maybe Mizzou really is interpreting its Title IX responsibilities incorrectly. Maybe somebody who could have passed assault information along without Menu Courey's consent didn't do so. Part of me hopes that's the case.
But don't just reference an incredibly flawed piece of journalism as the indisputable account of the situation at hand, then fold everything around a flawed narrative. You're going to have to do better than that.