University of Minnesota officials say they’re exploring new ways to train Gophers athletes about the rules on sexual misconduct, admitting that previous efforts haven’t been very effective.
Athletic director Mark Coyle told the Board of Regents on Friday that at least eight formal presentations on sexual assault and related misconduct have been held for Gophers athletes since fall 2015. That includes one that was tailored for the football team in June 2016, three months before a female student accused multiple Gophers football players of sexually assaulting her at a Sept. 2 party.
“I’m amazed at how much education and training there already had been,” said Regent Linda Cohen. “Despite all that, it wasn’t really effective.”
The September incident set off months of turmoil at the university, including protests supporting and condemning the accused students. Although no one was charged with a crime, the university temporarily suspended 10 players from the football team and is moving ahead with plans to expel or suspend six of them from school.
Coyle acknowledged that, despite repeated training about sexual misconduct, the message wasn’t always getting through. “We want to collectively embrace this experience and use it as a defining moment,” he told the board.
He noted that many students were in the dark about what could happen if someone filed a complaint against them. “We’ve learned that they don’t understand the process,” he said.
He said his department was re-examining the training, which in the past has included large-scale presentations by experts, to find ways to encourage more give-and-take with the students. “We need to provide them a chance to ask questions,” he said.
Several regents asked for assurances that any new training would actually influence student behavior. “I want to make absolutely certain this doesn’t make its way to a ‘check the box’ experience,” said Regent Darrin Rosha.
Regent Laura Brod said she looked at the long list of previous training programs and wondered, “Were they listening?” The question with any new training, she said, is “How do we monitor them? How do we hold them accountable?”
Dean Johnson, chairman of the board, praised Coyle for creating a “new culture and environment” for student athletes.
“I don’t have to tell you it’s been a tough, tough six to eight months,” said Johnson. “But I do think we’re moving in a better and healthier direction.”
The university also is in the process of re-examining its sexual misconduct policy, according to President Eric Kaler. He said he appointed an ad hoc committee in December to examine the policy and recommend possible changes. “There’s obviously room for improvement in almost everything we do,” Kaler said.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384