Keeping athletes safe

Working to help athletes prevent sexual assault

Trust is a key component which goes into every coach-to-athlete relationship. Trust is the foundation of communication, a vital component that leads to growth, and what every athlete looks to have. But with so many recent scandals involving sexual harassment with athletes, the question is how does Keene State College keep its student athletes safe?

In the recent light of Larry Nassar, who was a gymnast doctor for the USA women’s Olympic team, as well as a coach at Michigan State University, it’s hard to understand why anyone in a position of power would manipulate an athlete. However, this is a scene that still occurs, and without support it can go unreported for years.

Photo Illustration by Colby Dudal / Student Life Editor

Photo Illustration by Colby Dudal / Student Life Editor

In 2014, Keene State College had sexual harassment issues surrounding the Title IX compliance, which prohibits gender discrimination in any of its programs or activities. This policy also covers issues including sexual misconduct and relationship violence, according to the KSC handbook. Due to these issues, KSC has strived to reinforce these policies and make them known to each athlete, student, professor and faculty member.

KSC has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. The zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment entails that an individual will be dismissed from his or her position (of coach, staff, faculty or student) if the college finds out that he or she committed any act of sexual harassment that is unlawful. The individual does not receive warnings or disciplinary action regarding unlawful behavior, does not benefit from a three-strikes rule, and does not have the right to a probationary period.

One instance of sexual harassment could lead to an immediate termination. That policy isn’t always followed, though, and can often be manipulated, as seen in several breaking news stories regarding accusations of sexual assault. This definition can be found on the KSC Title IX page. So how can KSC ensure that each and every student and athlete knows about these policies and the resources they can reach out to in order to seek out help?

Interim President Dr. Melinda Treadwell said KSC has set out to enhance the zero-tolerance policy and zero-tolerance expectation by working on resources to which athletes can go to, as well as building that staff in the Title IX department, which will more thoroughly handle reports.

“Two times a year all the campuses (Keene State College, University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State and Granite State College) come in and talk about reports, the nature of the reports and the actions taken. Our one concern is ‘Are people reporting, do we have a culture?’ and making sure that individuals don’t feel powerless,” Treadwell said. KSC, as well as the Board of Trustees is striving to keep improving the systems set in place to prevent sexual assault, as well as give stability to any athlete or student that needs to reach out.

“The challenging thing with Keene State is a few years ago, we had some serious issues in regard with Title IX compliance. The good news is we did a lot to build systems because of that. We are reinforcing a culture of expectation, zero-tolerance, and if anything happens, you have to tell,”  Treadwell said.

The Sexual Misconduct Policy, which encompasses sexual harassment, sexual violence, and sexual exploitation at KSC, is another policy that strives to cover many situations and provide information in order to help people.

The Sexual Misconduct Policy covers sexual violence, unwanted sexual contact, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intoxication or incapacitation for the purpose of sexual activity, invasion of privacy, voyeurism, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual harassment, relationship violence, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, Incapacitated Sexual Contact, confidentiality and consent, according to the KSC handbook.

Each phrase has a definition, ensuring that full clarity is provided. Contact information regarding how to report such incidents is also provided, giving athletes and students a personal and confidential way to report safely.

In the school year of 2013-2014, the University System of New Hampshire did a press briefing which explained that they were not going to tolerate any unacceptable sexual misconduct, explained Tredwell, which was the start of really trying to make critical changes and fix faults within the college system.

Apart from enforcing each policy, Keene State College works to make sure that each and every figure on campus is aware of the requirements surrounding sexual assault and harassment.

Director of Athletics and Recreation Dr. Kristene Kelly said each KSC employee is required to attend a Title IX training meeting with the Office of Human Resources and department employees also have to do annual training conducted by the Title IX coordinator outlining their role and responsibilities to reduce elements, which may contribute to a hostile or threatening environment.

“Our athletes are made aware of how to report a sexual violence complaint and are trained by the Mentors in Violence Prevention manually,” added Kelly. Every coach and staff member goes through a background check, which helps ensure the students, athletes, and public’s safety said Kelly.

The Department of Athletics has a responsibility to provide a healthy and safe environment for our students to study and perform their craft, added Kelly.

The Student Athlete advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant program (MVP), are working on developing a comprehensive educational program that focuses on sexual violence, which they hope will make athletes feel more support when reporting sexual assault cases, as well as educate coaches and staff.

Ensuring safety for all athletes is vital, especially when connecting student athletes to coach relationships. KSC sophomore and member of the women’s swim and dive team Madison Pechulis said it’s scary to think that a coach that you trust and look up to could act in a way that harms you physically and, even more, mentally. “It’s sad to think about how someone could look like a completely different person in public than they are in private,” Pechulis said.

All KSC athletes have briefings on the Title IX policy, which Pechulis said she is aware of.

Men’s basketball coach Ryan Cain said the Title IX policy is applicable from the equality standpoint and works to ensure the safety of each and every Keene State College Athlete. “We have a lot of resources for our athletes, and our coaches try to create a general awareness, such as making sure that we have dialogue with our players so that they know the expectations and are trying to be a positive influence,” Cain said.

It’s important to send a message and to motivate each player instead of intimidate them, added Cain. “It’s so important to see each player as an individual and teach them. Not every player will learn the same way so it’s our jobs as coaches to teach them what is right and required,” Cain said. Cain added that Keene State College has standards regarding each type of report and will take the necessary steps to ensure the athletes safety. “There’s different protocols for each situation, but the important part is making sure that that athlete’s voice is heard.”

Jeffrey Maher, Coordinator of Title IX and Director of Campus Safety, said that the coaches and Title IX program have a weekly communication. “We have always maintained a close partnership with the coaching staff. The athletics are very relative to our role and entitlement,” Maher added.

Right on the Keene State web page is a reporting link, which allows athletes who aren’t comfortable in confiding in friends or trusted adults to report in a safe way, Maher said. “You can make the report completely anonymously and it will tell you it goes directly to me. So that’s one of the ways that helps make the process easier,” Mahar said.

Mahar also designed a meeting that specifically addresses the Title IX policy with the coaching staff in order to ensure full knowledge of the regulations and standards.

“We ensured that all affiliated staff of the athletic department participated in the in person training or the online training. We make sure each and every member has the knowledge they need in order to support athletes,” Mahar said.

Since the 2014 incident, Keene State College has made it their mission to reinforce correct policies and really make their athletes feel safer. Treadwell especially finds this cause moving.

“This is a really significant issue to me to not have a culture on campus where any victimization or power dynamic that creates a victimization on this campus. I need to know if it’s happening. So, for me, the biggest thing if anything happens please report it so we can act because we don’t tolerate it,” Treadwell said.

KSC is moving towards continuously improving the system and making sure that no athlete feels powerless in the light of sexual assault or harassment.

“Any individual who has a negative experience can go directly to the rest of the team, go to their faculty advisors, or anybody here at the college – they don’t have to go to campus safety, they don’t have to go to anyone particular, just anyone they feel safe towards,” Treadwell said.

In order to help each athlete it is vital that we provide safe ways and policies that can help athletes reach out. Education builds our athletes power, and the power to report can save lives.

Caroline Perry can be contacted at cperry@kscequinox.com

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