ST. PAUL, Minn. — University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler says his school needs to do a better job of training its student-athletes on sexual assault and harassment issues because something isn’t getting through.
In an interview published Saturday in the St. Paul Pioneer Press in the wake of the football team’s sexual assault scandal, Kaler said student-athletes are already getting strong guidance on dealing with those issues.
“I think clearly we need to do both more and different (training), because our student-athletes get an exceptional amount of training around sexual assault and harassment issues, and yet we didn’t seem to make the point,” Kaler said.
All University of Minnesota students go through sexual assault-awareness education after enrolling that includes an online assessment and interactive presentations. The school’s roughly 750 student-athletes are also exposed to additional training and education conducted internally and through visiting presenters every year. All programs include a bystander education and intervention program developed by assistant athletics director Peyton Owens III.
Players threatened last month to boycott the Holiday Bowl after expressing reservations about the university’s internal investigation that led to the suspensions of 10 players over an alleged sexual assault in an apartment near campus. Some suspended players were accused of pressuring a woman into sex during a party after the team’s season-opening win over Oregon State. Prosecutors twice declined to file charges, but the school’s investigation found that the 10 players violated its conduct code and could face punishments up to and including expulsion. The appeals process is still pending.
Athletic director Mark Coyle fired head coach Tracy Claeys amid the fallout from the boycott. Claeys had publicly backed the players’ stand, putting him at odds with Kaler and Coyle.
Sexual harassment training for student-athletes was bolstered in the wake of a 2015 letter by Kim Hewitt, then-director of the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, to the athletics department on what Hewitt called a potential pattern of inappropriate behavior toward women among football players.
“I know they responded to it with some additional training, but if these findings are reinforced during the appeals process, then we didn’t have sufficient training or we didn’t have sufficient oversight,” Kaler said.