I guess I was just too naive. The godlike college sports culture that has infected campuses like Penn State, my beloved UCONN and others... That couldn't happen at Boston University.
BU still plays basketball in a venue that looks like a high school gym. Making the NCAA tournament for almost all athletes there means missing a few critical days of classes. Even the decentralized composure of the BU campus-- elongated down elegant Commonwealth Avenue-- it just doesn't lend itself to campus pep rallies.
But I can't hide behind my ignorance anymore. The influence of college athletics is evident at Boston University. And this school year, the influence is rearing its head publicly. Two Boston University hockey players have been arrested in recent months for alleged sexual assault charges against female students.
In response to the most recent arrest, which happened last weekend, Boston University President Bob Brown has established a task force to investigate whether the hockey team has created a culture that supports activity unbecoming the university, including violence against women. It's noble that President Brown took this action even ahead of resolution of the charges against each player--at this point they are still alleged to have assaulted female students. However, President Brown's action does not go nearly far enough.
I work in the PR business, and when I hear "task force," I translate that to mean an institution trying to sweep something under a rug. According to a letter from President Brown, the task force will render judgement this summer. This summer? It's a brilliant PR move, so that next summer the task force can issue a slap on the wrist. The players allegedly involved in the recent incidents will be long gone from campus; chances are the women involved will be, too. Ironically enough, I provide this perspective based on practices taught to me while I was a student at BU.
Even more disturbing than the pathetic task force are comments from BU's hockey coach, Jack Parker, in response to Brown's actions. My jaw pretty much hit the floor when I read this portion of a recent Boston Globe story:
“You can’t change the culture that’s evolved here; we’re not going to be able to step into people’s lives and change them drastically,’’ he said, referring to heavy drinking, casual sexual encounters, and co-ed dormitories.
What "culture" exactly is Parker referring to? If it's the culture created by his hockey team then isn't there a clear way for the University-- and he more specifically-- to step in and change their lives?
To President Brown and Coach Parker, it's crunch time. The veneer over college athletics has been pulled back. Penn State made sure of that. As was the case in College Park, we are dealing not merely with a culture created by college athletics that supports illegal activity; we are dealing with alleged crimes supported by that culture that are beyond horrific. The mere allegations should prompt a swift and decisive response from the university.
President Brown, I call on you to immediately take the following actions:
1) Enact the recommendations made by BU's Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism, according to the Boston Globe, and hire someone who can provide counseling to the alleged victims. Provide immediate, mandatory training to all athletes regarding potential sexual activities that are not acceptable within the BU community.
2) Impose a zero-tolerance policy on all BU athletes regarding their conduct. Extend rules of conduct to involve multiple areas of their lives-- drinking, social activity, even dress code. It is a privilege for these students to wear the uniform, and no doubt the vast majority of the athletes know this. Enforcing the rules related to that privilege-- and creating rules that do not exist-- merely supports the good standing of the vast majority of the athletes. If athletes break the rules, they will be immediately suspended from their respective teams.
3) Lean on experts in the areas of violence toward women, and accept and implement any and all recommendations from them so that BU can create a culture where women feel comfortable talking about situations where they are threatened or are victims. I am not an expert on the topic, but I fear there are many other women who have been victims that don't have the extraordinary courage necessary to come forward.
Above all, I don't want to hear anything more about a task force.
Even today, many years after leaving campus, I often gather with fellow alumni and we pontificate about how former President John Silber would have reacted to certain events on campus. If he were President today, BU's college hockey season would be over.
Editor's Note: Pull-out quote from: "BU to Investigate Hockey Culture," by Mary Carmichael; Boston Globe (online version), February 24, 2012.