In 2015, the documentary “The Hunting Ground” brought to light an ongoing debate taking place on college campuses: a tug of war between the ethics and finances that colleges across America play in order to walk the line between punishing students found responsible for sexual assault and allowing them to be involved in athletics.
When I chose to go to Augsburg, I felt naïvely relieved that I went to a school where things like sexual assault were met with appropriate pentalization and severity. As I should have known, Augsburg is hardly immune to the same culture of sexual violence that ails many of America’s school systems. Augsburg’s sexual misconduct policy states, “Augsburg University strives to maintain a University community free of sexual misconduct and is committed to addressing sexual misconduct.” Although Augsburg responds when confronted with the issue of sexual violence and misconduct among its students, would Augsburg allow those found responsible of sexual misconduct to play in athletics?
One student on the Men’s Hockey team pled guilty to three counts of creating, possessing and distributing child pornography in 2015, prior to enrolling at Augsburg. This student is not only allowed on the team, but he is allowed to play. The student athlete, who was not at Augsburg at the time, was able to settle out of court and did not have to register as a sex offender as part of the settlement according to the “Pioneer Press.” This raises ethical questions that come up in regards to people with criminal histories being allowed by the academic institution to play college sports.
Looking at the MIAC website, there are no concretely implemented policies regarding these specific types of situations. However, the MIAC has taken the pledge with the “It’s On Us” campaign that promotes an environment in which “sexual assault is unacceptable.” Again, this provides no specific language regarding the eligibility of students with past or present charges of sexual assault-related crimes in athletics.
Recently, the Augsburg Day Student Government has put forth a proposal to expel and remove from campus all students found responsible of violating the sexual misconduct policy. Whether this proposal will be implemented is yet to be seen.
Augsburg Athletics does have standards for the student athletes as listed in the Augsburg Student-Athlete Eligibility list provided by Augsburg Athletic Director Jeff Swenson. Athletes must be in good academic standing, enrolled full-time, up-to-date on medical paperwork, and attend the annual NCAA meeting. The NCAA, with a whopping 272-page 2017 Division III manual, has no reference to sexual assault-related charges and the ramifications for athletes. Because of this, the academic institutions become judge, jury and (seldom) executioner for athletes found responsible for sexual misconduct.
This brings up a supreme ethical quandary: does one consider past charges when allowing students to be involved in certain on-campus activities? At what point is a crime considered so beyond the pale that the participation in campus activities is out of the question? Where is the line drawn? Should Augsburg, having a continued commitment to open arms and second chances, allow those with serious prior crimes to be a part of an elite group? Students who wear their team’s jerseys are all out around the world representing one thing: Augsburg.
Another question one may ask is: how is athletics different from other student groups? Augsburg athletes, despite being Division III, still have privileges and clout associated with their status. Whether it’s lavish team trips or meets in other parts of the country, student athletes do have a type of elevated standing. Simply being Division III does not erase that. While any academic institution requires a thriving athletic program, a line must be drawn in terms of ethical conduct.
The fact that there are athletes who have been charged with sexual misconduct and are allowed to play is inexcusable. SMART President Maddie Johnson said, “When a person is involved in athletics at Augsburg, they’re representing the school and our values. Having someone found responsible not only at Augsburg but on an athletic team sends a message that this institution cares more about perpetrators and athletic success than it does the safety and wellbeing of our students.”
This article first appeared in the Friday, February 23, 2018, Edition of The Echo.