Indiana's sexual violence policy isn't necessarily groundbreaking, but it's a good step
Indiana University announced that it will refuse student-athlete applicants with a history of sexual violence, a major step for a Division I school, even if it isn't necessarily groundbreaking.
According to the school's statement, any prospective student, including incoming freshmen and transfers, "who has been convicted of or pled guilty or no contest to a felony involving sexual violence ... or has been found responsible for sexual violence by a formal institutional disciplinary action at any previous collegiate or secondary school" will be ineligible for an athletic scholarship and cannot practice at or compete for the school.
It's certainly encouraging that Indiana is taking it upon itself to institute such a change, especially after a "climate survey" conducted in 2014 found that 17 percent of undergraduate women participants and 2 percent of undergraduate men on the Bloomington campus said they experienced "attempted or completed nonconsensual sexual penetration" in their college years. Indiana has also experienced highly publicized departures of staff accused of sexual assault, including Jason A. Casares, director of student ethics and deputy Title IX coordinator, and Guo Ping Wang, a lecturer at the Jacobs School of Music.
It's important to note that the Hoosiers' new policy, while certainly a step in the right direction, is limited by its requirement of a felony conviction or guilty or no-contest plea. The majority of alleged victims don't even report an assault, especially when it involves someone they know (which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, happens about 47 percent of the time), and those who do very rarely see justice in the courts. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, just 7 percent of rape cases result in a felony conviction.
Still, that a school is even willing to take this kind of action without an order from above reflects a slow, yet steady, shift in our culture toward finding violent behavior unacceptable, even among talented individuals. Ahead of next week's NFL draft, a recent HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll found that 87 percent of NFL fans don't want their team drafting a player with a history of violence against women.
Take those numbers with a grain of salt, given the sample size is just 1,062 respondents. But it's a significant shift from recent years, in which too many sports fans insisted on looking the other way when it came to their favorite players' off-the-field indiscretions. If it didn't affect a player's performance, some fans didn't want to hear about it. Many just want their team to win, and are willing to overlook players' past indiscretions -- that is, as long as they don't directly sacrifice the "integrity" of the game. According to the poll, 75 percent of football fans nationally are wary of drafting a player with a history of using performance-enhancing drugs.
IU may very well be acting in its own self-interest in instituting its new policy. Perhaps the university realizes that talented players with a violent history aren't worth the trouble -- putting aside considerations of fans and media. From the college level to the pros, we've seen instances when second chances backfired; Sam Ukwuachu and Greg Hardy come to mind.
In 2015, the Southeastern Conference implemented a similar ban to its member schools, prohibiting the signing of transfers and recruits who have been subject to sexual assault or domestic violence discipline at other schools. IU, which belongs to the Big Ten, doesn't come under a similar directive from its conference. The hope is that the university's initiative will spread.
Regardless of motive, any time an organization draws a line in the sand when it comes to sexual violence is cause for optimism. On Thursday, I criticized Baylor's newly hired president -- the first woman to lead the school -- for refusing to definitively state whether a student found guilty of sexual assault should be expelled from campus. Given the SEC's and the Hoosiers' policy, the NCAA should take note in considering an association-wide directive to its member schools regarding the violent backgrounds of some prospective recruits and transfers. It's a slow march to progress to leave that decision up to individual schools and programs.
Let's at least celebrate IU's new policy for what it is: a step forward in a culture that encourages stagnation.