NCAA members are now better equipped as campus partners to influence change in an issue facing college campuses nationwide: sexual assault and interpersonal violence.
Today, the NCAA issued to its members a new handbook that illustrates the responsibility athletics departments have in collaborating with other campus leaders to fight sexual assault and interpersonal violence. Titled “Addressing Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence: Athletics’ Role in Support of Healthy and Safe Campuses,” the handbook was created to assist athletics departments in being valued campus partners in an effort to change the culture surrounding this issue.
In a letter addressed to athletics administrators, NCAA President Mark Emmert called on athletics departments to play a key role in campuswide efforts to fight sexual and interpersonal violence, which includes sexual battery, sexual coercion, stalking and gender-based harassment. “It is imperative that all athletics department staff and all student-athletes understand the issues and how to respond as bystanders, find help and work with campus authorities,” Emmert wrote.
The groundwork for the handbook was laid in 2010, when the Association identified the prevention of interpersonal violence as a major initiative and appointed the NCAA’s Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct to lead it. Since then, the committee has been involved in sponsoring a variety of NCAA events, including a Summit on Violence in 2011, a national Violence Prevention Think Tank in Washington, D.C., in 2012, and a panel discussion at the NCAA National Convention in 2012 and 2014. The following year, the committee recommended the creation of a handbook for member schools. With the assistance of the NCAA office of inclusion, the NCAA Sport Science Institute and other experts in the field, the writing began.
Lead author Debbie Wilson, the associate athletics director for academic services and a sports psychologist at George Mason University, explained that intercollegiate athletics has a unique platform that provides greater visibility and a louder voice on campus. Student-athletes are often some of the biggest leaders on campus – and with more than 460,000 of them nationwide, they can have widespread impact.
“Many of our students and student-athletes are coming to campus with a history of exposure to sexual assault and interpersonal violence, even if they weren’t victims themselves,” said Wilson, a former chair of the Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct. Citing that approximately 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college, she added: “The cost to our students and student-athletes on our campuses and in society is tremendous, and it’s unacceptable.”
The handbook notes that addressing sexual assault and interpersonal violence requires a campuswide effort. It identifies strategies for athletics departments to advance collaboration on campus, including partnering with campus experts to offer bystander training to student-athletes and working with the human resources department to train new staff on the issue. Some universities already have established an effective process for prevention and response, and for those, the handbook will be validating, Wilson said. For other universities, the handbook will serve as a guide to achieve compliance through campus teamwork.
It’s now up to each school to make the most of the resource, said Chuck Mitrano, the commissioner of the Empire 8 Athletic Conference.
“The contributors of this handbook have done the hard work of providing a road map to address the issue on campus,” Mitrano said. “However, it will require institutions to be consistent and proactive. With an issue of this nature, we simply cannot put forth minimum effort. Our membership has a responsibility to help change the culture.”