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Violence session address underlying cause of problem

By Marta Lawrence

NCAA Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct chair Deborah Wilson at an educational session Thursday said student-athletes who engage in violence may be in the distinct minority, but that violent acts nonetheless have a negative impact on the image of college sports.

And because of that, the athletics community has a responsibility to use its influence to change the campus culture.

Wilson, an associate AD at George Mason, spoke at the Convention session entitled, “Addressing Violence: Cross-Campus Solutions.”

In April 2011, an NCAA summit (“Focus on Prevention and Intervention of Interpersonal Violence”) featured experts who brainstormed ways to resolve an issue that vexes campuses across the country. Thursday’s session picked up where the violence summit left off and featured panelists who addressed the core issues behind violence and strategies for creating a campus environment that is safe for all students.

There are two ways to think about the recent examples of campus violence at Penn State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and others, said Jeff O’Brien, director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention National. “They’re either alarming, or they’re canaries in a coal mine,” he said.

O’Brien said it’s much easier to address incidents of violence when they occur than it is to address the underlying causes. Those causes include the type of language used and the type of media a person consumes, which can have a desensitizing effect, he said.

“We’re missing the point if we’re not going to the source,” he said.

O’Brien recommends that universities consider training for all levels of the institution. A key component of the program should include bystander training aimed at helping student-athletes understand how to do the right thing when faced with acts of violence.

MVP associate director Linda Langford made the point that laws such as the Clery Act and Office for Civil Rights requirements may fool institutions into believing they have met their obligations for preventing violence. She warned, however, that “a legally compliant response is not necessarily a complete and responsible response.”

The institutional environment, said Langford, plays a major role in creating a safe place for the campus community. Although training is important, she argues that it is not the only key to preventing acts of violence.

“Knowledge alone does not alter behavior,” she said.

All the panelists agreed that athletics can take a leadership role in preventing violence, but it takes collaboration among the campus to create impactful prevention programs.

“It has to be a conversation that we all have together,” said Don McPherson, president of Don McPherson Enterprises. McPherson, a former standout quarterback at Syracuse, regularly meets with teams around the country to discuss complex social issues such as sexual assault and violence.

“Change must be campus-wide and involve a variety of services from all levels of the campus,” said Wilson.