BY: ABBY LANTZ
Softball player and UNC junior Kati Causey knows that as an athlete, she stands out. Whether they’re wearing Nike gear on campus or being featured in the media, Carolina’s athletes are a visible presence in the UNC community. Causey, a founding member of UNC SWAG (Something We Athletes Got), a student-athlete run group that promotes healthy lifestyles through peer education, uses her visibility to raise awareness about sexual assault and violence.
SWAG focuses on reaching out to other athletes as friends and teammates, to reduce the chances of athletes being either victims or perpetrators of sexual assault. “If we can inform the freshmen and prevent some mistakes, then we have made an impact,” Causey said.
The University is facing federal investigations over its handling of sexual assault cases, including the high-profile case of Landon Gambill, who, along with Former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning, a primary contact for sexual assault survivors, and five other UNC students filed a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in January. The Department of Athletics and student leaders in the athletic community have responded to the ongoing conversation about sexual assault culture at UNC by initiating and continuing programs within their own ranks that address and prevent sexual assault.
The Department of Athletics brought Katie Koestner, founder of “Take Back the Night” and sexual assault survivor, to speak to the men’s lacrosse and football teams, the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), and any member of the UNC athletic community that wished to attend last spring. Speakers Dr. Linda Hancock and Gina Maisto Smith, a consultant hired by the University to address sexual misconduct, both spoke with groups of student athletes to facilitate a discussion on the causes and prevention of sexual assault and substance abuse. This year, the Department of Athletics has implemented reporting guidelines regarding information about safety and security that will improve their handling of reported situations, and brought in a representative of the Office of the University Council to speak to individual teams generally about campus policies on sexual harassment and discrimination at the beginning of the semester.
Student athlete leadership groups have been particularly active in initiating programs to prevent sexual assault and violence. Kelli Raker, a developer of the One Act bystander intervention trainings that are intended to prevent interpersonal violence, met with SAAC representatives Sept. 18 to lead the athletes in One Act skills training. Junior men’s lacrosse player and SAAC representative Joseph Costigan said the training helped him to understand how big of a problem sexual assault is. “Informing people what [actions] are right or wrong really eliminates any gray areas,” said Costigan. The training was the first held specifically for athletes, but Raker noted that athletes have attended trainings before.
Junior women’s lacrosse player Lindsay Scott is working with eight other student-athletes to launch “What Happened Last Night,” an awareness campaign that hopes to lower the number of sexual assaults on campus by focusing on younger athletes and monitoring the spikes in sexual violence and substance abuse that occur during events like LDOC (“Last Day of Classes”), large sporting events, and holidays like Halloween and New Year’s Eve. The project, part of a larger leadership training where student-athletes initiate a project together, hopes to improve the campus environment and “help students look out for each other and make smart decisions in bad situations.”
“I know that when I heard all of this information at orientation coming into school I didn’t listen, thinking ‘this will never happen to me,’” Scott said. “But in reality it can happen to anyone.”
This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s Fall 2013 issue. For more content check out Campus BluePrint in print, available on campus and online!