There’s nothing quite like a fall Saturday in Ann Arbor. From the stream of maize and blue rolling down State Street onto Stadium, to the tailgates, to the team, the team, the team, football game days are largely seen as part of the quintessential Michigan experience.
But other game day traditions are familiar to many students as well: traveling to the game in packs, keeping an eye out for friends at tailgates, getting sick from drinking too much and even hospital visits.
According to a working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in December, another trend might also now be a part of the latter list: it shows research that links higher reports of rape on university campuses to Division I football game days across the country. Game days and tailgates, the report suggests, are an opportunity for increased partying and alcohol consumption, and that opportunity can be correlated to a rise in “daily reports of rape (to law enforcement) with 17-24 year old victims by 28 percent.”
Study co-author Isaac Swensen, a professor at Montana State University, said in an interview that the results corresponded with data he and other co-authors previously collected.
“We’re certainly aware of all the evidence characterizing the partying on college campuses,” he said. “(Division I football games) provide an interesting opportunity to learn about the underlying causal effects of such activities.”
It’s no secret that partying, even heavy partying, occurs on game days nationwide, but the study goes a step further in estimating that “football games, both home and away, cause 253 to 770 additional rapes per year across the 128 schools competing in Division 1A football.” It also notes a spike in other alcohol-related crimes in addition to sexual assault, like DUIs, MIPs and public order offenses like disorderly conduct, when the home team wins an upset or has an exciting game.
Swensen noted that the official reports of rape the study is based on are often lower than the actual number of sexual assaults — the Department of Justice found in 2014 that only 20 percent of rapes are reported to the police. At the University of Michigan, only 3.6 percent of students who experience a nonconsensual sexual experience told an official.
Discrepancies also exist between the official statistics on rape the Department of Public Safety and Security, for example, reports in its annual security report, and the 172 incidents of sexual misconduct fielded this year by the Office of Institutional Equity. This is due to the fact that some instances classified as sexual misconduct in the OIE report fall outside the specific federal guidelines for sexual assault outlined by the Clery Act.
“(A) main interpretational challenge stems from the fact that we only observe reports of rape, and reports severely understate true incident rates,” the NBER report notes in discussing its results.
No hard data exists proving the study’s findings are true at the University. And because many game day activities take place off campus, it would be difficult for the University to strictly monitor spaces outside of the Big House. Research cited by LSA senior Kendal Rosalik, SAPAC co- coordinator, does note that consumption raises the a person’s likelihood of perpetrating sexual misconduct.
“From our campus climate survey, we know alcohol is one of the primary contributors to incidents of sexual misconduct,” University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an e-mail to The Michigan Daily. “We also know that alcohol is an issue at most collegiate football games, including Michigan, and we have many efforts in place to address this including a comprehensive, evidence-based approach on any high-risk day.”
In response to the results, Rosalik said she thought increased rates of alcohol consumption aren’t necessarily unique to game days.
“There are a lot of high-risk events, communities and behaviors that aren’t necessarily specific to college game day,” she said. “I think you would see the same thing around Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day (and) Welcome Week.”
Several other students agreed with Rosalik and said they questioned the study’s validity in the context of game day on the University’s campus.
LSA freshman Aishu Chandrakanthan said she actually feels safer partying before or after games, as drinking often takes place in more open and well-lit settings. She views the day as more of a family affair, and one that often revolves around the actual football game.
“I’ve experienced discomfort, but more at bars compared to game days,” she said. “At game days, there’s parents there, and I feel like police and security is always around. And during nighttime parties, a guy can end up taking a girl home, but on game days, they’ll most likely end up going to the game.”
LSA senior Marlee Beckering, former president of the Delta Gamma sorority, agreed, pointing out the extra precaution her sorority sisters take on game days.
“People travel in packs, it’s daylight, they watch out for each other and they’re really accountable for where their friends and other students are,” she said. “In my experience, game days are a time people are watching out for each other a lot more. Although Greek tailgates are a lot busier, they’re also very monitored. The police will show up, or fraternities will hire private security.”
Much of the scrutiny concerning game days does fall on Greek life, Beckering said, as fraternity houses are typically the traditional and well-known hosts of larger tailgates and parties. The University’s campus climate survey found members of Greek life were 2.5 times more likely than their non-Greek peers to experience nonconsensual penetration.
Partially in response to these statistics, University President Mark Schlissel rolled out an initiative to reform the party culture associated with Greek life earlier this academic year, mandating educational programs and increased dialogue with administration. All affiliated organizations were also required to send a member to SAPAC’s bystander intervention training program.
However, Beckering also noted the importance of recognizing Greek life as only a portion of the solution.
“Greek life is the epicenter of drinking and a lot of socializing and stereotypes, which I think we’re slowly breaking down,” she said. “When those things happen, it’s hard because they’re immediately attributed back to a certain culture or group.”
What many students and researchers alike do seem to agree on is the centrality of alcohol to sporting events in general, and the risks associated with it.
Katherine Redmond Brown, the president of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, said she thought the relationship between alcohol and sports was at the heart of the fight to prevent sexual assault.
“Football and alcohol and partying are all intertwined together,” she said. “You look anywhere, at the advertisements or to college coaches on radio talk shows, and it’s sponsored by alcohol.”
On the University’s campus, administrators and students alike are making efforts to turn the tide, though. With the “I Will” campaign — aimed at increasing awareness of sexual assault on campus — and two campus climate surveys seeking data on sexual assault, the University has pushed for increased awareness on campus in past years. It’s also begun a process to revise its sexual misconduct policy. SAPAC has been a major part of the initiative as well, as it continues to lead Relationship Remix workshops for all freshman in residence halls, which include facts on safe sex and definitions of consent. This has all occurred amid an investigation started in 2014 by the Department of Education into how the University handles sexual assault, one of multiple investigations occurring nationwide.
In their annual report, OIE cited increased awareness of the sexual misconduct policy and educational efforts on campus as an explanation for a 33 percent spike in sexual misconduct reports this year.
Rosalik said she would place the University at the national forefront of college campuses improving awareness, but there is still more work to be done. She recounted positive encouragement from students while tabling a SAPAC informational booth on what happened to also be a game day.
“People were yelling like, ‘Oh my gosh I love consent!’ and they were excited, and it was a game day,” she said. “There’s definitely awareness that this is an important issue. At the same time, 89 percent of first-year students went through Relationship Remix this year which is super cool, but there’s no next step to that, or a way to build off of that. Our University is one of the schools doing the most in this work … but that doesn’t mean we don’t have more to do.”
Football games may not be an isolable, or easily controllable, contributor to sexual assault, but Chandrakanthan agreed that she was still surprised by the party culture, both on and off game days.
“I didn’t expect it to be so intense, or that guys would be so handsy,” she said. “I’ve seen guys get very aggressive or try and use their influence from other organizations on campus. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article referd to Kendal Rosalik as a SAPAC coordinator. She is the co-coordinator. This article was also edited to clarify research cited by Rosalik.