Michigan’s athletic department became a central part of a panel about sexual assault prevention Friday morning, with Athletic Director Warde Manuel and softball coach Carol Hutchins each speaking on the subject as part of a broader summit at the North Campus Research Center.
The second annual summit presented a theme of “inform, empower, prevent,” starting with opening remarks from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his family. Snyder’s daughter, Kelsey, led the event before introducing her parents, who then began the panel.
Manuel said the athletic department has already undergone efforts to educate student-athletes about sexual assault, and he reported that early results of the athletes’ understanding of the University’s sexual assault policies were positive.
“It’s really important for all of us to educate and to understand, to train in bystander training, that this is not just an issue that we walk away from — that message that if you see something, say something, stop something,” Manuel said.
He referred to his position as the father of a 22-year-old medical student at the University who wants to make sure his daughter is protected by those in the administration.
“First of all, I think you should understand, this starts at the top of Michigan as an organization, from our regents to our presidents to our executive officers, and then in our department it starts with me,” Manuel said. “It starts with my leadership team, with our coaches, all the way down to our staff and our student-athletes to be educated every year.”
He also credited Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper, Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones and Anthony Walesby, the University’s Title IX coordinator.
Manuel also said he appreciates support from his coaches at Michigan, including Hutchins, who has led the softball program since 1985.
“I think being a person that students can trust is immensely important because they have to have the ability to open up the conversation to somebody,” Hutchins said. “And in our small world, in my small world, we make this a point of priority, as we do many of the social issues.”
The rest of the panel consisted of Eastern Michigan football coach Chris Creighton, West Bloomfield High School football coach Ron Bellamy and the NCAA’s Mary Wilfert.
The moderator was Heather Lyke, Eastern Michigan’s athletic director and one of the many players Hutchins has mentored over the years. Lyke played for Hutchins from 1989 to 1992 and spoke fondly of those memories.
“All of us consider ourselves educators first and foremost, and I do not just educate how to hit a ball and throw a ball, and I’m sure Chris doesn’t educate just how to run the fullback up the middle,” Hutchins said. “We are educating these young people in every aspect of their lives.”
The governor’s family continued the summit this year as part of an ongoing effort to improve in the area of sexual assault prevention. Last November, the governor’s office announced a new grant program that would award $500,000 to Michigan colleges and universities to educate students. Since then, Sue Snyder has visited some of those colleges to see how they have used the money and was pleased with the increased awareness.
“It’s actually interesting to see numbers go up — it’s terrible to see them go up, but most likely it’s because of reporting that wasn’t reported before, so you have to sort of understand and take that into account,” Gov. Snyder said. “But the goal is to reduce it over time. Obviously, you can see it increase as you get awareness, but then hopefully prevention starts kicking in to see that number go down.”
Several schools have undergone similar educational efforts as the issue remains a frequently debated topic. The most recent controversy involving athletics transpired over the past year at Baylor, where the administration mishandled and covered up allegations of sexual assault against some of its football players.
The scandal forced athletic director Ian McCaw to resign and also ousted football coach Art Briles and president and chancellor Ken Starr. Manuel brought up the Baylor incident as an example during Friday’s panel.
“It was the response to the issues that caused the major issues for the university, all the way to the top,” Manuel said. “How are these things handled?
“I am not — none of my coaches, none of my staff — are campus experts on sexual misconduct and issues. When you first realize that, then you turn to the experts on campus to handle and really take us, the university, the people involved, through the process.”
That effort goes back to the responsibility of Manuel and others such as Harper and Jones.
“It is one of those things where we just have to realize that we are not investigators, we are not solvers of the problem, that this needs to be handled by the experts in student life, by the police if they need to be involved, by other people who are experts in how to handle this,” Manuel said.
Hutchins specifically spoke about how she educates her players on the subject. She has talked in the past about conversations she has had with players about social issues — for example, Title IX, which Hutchins played a major role in passing — off the field.
“Whenever things that come out in the media — good or bad — we like to take a moment after practice or in the locker room and discuss them and how that impacts the world and how they can impact the world,” Hutchins said. “It’s always amazing to me how much … the students don’t really look at those things, to be honest. Their idea of media is Facebook and Instagram, and it’s really not reading the newspaper or listening to the things that happen in the world. They are very, very naïve as a generation.
“And so for us to be trustworthy, we send the messages. We need to find a way to create the conversations. And in our classrooms, it isn’t always just learning what’s in the books. It’s really learning how to grow up and become a productive adult.”