I first heard news of Brendan Gibbons’s expulsion from the University via the benevolent, ever-present Facebook. The Michigan Daily article outlining his expulsion — er, “permanent separation” — from the University was trending on my newsfeed. Rather than a collective gasp or indication of any form of surprise really, the general reaction from the people posting the article seemed to be a response of, “It was about time!”
Brendan Gibbons? Rape allegations?
“Yeah, we know.”
We didn’t always know, though. In fact, the allegations of rape against Gibbons go back all the way to 2009, but I didn’t even hear about the case until around August last summer — also from a post I saw on Facebook. I remember wondering why The Daily, in the four years since the incident, hadn’t covered the allegations against Gibbons … at all … and I felt simultaneously hesitant and motivated to write about the topic given that the case had been essentially off the radar for so long. Could I be sued if I wrote about Gibbons? I wondered. Is it too far in the past to bring up now? Is there any “point” to bringing it up now?
There’s a kind of learned helplessness that seems to have developed in regard to the Gibbons case — a feeling of, yeah, we all sort of knew about it by now, but we had accepted that the University, the coaches, the police and the student body weren’t going to do anything about it. We felt powerless, hopeless and, perhaps eventually indifferent. And this shared sense of helplessness is particularly unnerving given that it’s such a high-profile case. Sexual assault survivors all too often do not get the benefit of the doubt, which explains why 97 percent of rapists receive virtually no punishment. We knew about this case — we knew about Gibbons — and yet it felt like there was nothing we could about it.
I ended up writing a column about Gibbons and football and its relation to rape culture in general. I received several emails after writing my column from readers expressing their shared disgust with the issue. “Not proud,” “conflicted” and “disturbed” were a few responses to my column in regards to Gibbons and the overall lack of coverage on the case.
And my response to these e-mails was essentially, “Yeah, I know.” (And, of course, “Thanks for writing.”)
And all the while, there was a sense that it was all over anyway — that there was nothing we could do about it now. It was too late. The Daily even wrote in one article outlining the case, “It’s unclear why sanctions were not decided in this matter until recently.”
So why did it take so long to get this guy out of here? Maybe because Gibbons was a good football player? The Michigan Daily ended its article on Gibbons’s expulsion with, “Gibbons is fourth in made field goals in Michigan history and owns the program record for consecutive successful extra points with 141.” Odd way to end an article about an alleged rapist. Even stranger, the Athletic Department spokesman, Dave Ablauf, doesn’t want to say when Gibbons came to speak to the Athletic Department regarding his expulsion over sexual assault allegations. And when Michigan football coach Brady Hoke gave a press conference that included comment on the Gibbons allegations this Monday, guess who wasn’t invited? The no-good meddlin’ news staff of The Michigan Daily.
But, much like I felt when I wrote my column on Gibbons originally — and how I feel when I write many of my columns — I often ask myself, Is anyone even listening?
I’m thinking back to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when I stopped by the protest formed by students of the Black Student Union outside Hill Auditorium. The BSU students formed a line and listed seven demands they insisted the University acknowledge and follow through on.
What stood out to me most during this protest, though, was the line uttered by Business senior Shayla Scales: “We have heard the University use the phrase ‘We are listening’ since 1970, and I am tired of waiting for a response. We are tired of waiting for a response.”
I think the “We” uttered in Scales’s statement can speak for a larger number of University students than just those seven BSU protesters, and can pertain to a number of different issues. The Student Union of Michigan posted a powerful response to the mishandling of the Gibbons case, as well as other unimpressive responses from the University regarding sexual assault, Black student enrollment and employee salaries, to name a few.
The University does respond when its students complain, but, just like the belated expulsion of Gibbons received a widely-uttered reply of, “Yeah, we knew that all along” from us, it seems oftentimes the University’s response is simply, “Yeah, we knew, too.”
Katie Steen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.