This Tuesday, the Student Union of Michigan will be joining together with its allies to protest the handling of the Brendan Gibbons expulsion. We will gather in the lobby of the Rackham Auditorium at 2 p.m. and march through campus. In this article, we will briefly outline some of the reasons why we are protesting.
Before beginning, we want to emphatically say we believe survivors have the right to control their stories, and as allies, we are obligated to respect their choices. Survivors should be allowed to heal without their traumas being routinely and graphically described and scrutinized by an uninformed public. We do not support demands for the release of details about this case. We wish to express our solidarity with the survivor and hope the public chooses to respect her privacy.
That being said, the administration owes us some answers regarding its response to student outrage over the revelation of Gibbons expulsion. All of us deserve to feel safe on this campus, and the response of top-level administrators to this situation has left many in our community convinced there is no institutional justice. This makes our campus feel unsafe and prone to abuse. This has to be addressed.
When The Michigan Daily broke the story about Gibbons’s expulsion, one of the first questions people asked was when Michigan coach Brady Hoke found out about the expulsion. Gibbons had not played in the last games of the season. Hoke told reporters he missed the game against Ohio State University because of an injury, and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because of a “family matter.” The Daily uncovered a fax to the Athletic Department that communicated Gibbons expulsion days before the press conference about the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. We do not know how Hoke possibly could have not known about the separation before he called the expulsion a “family matter.” We find the injury story suspicious.
At the very least, it looks like Hoke created an alibi to cover up the expulsion rather than simply decline to comment. It looks to the public like Gibbons was receiving special treatment because of his status as a football player. It looks like Hoke does not have to follow policy. These implications are chilling. They suggest we are on a campus where it is acceptable for certain people to commit acts of violence with impunity and protection. How could anyone feel safe knowing that? The University has made great strides in addressing cases of sexual assault and we do not want to move backward. We don’t want lies like this to have a chilling effect.
We suspect Hoke’s alibi was an attempt to evade scandal. Scandal is embarrassing and often reduces profits for the University. It requires time and attention and damage control. It requires people hired to do one thing to divert their attention to something unpleasant and embarrassing. However, it is not Hoke’s right to invent an alibi and cover someone else’s tracks. There is a difference between declining to comment and being misleading.
We are also completely baffled as to why the University administration did not do a better job communicating how its sexual assault policy works. As far as we can tell, the extent of response to this winter’s uproar was University President Mary Sue Coleman and Hoke’s “statements” asserting that athletics in no way influence how sexual assault is handled at the University. These statements were published with a brief description of the University policy.
University policy regarding sexual conduct changed in 2011 to adhere to the mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, outlined in their “Dear Colleague Letter,” and avoid losing access to federal financial funding. We are still in the process of understanding this change, but we believe that the 2011 mandate, which obligates investigations of all reported incidents of sexual misconduct and without placing an undue burden on the survivor, is probably very significant. We find it concerning that these changes had to be prompted by the threat of federal funds being revoked.
These incidents have riddled us with doubt about the University’s commitment to protecting our bodies and our stories. We do not understand how they can be so cavalier about such serious matters. Rape is a huge problem on college campuses, but we imagine that the problem would be somewhat relieved if high-level administrators took it more seriously.
Sadly, while so much of this appears to be carelessness or laziness or lack of coordination, it reveals a lot about the administration’s values. At this point, how could anyone believe the administration is committed to a climate of safety and respect? How is this response possibly acceptable? Their top priorities should not be avoiding the inconveniences of scandal, but rather creating a safe, respectful, fruitful learning and working environment for all members of the University community.
This article was written by members of the Student Union of Michigan.