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Armour: Education and Discipline Needed for Columbia, Harvard Athletes

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Female students protest recent accusations against the Columbia University wrestling team came to light. Photo: http://thetab.com/

Suspending a team or firing a coach is the easy part.

It’s what schools such as Columbia, Harvard and Baylor do after that proves whether they’re sincere about rooting out the culture that endangers women on campus.

Columbia said Monday it was suspending its wrestling team’s season while it investigates lewd, misogynistic and racist text messages exchanged among the wrestlers over the past two years. The announcement came a week after Harvard ended its men’s soccer team’s season early following the discovery that the players had ranked members of the women’s team in sexually explicit terms.

The moves by both schools were bold and important, sending a message that rape culture – let’s call normalizing misogyny and the mistreatment of women what it really is – and racism will not be tolerated. But that only addresses the incidents at hand and, be assured, there will be others.

To eliminate the ignorance and anger that endangers women and people of color on campus, discipline is not enough. No, it requires education and information so those involved recognize why their attitudes and behavior are wrong.

It didn’t matter that the Harvard players never intended to make their “scouting report” public. Or that the Columbia wrestlers’ text messages were part of a closed, group exchange. Describing a woman as “the kind of girl who both likes to dominate, and likes to be dominated,” as the Harvard players did, is both demeaning and disrespectful. So, too, is tossing around racial epithets and portraying women as having no value beyond being sexual playthings, as the Columbia players did.

Those attitudes, no matter how secret they were supposed to be, are bound to spill over into their everyday interactions. If they marginalize or objectify women or people of color in one area of their life, they will do it in another.

This kind of behavior and talk isn’t funny or harmless. And it most certainly cannot be excused as political correctness run amok.

It’s dangerous, and it needs to stop.

Punishment will get the players’ attention, but it won’t change their minds or their hearts. Without education, there can be no understanding.

And without understanding, there will be no evolution.

“I really want to see this enforced and not just be a one-time thing,” Annie E. Clark, the executive director and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said Tuesday.

“How are they changing the culture? Are they talking to players and saying, `Here’s why it’s not appropriate,’ ” Clark asked. “It’s a good first step, but I’d like to see it go further.”

To understand why that next step is so important, look no further than Baylor.

For years, the school fostered an environment that resulted in dozens of women alleging they were sexually assaulted, abused and mistreated. The football program has taken the brunt of the blame, but this was a campus-wide problem.

In an effort to change its culture, Baylor fired football coach Art Briles and demoted university president Ken Starr. He later cut ties with the university. Those were bold and important moves, too.

And yet, there is little proof much of anything at Baylor has changed.

Its Title IX coordinator quit last month, saying she’d been set up to fail by administrators who continually undermined her. Baylor assistant football coaches have gone out of their way to defend Briles, making it obvious they have learned nothing in the past year.

“I caution folks to think that just because a coach is gone or a team is suspended that that behavior has stopped,” Clark said.

“The cultural roots of why this behavior is occurring has not changed much.”

Firing a coach or suspending a team is easy. Ensuring that women and minorities are safe on their campuses is anything but. Admirable as Columbia and Harvard’s moves were, they can only be the first step.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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