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Armour: Notre Dame on Notice Again with Lawsuit Involving Football Player

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Notre Dame players hold the Shamrock Series helmets on the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami at Soldier Field Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, in Chicago. Photo: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Notre Dame isn’t yet on Baylor’s level when it comes to callous indifference and blind negligence to the safety of women on its campus.

The smoke clouds are getting thicker, however.

A former female student at Notre Dame filed a lawsuit last month accusing the university of mishandling and then trying to cover up her allegations of sexual assault against a football player by suggesting she close the case so he could transfer. Troubling enough as that is, the woman’s lawsuit echoes complaints made by other women who have said they were assaulted at Notre Dame.

Confusion about the process. A lack of communication. A shoddy investigation that seemed designed to protect the university rather than the woman who said she was violated.

“The university chose this route as an expedient method to deal with the situation, following a pattern of dealing with such cases in the manner that made Notre Dame come out on top regardless of the impact on the students involved,” the woman, identified only as Jane Doe to the unnamed football player’s Jack Roe, says in the civil lawsuit, filed Aug. 17 in St. Joseph (Ind.) Co., where Notre Dame is located.

Sound familiar?

Baylor compounded its many sins by ignoring or burying the widespread allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. That was possible because it’s a private school that isn’t beholden to pesky things like open-records laws.

But it was also possible because the school’s leaders and supporters stood silent, their naivete or cold calculation convincing them that Baylor’s precious reputation must be preserved above all else.

Despite the mighty reckoning Baylor has faced for its ignorance and arrogance, Notre Dame seems not to have taken notice.

The university agreed in 2011 to make sweeping changes in the way it handled sexual abuse complaints following the suicide of Lizzy Seeberg the previous year. The St. Mary’s student had accused a Notre Dame football player of sexual battery, and her family questioned the university’s willingness to investigate.

Yet Notre Dame has continued to stonewall requests for transparency and act in a manner that puts its female students in harm’s way.

The university is currently the subject of two sexual violence investigations by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, both of which were filed last year.

When ESPN sought incident reports involving football and basketball players from 2009 to 2014 from campus police, the university fought it all the way to the state Supreme Court, where it eventually triumphed. The Huffington Post reported two years ago that the university refused to even acknowledge its request for comment after finding the Department of Education was investigating Notre Dame’s handling of two sexual harassment complaints.

Even its response to the recent lawsuit is terse almost to the point of being combative.

This is a woman who claims she was included in a Title IX investigation against her will. When she expressed concerns about possible interaction with her alleged abuser, it was suggested that she drop the case so he could transfer without raising any red flags.

To this, the university says only that that allegation is one of “many false statements” in the complaint.

“Like every university, Notre Dame has a legal obligation to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct,” the statement from spokesman Paul Browne said. “It takes this obligation and the safety of its students seriously, and proceeds in a manner that is as respectful as possible of the privacy of the students involved. We did so in this case.”

Notre Dame might truly believe that. But a troubling pattern has developed over the past seven years, seriously eroding the school’s credibility.

The spotlight shines brighter on Notre Dame than any other school in the country. If there’s anything behind those gathering clouds of smoke, it’s going to be found.

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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