Social media lit up Sept. 30 when Sports Illustrated (SI) published an in-depth investigation into years of sexual assault allegations against the men’s soccer team and the University’s response to said allegations. The report was written by Priya Desai and Jenny Vrentas.
The Foghorn holds staff meetings on Thursday evenings, and it felt impossible to get through our most recent weekly meeting without addressing the article itself and the questions and concerns it raised for us as students at USF, as well as the USF community at large.
Firstly, we feel that the SI report has garnered long overdue attention surrounding the situation, especially when considering how long this predatory culture has persisted within USF’s soccer program. As the investigation states, there is “a distinct culture of misconduct on the team that spanned three coaches, four athletic directors—though one, Scott Sidwell, was present for the majority of the time—and two school presidents.” Through these changes in leadership, the University continued to leave victims to their own devices rather than offer meaningful resources and support.
The details of the article were equal parts heartbreaking and infuriating and it has been difficult to digest this news. Some of our female staffers discussed how they had been warned by upperclassmen to be cautious around the men’s soccer team or avoid them all together during their first week at USF as alleged “fresh meat [parties]” took place “at the same time as the freshman dance during move-in weekend, with the goal of steering the new and often inebriated students to ‘the soccer house.’”
The University’s handling of this situation does not align with the highly-touted Jesuit value of “cura personalis” or care for the whole person. How can a victim feel safe learning at an institution that promotes this value while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the harm being done within its own community?
Staff members also discussed how to contend with the anger and hurt of seeing how USF has addressed this situation while continuing to attend the school for our own personal reasons (scholarships, proximity to graduating with a degree, etc.). It is upsetting that this is something that we have to navigate at a school that aims to create the next generation of leaders.
The University needs to start holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. An honest and open conversation about sexual assault and misconduct needs to take place as dancing around the issue ultimately gets us nowhere. The University must also make resources for victims more accessible.
In President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J’s Sept. 30 statement to the University, he wrote that USF has an array of “services and resources available to members of our own community – from CAPS to Title IX.” This statement fails to mention that CAPS is routinely stacked with wait times ranging from days to months, and it does not acknowledge oversights that do not promote transparency around sexual assault. For example, the Title IX office’s myUSF page still lists the office on the fifth floor of the University Center. However, the office is located on the second floor of Lone Mountain where signs on the door indicate that the department is working from home.
USF can no longer hide behind the purported image of being an institution that stands for social justice and equity. Just as the University wishes to take pride in their high accolades such as the rankings of diversity, they must also openly acknowledge and accept the ugliness that is happening behind closed doors. We need USF to live up to their promises and not just turn their claims into marketable phrases.
USF’s athletics department has also been silent at a time where their voice needs to be heard. We are aware that players mentioned in the story are no longer affiliated. 19 of the 28 players on this year’s squad are freshmen, and we are left to wonder how the department will change the team’s culture for the next generation of players.
It is shameful that the most action that we have publicly seen as of the time of writing is men’s soccer limiting who can comment on their Instagram posts. Now is not the time to be silent and ignore criticism. The bare minimum that could be done is acknowledging that the article is circulating and that the department is putting careful thought and consideration into how they will address the community.
Students are left to look after each other because this administration has made it abundantly clear that their priority is profit and public image, not safety. We must be there to support one another and do our best to make campus a safe space for everyone. Furthermore, we need to uplift and listen to the voices of those affected by instances of sexual assault.
The University needs to come up with more than just statements in response to this situation. For too long, the administration has hid behind empty promises and shabby affirmations of weathering a storm together as a community. We cannot feel proud representing the University until everyone’s safety is prioritized.
You can access the full Sports Illustrated story here.