Rebuilding Trust in USF Sports: Letter From USF Athletes

This letter was circulated amongst all USF athletic teams. 59 individual athletes from nine different sports in the Athletics Department signed this letter.

To Joan McDermott, Director of Athletics at the University of San Francisco, and associate administrative staff.

Cura personalis — care of the whole person — describes the respect we have for every individual’s intellectual, physical, and spiritual health and autonomy. This phrase has been used as the core value of the University of San Francisco. However, as student-athletes at USF, we feel deeply saddened that our Athletics Department has failed to uphold the Universities’ values, as demonstrated by the accounts of brave students in the Sept. 30 Sports Illustrated and March 13 SF Chronicle articles. We acknowledge the bravery of our athletes and fellow students for coming forward and bringing to light the “intolerable sexualized environment” and “predatory culture” found on our campus.

We are writing this letter because of the lack of transparency and acknowledgment of these issues and how they affect us. There has been no space for us to voice our concerns and feelings regarding the ongoing issues that have been highlighted in the articles. We care for our fellow athletes and feel distressed to hear their experiences. 

We want our peers to feel safe and have pride in representing our school when we wear our uniforms. The articles have shown a pattern of tolerance within our higher administration towards sexual misconduct and verbal abuse. According to the articles, when students have expressed their concerns, they have been dismissed and the athletes’ well-being has not been taken seriously. The nature of the misconduct is damaging and traumatizing, and we need better advocates and the space to advocate for ourselves. USF should lead the way as a progressive Jesuit school in handling these matters with integrity and timeliness.

Finding out from the public media about the lawsuit is inexcusable, especially without notice or recognition from our athletic leadership. There is a huge disconnect between athletes and administration. We are the athletic community. We have the right to be informed of what is occurring on campus and within our own community.  It is frustrating that in recent years, it has taken media attention and student uprise in order for any response to be given. With this, we do not trust that if the latest situation did not go public, any disciplinary action would have occurred.

Within its mission statement, USF Athletics references the Four Pillars: Excel in the Classroom; Win at the Highest Level of Competition; Engage in the Community, and Become Leaders in the World. How can student-athletes be expected to achieve this mission when they feel unsafe within the place that is meant to be their sanctuary? To ensure the welfare and safety of current and future student-athletes, significant action is required. 

Below, we have listed the following demands from our athletic administrators:

  1. The administration will meet with the student-athletes to inform us of current and future events that have or will happen, and create ongoing trusted communication when it is legally possible to do so. 
  1. The administration will develop and present a strategic plan providing a detailed explanation of how USF Athletics will:
  • Repair the damaged trust of student-athletes.
  • Improve communication between administration and the department (coaches, trainers, student-athletes).
  • Ensure current regulations and policies are reviewed, renewed, implemented, and practiced transparently to ensure the safety of student-athletes at USF. 
  • Increase collaboration with Title IX and students to create a safeguarding culture against sexual harassment within athletics. 
  • Increase the frequency and robustness of training with Title IX for athletic administration, staff, and students.  
  1. The administration will prioritize funding for student-athlete-specific mental health services. Athletes come from a diverse background of traumatic experiences, and news like what we read from the articles can trigger unpleasant memories and can seriously affect mental health. 
  1. In October 2021, following the Hulst and Handler Investigation, USF and Title IX created the Rebuilding Trust and Community Working Group document. The administration will review the recommendations stated in this document here. Based on the continuous patterns identified in the investigation within our Athletic Department, it is unclear whether these recommendations have been implemented or heavily considered. 

If we do not receive a response to these demands, we will not feel this matter is being taken seriously. 

We appreciate the time the athletics staff is taking to consider our needs, and we understand you have a lot going on. We realize that this is a stressful situation to deal with for you all, but we are also stressed and scared. As the leaders of the Athletic Department, it is important to recognize that it is your responsibility to ensure our physical and mental well-being are being protected. 

Furthermore, we as student-athletes want to ensure cura personalis — care of the whole person — is continuously enacted at USF. 

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