Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
You may have seen a Sports Illustrated story published online (and covered in social media) today that details reports of sexual misconduct among former members of the USF men's soccer program. Following our communications with the community about the independent investigation conducted in late 2020 and the resulting report released earlier this year, much in the story will be familiar to many of you.
The Sports Illustrated story highlights serious harms that occurred within our USF community. I recognize the immense courage it takes for someone to speak about their experiences with sexual violence and misconduct. Thank you to those who have shared, reported, and spoken out. Thank you to those who are supporting someone who has experienced sexual violence and misconduct. The specific accounts by former students and survivors detailed in the story are heartbreaking and no one should have these experiences.
I applaud Sports Illustrated for beginning its story with an editor’s note listing resources for survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence, and I remind you of the services and resources available to members of our own community – from CAPS to Title IX.
Sexual misconduct and sex and gender discrimination are not tolerated at USF and we take all allegations of sexual assault seriously. Whether occurring days or decades ago, on or off-campus, all reports of sexual misconduct received by the university are investigated thoroughly.
In the summer of 2020, the university hired independent investigators (Hulst & Handler LLP). The entire USF community, including all alumni, were invited to participate in this investigation. During the six-month investigation, 120 individuals were contacted, and 90 agreed to be interviewed. The resulting 53-page report is available, in its entirety and unedited, on the university’s website.
While the report did not find a pervasive culture of sexual misconduct among members of the soccer team, it did find that there were incidents of sexual misconduct among team members and instances when a breakdown in communication between administrators occurred, leading to a lack of trust within our community.
I acknowledge that, regardless of what was included in the report, hurt and mistrust exist in our community. We are committed to rebuilding that trust and creating a culture and community at USF that stands in firm and demonstrable opposition to sexual misconduct and acts of discrimination.
With new leadership, programs, policies, and additional staffing within the soccer program, Athletics, the Title IX office, CAPS, and beyond, change is taking place as we work together to ensure students, faculty, and staff are held accountable to community standards.
A number of actions have been taken and changes have been implemented since these reports came to light in July 2020, including but not limited to:
- A new deputy Title IX coordinator position has been created and filled to work directly with Athletics.
- A sexual violence resource advocate position housed in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has been created and filled.
- Community-wide listening sessions have been held by administrators in Athletics, Student Life, and the Title IX office.
- Collaboration with ASUSF has resulted in a resolution passed to adopt new bylaws of an education and prevention committee formalizing student involvement and representation on the committee.
- A new Policy on Nondiscrimination Based on Sex and Gender, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct for Students, Employees, and Third Parties is approved and available on the Title IX website.
- Mandatory Reporter trainings have been held for 359 student leaders in roles requiring them to report incidents of sexual misconduct to the Title IX office.
- An Athletics review is underway, with Title IX staff meeting with every coach and team as part of an extensive review of the Athletics Student Handbook as it pertains to sex and gender discrimination, harassing behavior, and sexual misconduct. This includes reviewing additional expectations the university has for student athletes, how these are communicated, and how student athletes are held accountable.
- A review and update to the sexual misconduct section of the Student-Athlete Handbook was completed in July 2021.
- Individual team workshops with 14 teams (and 242 attendees) on team culture, consent, communities of respect and disrespect was completed between August and September 2021.
- Mandatory Reporter training held specifically for Athletics staff, with 217 attendees.
Additional communication will be shared by our Title IX staff and additional action steps will be outlined on myUSF.
There is more work to be done as we cultivate a culture of respect, inclusivity, and accountability at USF. It is the responsibility of every member of our community to first and foremost not engage in disrespectful and inappropriate behavior. We must all report misconduct, support survivors, and participate in educational programs. USF requires all students to complete sexual assault awareness, prevention, and bystander training.
Our goal is to equip students with the understanding that sexual misconduct is not tolerated at USF and with the tools to intervene if they see something that may cause harm to another person. USF offers employee educational programs with the goal of fostering a safe and supportive working and learning environment. Our policies are continually reviewed and refined to ensure that sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination have no place at USF.
I will echo what I said when the independent report was released this year: we can and must do better. In order for all USF students to learn, work, and succeed in and beyond the classroom, we must strive to do more in terms of stopping harmful behavior before it happens, education and prevention, reporting, and providing support services. We must ensure that individuals can come forward with trust in our programs and without fear of retaliation.
Together with our staff in Title IX, we affirm our commitment to students, and all members of the USF community, to continue working toward a more positive, safe, and healthy campus. We affirm our commitment to responding to all incidents of sex and gender discrimination, providing pathways of opportunities for victims and survivors to learn about resources, supportive measures, and accountability options. We invite students, faculty, and staff to join us in these efforts and reaffirm their commitments to the betterment of our community.
I remind all members of the community that no matter when sexual misconduct took place you will be heard and supported if you decide to come forward, either to our Title IX office or our anonymous whistleblower hotline.
Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J.