Thousands of people including leaders from all five campuses and 42 states urged the University of Minnesota to fire head football coach Tracy Claeys.
We asked the University to Fire Claeys in part because from the moment women entered the world, we were taught to feel guilty. We were told to cross our legs, to smile more, to speak softly, and to limit our opinions. We were warned what men will do to us if we put ourselves in a position to be taken advantage of. We were told to be smart is to live in fear.
We came to college and the words, “1 in 4”, were echoed by our loved ones as they sent us off, given as warning during our freshman orientations, and plastered all over social media. One in four refers to the percentage of undergraduate University of Minnesota women who report being victims of sexual assault.
Trying not to be among the 25%, we watched our cups at parties. We kept an eye on friends to make sure nobody took advantage. We put headphones in our ears, stared at the wall, and pretended we didn’t exist while alone on public transportation. We walked with pepper spray in hand, on constant alert, because we knew what might be shouted at us when we walk alone at night. We learned that the sound of elevated footsteps behind us is always accompanied with heightened fear.
We knew 97% of rapists walk free, victim survivors are heavily criticized, and that often women and LGBTQ+ folk are viewed as prey before viewed as human.
At college we fought hard for policies that support sexual assault survivors and educating about what it means to obtain consent. We faced every institutional barrier, but we kept fighting. The University of Minnesota heard us when we said, “1 in 4 is too high. We are doing something wrong.” We were proud when our school agreed to implement a policy that addresses hard conversations about rape culture. University policy finally insisted, “Just make sure I want to have sex with you.”
Then we read the horrifying EEOA report on an incident involving repeated assault by a football team recruit up to 10 football team members. We read how man after man went into that room, as others watched and filmed as she pleaded for it to stop.
We watched the Gophers we cheered for on chilly Saturdays stand in front of national television, “in solidarity with their brothers in an effort to make a better world”. We watched the team we supported with so much pride insist their participation in a football game would be of higher value to the university than our conduct code and our values.
We watched Coach Claeys respond to the outcry of our campus in that he, “had never been more proud of his boys”. While due process is important, we heard nothing from him during the boycott about respecting women.
We wondered why this man has to be the role model for young men at our University.
We tried to explain that his apology doesn’t matter. We tried to tell our campus, state, and country that no football game is more important than the fact that 1 in 4 women are assaulted on college campuses. We tried to explain his tweet was tone deaf. He didn’t recognize this isn't about football anymore, but a battle we’ve been fighting for years. We tried to explain that after years of hard work, we are heading in the wrong direction, and the entire country is watching.
We thank the University for their decision to fire Claeys, as one step toward fighting rape culture. To all the victim survivors, to all those who aren’t believed, to all who are dehumanized and objectified, to all those who are accused of “wanting it”, I am so sorry. This is a step forward, but we have a long way to go. The fight has just begun to reclaim the climate of our campus in the name of the security, safety, dignity, and respect for women and for all students.
-Written by Trish Palermo