A two-year Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) initiative about sexual assault awareness came to a running close on April 12 when Griz student-athletes hosted the “Run a Mile in Her Shoes 5K.”
SAAC participated in the Big Sky Conference’s initiative to raise awareness about sexual assault. The Griz have worn teal and purple ribbons on jerseys to show support for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Videos about sexual assault and sportsmanship, made by SACC and UM’s Student Advocacy Resource Center now show before basketball and football games.
“I think one of the biggest things is just to change the reputation around student-athletes, both male and female,” Darby Henthorn, the SAAC vice president and a junior who throws javelin for the track team, said.
SAAC partnered with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity during the week of campus events set to raise awareness. The money from the 5K about $700, will be donated to the Young Women’s Christian Academy to help fund a new women’s and family shelter this summer.
But despite the donation to a Missoula organization, SAAC is trying to change the image of athletes and start conversations about an issue that predominantly affects women on UM’s campus.
In a 2017 study of sexual assault incidents of undergraduates from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, gender-nonconforming students were found to face the highest rates of sexual assault over four years (38.5 percent), followed by women (36.4 percent) and then men (15.6 percent).
Multiple speakers spoke about assault including Brenda Tracy, a college gang-rape survivor, who now educates and spreads the “Set the Expectation” campaign to male college and high school athletes. Tracy’s campaign calls specifically on men to step up and stop assault.
Colin Bingham, co-president of SAAC and a senior football player, thinks that SAAC has done a good job of encouraging discussion about sexual assault. He thinks the microscope student athletes come under can also serve as a platform to prompt conversations about sexual assault.
“Just bringing it up and making it a conversation that everyone’s having is just super helpful,” Bingham said. “With that platform we’ve been given, I think we’d be remiss to not address an issue that is quite honestly, in my opinion, is a lot of times associated with football players.”
Bingham’s own attitudes towards sexual assault have changed since his exposure to Tracy’s “Set the Expectation” campaign last year. But he also credits head football coach, Bobby Hauck, with putting emphasis on the football players.
“That comes down to behaving really well [and] treating everybody with respect,” Bingham said. He blames a few athletes for giving the football team and athletics at UM a bad name. In 2015, Jon Krakauer released a book that largely pointed to the culture surrounding college football in Missoula as the cause of unreported and unhandled sexual assault cases.
“I think [Hauck’s] been awesome just making us be good men. Good men don’t sexually assault other women,” Bingham said.
“You obviously cannot categorize an athlete with what their teammates have done,” Henthorn said. “We have used that to kind of build a culture and show that we’re not accepting that.”
One volunteer for the race, Veronica Kenney, was pleasantly surprised to hear Bingham’s view of Hauck. The speech pathologist’s two daughters are rape survivors. Both were assaulted in college, and one daughter now works as a sexual-assault nurse examiner. Kenney was an outspoken opponent of Hauck’s rehiring since he coached the Griz football team prior to UM’s rape scandal. She was happy to volunteer and hear about Bingham say Hauck is addressing sexual assault.
“What a change, because I don’t feel like there were those expectations set so many years ago,” Kenney said. “It’s about time.”
SAAC will move on to mental health awareness the next few years, but Henthorn hopes to make “Run a Mile in Her Shoes” an annual race.
“We’ve stepped into those shoes where we are now held accountable to do something about it,” Henthorn said.
Bingham hoped the week raised awareness for men of the prevalence of sexual assault, and he wants men to step up and interfere if they see an inappropriate situation. He added that women should speak up about assaults and that no person in a place of power should silence accusations.
“As far as women go, you don’t deserve to be treated without respect, you deserve everything that men deserve. Everything that’s good in the world, you deserve. So when I say that, no girl should be sexually assaulted obviously,” Bingham said.