A former University of California student who worked with the football program last season as a sports medicine intern claims she was subjected to sexual harassment by players and coaches.
Paige Cornelius, who has medically withdrawn school to seek "intensive therapy and psychiatry" to deal with "the post-traumatic stress syndrome and anxiety" resulting from her experience, made the allegations Wednesday via Facebook. She then turned to Instagram to encourage others who may have had similar experiences with Cal athletics to contact her, saying that her "legal team wants to have the best case possible." She went public with her story, according to ESPN, after efforts to reach Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton and other staff members were ignored. Cal athletics and Knowlton have since released separate statements.
Among her claims, Cornelius says that an assistant football coach once told her, "I will get you fired if you do not have sex with me." This came a day after the coach had convinced Cornelius via text message to attend a midnight meeting at Memorial Stadium, where he forced her against a wall of his office and kissed her. Under the influence to the point she could not have consented to sex, according to her own account, Cornelius managed to leave. That coach is no longer with the Cal program.
A different coach still employed by Cal would corner Cornelius in a stadium tunnel and ask her questions about her relationships and taste in men, she claims, adding he would comment on her appearance during practices. "One day after practice, I realized he was following me home, as he was supposed to be going in the opposite direction, but was keeping a close pace behind me before he caught up to me outside my front door," Cornelius wrote. "He asked me what I was doing that weekend, and that we should go to the pool, because 'I would look amazing in a bikini.' "
Upon requesting that one unnamed individual stop messaging her, Cornelius said she received the following reply: "I'm going to treat you like the hoe that you are."
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, university spokespersons could not confirm whether Cal's Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination has opened an investigation.
As reported by San Fransisco's KRON, the athletic department's statement reads:
We are aware of the very disturbing public allegations made on social media. As is our policy when such assertions are made, we have immediately referred the matter to the campus Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, which is responsible for investigating such assertions. These allegations go against the very core of our values.
Cal Athletics is and will always be committed to fostering a culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected. All of those associated with the department are expected to maintain ethical standards at all times. We encourage anyone who is feeling distressed or troubled to contact the PATH to Care Center for confidential support, and other campus resources.
Athletics does not have its own specific conduct process nor does it investigate allegations or cases on its own, but follows the University’s policy and works in concert with campus professionals who are responsible for those areas.
While we can discuss our process for handling these matters, we generally cannot address any specific case. Allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment by campus employees are confidential unless officials determine policy is violated, and disciplinary action has been decided. Such allegations against students remain private regardless of the outcome, under UC policy and federal law regarding student records.
Campus prevention and response efforts have increased in recent years. All university staff and all students are required to complete sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention training. In addition the athletic department sponsors supplementary formal training for coaches, staff and student-athletes in sexual violence awareness and prevention, bystander intervention, and campus reporting procedures.
In a letter sent Thursday to season-ticket holders and donors, Knowlton wrote:
Dear Friend of Cal Athletics -
I am writing to you regarding a recent Facebook post that presents a series of serious and disturbing allegations regarding the conduct of individuals associated with our football program. Let me be absolutely clear: we will lend our full moral and operational support to the campus inquiry into these allegations. We will support the imposition of appropriate consequences as required by the outcome of that inquiry. We believe in a culture that fosters dignity and respect. The alleged actions run completely counter to the core values of Cal Athletics and our University.
When I, Coach WIlcox and my leadership team first became aware of these allegations, we immediately, as per policy, referred the matter to the campus Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD), which is responsible for investigating allegations of discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment and sexual violence. We encourage anyone needing confidential support or other campus resources to contact the campus’ PATH to Care Center.
These allegations are surfacing in the midst of a concerted and ongoing effort across our department that began several years go to educate and engage our staff and student-athletes about preventing and responding to sexual harassment and violence. Through formal training sessions for coaches, staff and student-athletes, we have been clear and consistent about our refusal to tolerate this most egregious form of misconduct. If necessary, we will do more.
I have been in close communication with Coach Wilcox, and I know he shares these values, principles and commitments.
As the person entrusted with well-being of more than 1,000 student-athletes, coaches and staff, I have no greater responsibility at this moment in time than ensuring we do the right things in the right way. We will be as transparent as possible every step of the way. You have my word on it.
Director of Athletics