After two student-athletes from the University of Washington were dismissed from the men’s rowing team and charged for allegedly distributing a video of both men having sex with an intoxicated female freshman student without her consent in 2017, coaches had to take a hard look at the culture being fostered in their program.
Men’s and women’s rowing team physician Hank Pelto told the Seattle Times, “There was kind of this guttural feeling that something more needed to happen, or we needed to take it in our own hands.” The result was the founding of Student Athletes Against Sexual Harassment and Assault.
Then-captain of the women’s rowing team and current assistant coach Maggie Phillips was a driving force in that conversation, sharing her vision that the initiative against rape-culture at the UW would be student-driven. “At the end of the day, the people that are creating the culture are the people that are rowing the boats,” she said. “Any change is going to come from them.”
With the goal of creating change from the bottom up, Phillips began by getting women’s rowing coach Yasmin Farooq and Pelto on board. Then she started recruiting students, starting with members of the men’s and women’s rowing teams and then reaching out to other UW athletics programs with hosted discussions.
Phillips and Pelto gave a joint presentation of SAASHA at the most recent U.S. Rowing conference with the hope of spreading awareness to other universities. The group has also begun meeting with local youth rowing groups.
“There’s a real realization from all of us that college is too late to address this,” said Pelto. “People are forming their relationships and their ideas about relationships and sex and alcohol consumption much earlier than college, so the real power of this group is using the strength and societal force of a college athlete to go to some of these younger groups and say, ‘Hey, this is an important topic. You need to pay attention to this. This is real life.’”