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Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
Student leaders at Washington State University are demanding a policy that would bar the school's athletics department from recruiting any athlete who has been convicted of a sex crime.
In an interview Wednesday, Jordan Frost, the student body president, said the policy would mirror one recently adopted by Indiana University's athletics department. A conviction or guilty plea for rape, stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment would disqualify a person from joining a WSU sports team.
Frost proposed the policy in a letter in late June. It's also signed by Shane Reynolds, president of the graduate and professional student association, and Abu Kamara, a member of the track team and president of the student-athlete advisory committee.
"It is important that one of the most visible and foundational departments at our university take a harsh stance against those who commit such violent acts," the letter said.
Frost said WSU student leaders have advocated for similar policies in the past, noting it's just one element of a growing awareness of sexual assault on college campuses.
He said he's received no official response from administrators, although he anticipates meeting this month with WSU President Kirk Schulz, who was traveling to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a slate of meetings with lawmakers. Summer vacations also have slowed the process.
After four Cougar football players were accused of violent crimes last year, prompting intense public debate, WSU officials began drafting changes to the student conduct code to make it less punitive and more fair and transparent. Currently, unless a player is jailed or expelled from classes, the athletics department decides whether he or she can participate in games and practices.
Phil Weiler, the university's vice president for marketing and communications, said any new sexual assault policy likely would involve all students, not just athletes.
He said several university offices are tasked with investigating and responding to sexual assaults, and that each is handled on a case-by-case basis.
"Frequently people are looking for a hard-and-fast rule," he said, "and frequently there are unintended consequences when you have a hard-and-fast rule."
Frost said the university should address sexual violence among all students. But the same rules that apply to athletics, he said, may not work for the Greek system or another segment of the student population.
He said people with criminal convictions should be allowed to access higher education, but should not be sought for high-profile positions on the football or basketball teams. He noted that student-athletes receive free or heavily subsidized education, special food and other advantages.
"Playing college sports is not a right. It's a privilege, and I think when you have a privilege you have to act a certain way to receive it," he said, adding that sexual predators "don't have a right to be treated like a celebrity, and to be the representative of the university."
Weiler said the Pac-12 is considering a new policy on athletes and sex crimes, which may accomplish what the student leaders are demanding. He said administrators would consider their proposal.
"I think we need to hear from them what their concerns are," Weiler said.
Frost said the proposal was made "proactively" and was not prompted by any recent incident at WSU. But the topic of recruiting college athletes with sex-crime convictions has cropped up in recent years.
Last month, the Oregonian reported that Oregon State baseball player Luke Heimlich had been convicted of molesting a 6-year-old in 2012. It's not known whether the school was aware of the crime when Heimlich, now 21, joined the team.
In 2015, Logan Tuley-Tillman was dismissed from the University of Michigan's football team after he pleaded guilty to filming a sexual act with a woman without her consent. He initially committed to transfer to WSU but later opted to continue playing at the University of Akron.
Frost said he hopes WSU will become an "early adopter" of the policy, and that it could influence children and teens aspiring to play college sports.
"You set that policy," he said, and "they're not only thinking about eligibility in terms of SAT scores and grades, but they're also realizing that their behavior will impact their ability to compete in college sports. And I think that is a huge, huge deal."
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