As Father’s Day approaches this year, I find myself looking back at my place in my family and how we have grown in so many ways. With an awesome wife, son and daughter, I often count my blessings that have been bestowed upon me from God. I cannot thank Him enough for the time that I have had and continue to have with them on the winding path we call life. Life is not easy; it is not promised, nor is it something to take for granted. I feel that as a father, one of the most important things that you can do is stand up for your family, fight against those that attempt to dishonor your name, and be a clear advocate for the rights of your family when pressed with aggression from others.
I was shocked and saddened when I received a message from my daughter that she had been a victim of sexual assault on the campus of Texas A&M University, my alma mater, by a student-athlete. After hearing the details of the assault, my wife and I wanted to do all we could to ensure that justice on and off the campus was served. As a father, there are all kinds of thoughts that run through your head that provide an avenue to channel the aggression that you have toward the issue at hand. A campus the size of A&M (+/- 60,000) creates all kinds of barriers to victims reporting crimes. Knowing that just as in life, this process would contain twists and turns and I wanted to ensure that my daughter was able to navigate them in such a way to get real results. Was I ever amazed at the path we would have to take in this journey! None the less, this was my time to do as A&M asks all students to do, Step In – Stand Up against sexual harassment and assault. In our efforts, we found the “process” of reporting and review to be very cumbersome, inefficient, and extremely biased toward those that are accused, especially if that accused is an athlete at the university.
The on-campus review of student conduct allowed for the participants to have one advisor present with them for support. I was honored to be that advisor for my daughter. This opened my eyes to the hypocrisy that was overly-evident as we dealt with the hoops that you had to jump through as they “guided” your efforts. Looking back, this to me appears to be so the administration of the process can be controlled by the university. We attended an on-campus review where the review panel agreed that the accused had done the act as reported (not once, but twice), however they found him to be “Not Responsible” for what we felt was an absurd reason. Given the decision, we instinctually followed the path of appeal. We were told we had five days to do so, which we did, and a subsequent review was scheduled after the appeal had been granted. At that appealed hearing, the administration of the university headed by Chancellor John Sharp and President Michael Young, through the university’s general counsel office, decided during a three hour delay to reduce the charges on the accused. This was concerning because the level of the new charges reduced the VICTIMS to no longer be considered as such; they were now considered WITNESSES to the action and were only able to provide a witness statement by policy. We felt that the accused being a student athlete (aside from what we alleged to be collusion between the attorney and the university) provided reason for them to throw out the published procedures and deny the right to due process for the two VICTIMS in the case, and lower the charges as they did. The accused then went into the hearing, accepted responsibility, and upon further questioning, pleaded the 5th to all questions regarding his role in the action. Within two days, he was back on the field with his team. The university had considered the time over the fall holidays (while on red-shirt) to have been enough “suspension” for the sanction.
As a father, this did not sit well with me and I kept up with the criminal proceedings as well to ensure his charge was not reduced. Through the courts, he was convicted and dealt with under the rule of the law. On campus, this was essentially pushed under the rug and I am sure they felt we would just go away. Many victims on the campus of Texas A&M University are not given the consideration they deserve when it comes to standing up for their rights on the campus. We were told that the student conduct policy was to be rewritten and they would use my daughter’s case as one to help fill the gaps. This, I guess, was something to try to appease our distrust in the process.
I was fortunate to reach out to a journalist regarding a social media post I had made about the case and the outright injustice that had been displayed by the university and the administration. This was then transformed into a newspaper story that broke right before the spring football game at TAMU. I cannot thank Brent Zwerneman and the Houston Chronicle enough for taking this story forward and giving it a voice to open the discussion about victim’s rights on campuses. Given that story, the player was held out of the game. Upon further discussions, one more story from my perspective, then letters to the highest levels of the administration, the university gave into the pressure inflicted upon them and finally removed the player from the team. With this injustice, we filed a Title IX grievance with the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights and that was accepted and reviewed. Though not the result we had hoped for, they settled the case with A&M with a clear understanding that A&M would modify procedures, train staff better to deal with the cases, and not make the same mistakes going forward. After recent reports about the university, It seems to me that they have not held up their end of that decision.
I am a father and I will do as I believe any father should so, step in and stand up when we see an injustice against your family. Today, I see many more stories appearing as the #MeTooTAMU movement gains its legs and marches forward. My daughter is strong. My daughter is compassionate. My daughter is determined. My daughter is a sexual assault survivor. As I read the stories of others that have been through the same at Texas A&M, I see the same in their words. They want this to be in the open and exposed to the masses so they can help put an end to the overreaching administrations like those at Texas A&M today. I, as a father, am proud to say that I helped my daughter through her case. I, as a father, as a graduate of Texas A&M University, as a lifelong donor to the university, can say that I am proud supporter of the VICTIMS on the campus. I, as a father, as a graduate of Texas A&M University, as a lifelong donor to the university, can also say there is a need for change of the administration at Texas A&M University. In the wake of the overwhelming amount reports of mistrust of the university to keep students safe and hold those accountable to their actions that do harm, I call for the removal of Chancellor John Sharp, President Michael Young, Asst. Athletic Director Lori Williams, and others that have played a role in the misuse and abuse of the policies at the university and denied the right of due process to the VICTIMS on the campus.