Sexual Assault Myths & Title IX: Why Coffey Must Resign

In her letter to the editor last week, Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey wrote a piece that not only lacked reasonable argumentation, but also revealed opinions on rape culture that should not, and cannot, be held by someone who chairs the Title IX Committee.

Two weeks ago, Professor Dumm said that there might exist a connection between male athletics and rape culture and said it may be worthwhile to have an investigation of this possible connection. Coffey’s response tries to deny this connection is even possible, providing a rebuttal denying the connection between male athletics and rape culture.
The first point she makes is that singling out a group on campus for having an outsized risk of committing sexual assault is prejudiced, and you couldn’t say this about [insert minority group here].

First of all, in no way, shape or form are athletes an oppressed group, either on this campus or anywhere in the U.S. There is no comparing the constant struggle that many minority groups go through for basic civil and human rights to the “struggles” of athletes at the College. To say so is to diminish the constant fight of these minority groups. Additionally, there is a selection argument that Coffey fails to acknowledge; while no one chooses their sexual orientation or skin color, athletes choose to be an athlete every day they go to practice. The comparison between the two groups is simply not applicable.
The second point she makes is that Professor Dumm’s assertions cannot be true, because athletes are going to graduate school/campus leaders/musicians/doing community service/ good at athletics/good at academics/etc..

Mrs. Coffey says that “either Mr. Dumm doesn’t know anything about our students who play sports at Amherst, or if he does, he chooses to ignore any facts that might impede his vituperative attack.” Here is a list of facts (facts!) that Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Coffey believes make you less likely to be someone who commits sexual assault. If you are going to law school, medical school, graduate school or Teach for America, you are less likely to commit sexual assault. If you are a campus or community leader, an accomplished athlete, a musician, an actor, a writer or you do community service, Suzanne Coffey has good news ­­— you are less likely to commit sexual assault.

This is exactly the sort of bias we as a community have been fighting so hard against all year, and yet Coffey shows that she has learned nothing from our past semester of crisis. If it is not clear to you what effect one’s ability to get into law school/shoot free throws/play an instrument has on the likelihood one will commit an act of sexual violence, then you are not alone. I heard many different reasons last semester why people commit sexual assaults (a lack of respect for human decency, a desire for power over other people, etc.), and while I do not claim to know the answer, certainly none of the things Coffey mentioned were even discussed as possibilities.

Apparently, however, Title IX Coordinator Susanne Coffey believes that people who are intelligent or going to work for Teach for America make are less likely to commit acts of sexual assault, which I find to be remarkably revealing and somewhat terrifying. Most of the evidence in her article is a continuous list of socially worthy activities that athletes participate in, which is supposed to provide support to the idea that athletes do not contribute to sexual assault on campus. It’s a dangerous, wrong-headed argument, as it serves to reduce sexual assault to only something that “bad” people do. I am deeply concerned that our Athletic Director and Title IX Coordinator believes something that is so patently and undeniably untrue, especially about an issue as important as sexual assault. Her ideas are not dangerous merely because they are untrue, but because of the danger inherent in reducing sexual assault to something that is not endemic of certain cultural attributes or inherent lack of respect for other people, but rather the domain of the social deviants. This line of argumentation only serves to hide sexual assault in the shadows.

Given all that we as a campus have been through over the past semester, it is untenable that our leader on compliance with Title IX holds such views. It is unfortunate that we had a member of the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct who held such obviously biased and absolutely incorrect view on the causes of sexual assault. If the College wishes to retain credibility on the issue of sexual assault, Suzanne Coffey can no longer be our Title IX coordinator.