SpelHouse (Spelman-Morehouse) students protesting rape

SpelHouse (Spelman-Morehouse) students protesting rape culture at Morehouse College circa 2016

While Morehouse College has a well-earned reputation as one of America’s foremost academic centers of excellence, one with an alumni roster that reads like a “Who’s Who” in American history, the school is still very much a bacchanalian bastion in that partying, alcohol, and drug use have led to incidents of harassment and rape on campus for decades.

During my own freshman year at Morehouse in 1990-91, on any given weekend you could rest assured that the music was loud, the alcohol was in plentiful supply, and young women from Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Morris Brown College would be front and center dancing, playing cards, and chatting the night away with the young Men of Morehouse.

After one party during my first semester, my roommate, Perno Young of Passaic, New Jersey, and I noticed that one Spelman friend of ours had gotten extremely drunk from a mixture of grain alcohol and Kool-Aid that was being served on our floor in Graves Hall. As she stumbled, laughed, and threw up, we knew that she was in no condition to keep up the pace—but we also noticed that several Morehouse Brothers were circling around her like sharks stalking prey in the ocean. Without much deliberation we knew what to do; within seconds we opened our room door, placed her in my bed, cleaned the regurgitation off of her face and neck with a rag—and locked her into our room to sleep the stupor off.

As we exited the room, several Brothers who were at various stages of intoxication themselves expressed disappointment that we had locked the Sister away—but none were foolish enough to try and open our room door as we alternately stood and sat sentry until the next morning, when our friend was alert enough to walk with us back to the Spelman campus.

Our Spelman Sister was lucky that Perno and I were present and prepared to defend her but tragically, many other students during our school days back then, students before then, and students right now—have not been (or are not) so fortunate. What’s worse is that victims of sexual assault not only have to deal with a criminal justice system that is often fraught with skeptics, but also have to deal with campus officials who, at times, drop the ball and leave no room for redress.

In June of 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments which held, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”

In layperson’s terms, the law was designed to protect students from sexual harassment and sexual violence on school campuses that receive money from the Federal government. Specifically, if a school knows (or reasonably should know) that a student has been sexually harassed or raped, under Title IX, they are required to take “prompt” and “thorough” action to “eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” 

The problem is when Title IX offices on campus are callous in adhering to the investigative process—or show favoritism to the accused, particularly on campuses where star athletes find themselves subjected to allegations of rape.

A few notable examples from the last decade include:

Florida State University

In 2013, then FSU quarterback Jameis Winston (above) was en route to becoming the first redshirt freshman to win the Heisman Trophy when allegations emerged that he raped a young woman on campus. While Winston ultimately was not charged with a crime and eventually was cleared by a Title IX hearing panel, the alleged victim later sued Florida State University for failure to promptly and thoroughly review her allegations per Title IX. In 2018, Florida State settled the alleged victim’s Title IX case for $950,000.

Baylor University

In 2012, a former Baylor University volleyball player complained that she had been gang raped by eight Baylor football players earlier that season. In 2017, the alleged victim filed a lawsuit against Baylor alleging that it allowed a "rape culture” to persist within the football program. While the financial terms of her settlement were sealed, it is widely believed that it was in the eight-figure range for failure to adhere to Title IX processes. What is known is that Baylor President Ken Starr and football coach Art Briles (above) were fired due to the incident.

University of Tennessee 

In 2016, the University of Tennessee reached a $2.48 million settlement with eight plaintiffs who filed suit under Title IX for “deliberate indifference” towards sexual assault by athletes. The lawsuit alleged that then football coach Butch Jones (above) called a player who assisted one of the women victims a “traitor” to the program; Jones would later be fired from coaching the Volunteers allegedly for poor on-field performance.

To be clear, it is not just major football powerhouse schools that have been hit with Title IX violations; my undergraduate alma mater, Morehouse, has faced allegations in recent history, including a 2020 suit that found the College sued by three students who alleged Title IX non-compliance by the Morehouse leadership team.

With Title IX turning 50 years old this year, it is important to note that support for victims of harassment and rape has surely improved because of it—but is still far from the original goal of rendering such incidents as rare occcurences. Which is why as the lazy days of summer soon turn into the new Fall semester, it is my sincere hope that parents and students take heed of Title IX; learn its dictates, identify the Title IX compliance official(s) at their school, college, or university and, if any harassment, unwanted sexual advances, or rape(s) happen to occur, that the proper school authorities and law enforcement officials are notified so that claims are documented, properly processed, and perpetrators are promptly dealt with at school—and in a court of law.

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Chuck Hobbs is a freelance journalist who won the 2010 Florida Bar Media Award and has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

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