On the heels of sexual misconduct allegations within football programs at Baylor University and the University of Tennessee that have put administrations under the spotlight, LSU announced this month it would take a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach beyond just educating student-athletes on sexual abuse, assaults, harassment and awareness.
At Clemson University, Loreto Jackson, the associate athletic director of student-athlete wellness and development, had the same idea. Hers, however, came 10 years ago.
In the wake of a very public Duke University lacrosse rape case in 2006, Jackson took a hard look at how that university handled the incident.
"What became apparent is how the behaviors of a few could bring down a prestigious institution," Jackson said about the Duke scandal, which included three falsely accused players. "With all that in light, it kind of was our wake-up call (at Clemson). What are we doing? What are our policies? What are we telling our young people? We decided to be proactive and prevent, mitigate the management of the situation and recover. So if anything were to happen, we were ready, but also can we prevent these things from happening?"
What Jackson, a liaison between the university and athletic department, created were yearlong, comprehensive programs that began in 2006 and have evolved since to address a variety of issues, including sexual misconduct, diversity, drugs and alcohol.
Jackson is hesitant to use a lack of recorded sexual assaults within the Clemson athletic programs as a measure of success, but she says university administrators and athletic director Dan Radakovich have refined the school's policies and found better ways to reach players.
"From my standpoint, nobody's immune to doing something stupid," said Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney. "It's just not going to ever be the case. It's just not when you're dealing with people. But I think the more education, the more awareness that you can create, hopefully you can create better decision-making along the way."
This year, Baylor fired head football coach Art Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw resigned and school President Ken Starr was demoted after an outside law firm's investigation said the university "failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players."
Tennessee settled a lawsuit July 5 that alleged the school violated Title IX regulations. The university paid eight women $2.48 million and avoided admission of guilt. The lawsuit alleged that several football players and one basketball player committed sexual assaults and that the university favored male athletes by interfering with the disciplinary process.
Other high-profile sexual assault cases in recent years involving football players at Florida State and Vanderbilt have shed light on this issue nationally, but sexual assaults aren't limited to star athletes. A 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities found that 23 percent of female college students said they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact.
Clemson's programs not only educate players about right and wrong and how to deal with situations when they occur, but reinforcement is a major key. Jackson's sexual misconduct program begins with freshmen, but it's not just a single seminar in August. Being mindful of student-athletes' strenuous time demands, Jackson and her staff teach the first-year players about consent. As sophomores, the focus turns to healthy relationships and domestic violence. Juniors are educated on bystander intervention and care taking. Seniors learn rules in the workplace and how to conduct themselves as professionals.
"We're building, but at the same time we're creating, an environment that supports the proper behaviors, and I think football does that very well," Jackson said.
Swinney says he constantly talks about issues at other schools with his players, and there are in-team programs to address these topics as well, led by former player Jeff Davis.
"We all learn from our experiences," Swinney said. "People learn from other people's experiences, especially other people's mistakes."
Jackson has found several effective methods to get through to student-athletes beyond just bringing in outside-the-university speakers. Breaking teams into smaller, peer-mentor groups and having the Pickens County Advocacy Center, which provides assistance and crisis intervention for sexual assault victims, conduct programs sends a clearer message.
"It's not what you're saying, it's how you're saying it, how you're delivering it," said Kyra Lobbins, who serves as the director of student-athlete development on Jackson's staff. "Everything we do here we try to be interactive and engaging the student-athletes so they're not being lectured at. It's all about the approach and how often you're reminding them that it's important."
Jackson, who also serves on Clemson's crisis management team, has held several "table top" meetings with football and basketball staff members and university officials where they simulate a situation like a sexual assault and have to play it out in real time. If it's an incident involving the law or the student code of conduct, coaches are taught who to report to, and they are not allowed to work directly with the police.
Jackson said generally, universities around the country don't share these kind of internal operations with each other, so it's hard to compare Clemson's programs to others. But there is an entire culture of awareness that Jackson, coaches and other administrators strive to build among the student-athletes.
"I think any time you take a proactive approach, it diminishes the chances of everything going wrong," Lobbins said.