University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe picked up the phone Friday after the release of an independent counsel’s report into MU’s handling of sexual assault allegations by a former swimmer.
Nearly 900 miles away, the phone rang at the home of Sasha Menu Courey’s parents, Lynn Courey and Mike Menu.
Wolfe wanted to personally discuss the report’s findings and detail the university’s plans to better help students such as Menu Courey, who alleged that she was raped in February 2010 by at least one MU football player. The allegation was made in a journal entry Menu Courey’s parents discovered after she committed suicide in June 2011 at McLean Hospital in Boston.
“That was a very emotional moment for all of us to receive the deepest sympathy from the university,” Lynn Courey said of conversation with Wolfe. “It was a relief for us and it was really well received and appreciated.”
The report by the Dowd Bennett Law Firm in Clayton, Mo., was critical of MU, but her parents said they are pleased with the investigation’s thoroughness and recommendations.
“We’re all on the same page that things need to be done so that we have a better environment for all those students and staff that they feel safe,” Mike Menu said. “At the same time, it’s important to be a model for other universities, to go above and beyond really the guidelines.”
In public remarks, Wolfe said, “We’re truly sorry for this heartbreaking tragedy and apologize for whatever shortcomings that may have occurred on our part in our treatment of (Menu Courey) while she was one of our students.”
He also vowed to make sweeping changes as a result of the investigation, including a recently completed inventory of practices and policies regarding sexual assault reporting and mental health, and an executive order that outlines the requirements for employees who learn of sexual assault allegations.
“Our daughter Sasha went through a perfect storm of unfortunate events that led to her suicide,” Menu Courey’s parents said in a statement released Monday. “Although we cannot change the past, we hope that the lessons learned from the investigation will lead to positive changes for future athletes and students.
“We hope to see a transformation of the processes that colleges and universities have in place to deal with students struggling with mental health issues and sexual assaults, whether they are athletes or not. This will never bring Sasha back, but we are hoping the changes will prevent another situation like this from occurring again.”
Menu Courey was a freshman on the Tigers’ swim team in February 2010 when the alleged sexual assault, which is under investigation by Columbia police, occurred.
She checked into an on-campus hospital twice in April 2010 and also underwent counseling with a university therapist, but her story underscores the difficulty many sexual assault victims have coming forward.
“I’m sure many people haven’t felt supported, so they have not sought help or support, because they hadn’t felt that the system was supportive enough,” Menu said. “Hopefully, this changes with a very strong message from the university as a whole.”
Missouri swim coach Greg Rhodenbaugh said he had no knowledge of the alleged sexual assault when he asked Menu Courey to stop training with the team in January 2011 in an effort to heal a lingering back injury and focus on counseling.
When Menu Courey checked herself into the hospital again in March 2011, she noted on an intake form “raped/football player” under a box asking about sexual abuse, but MU’s medical personnel were bound by privacy laws not to disclose that information.
During that 10-day hospital stay, Menu Courey was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and, shortly after being released to her parents, attempted suicide on April 3.
She was then transferred to a treatment facility in Kansas City, where she signed a university withdrawal form on April 6 before her parents moved her to McLean Hospital.
Menu Courey wrote in her journal that she told former MU academic adviser Meghan Anderson about the rape allegation in a phone conversation May 12, 2011, but Anderson denied that claim.
One month later, Menu Courey committed suicide on June 17, 2011, while still at McLean Hospital.
“At the end, she had difficulty seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Courey said. “We have to provide help to all the victims, to all the Sashas of the world, by transforming the system, so the support is there for them.
“With all this, we’re going through all sort of emotions, but it’s still not going to bring back our daughter. It’s not easy. At the same time, we were hoping that the report will be able to transform the system, because we want to be able to prevent this from happening to other families. We do not wish this to anyone. It’s very difficult to live with.”
Menu Courey’s parents organized The Borderline Walk in Sasha’s memory last May to raise awareness, eliminate stigma and raise funds to support research of borderline personality disorder.
The second Borderline Walk to benefit the Sashbear Foundation is set for May 25 on the boardwalk overlooking Lake Ontario in Toronto. More information can be found online atSashbear.org
“As long as we transform the system, it will save lives,” Courey said. “Sasha felt like she couldn’t come forward and that she couldn’t really talk to someone. She didn’t know where to turn for support, but if we change this, it will save lives.”