Editorials

Where were UMKC officials when softball coach wouldn’t stay out of women’s locker room?

UMKC softball players say they were sexually harassed by their coach

UMKC softball players and parents accuse assistant coach of sexual harassment: walking in the locker room as they dressed, kissing them, telling an offensive joke. Officials spoke to him, but he is still there.
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UMKC softball players and parents accuse assistant coach of sexual harassment: walking in the locker room as they dressed, kissing them, telling an offensive joke. Officials spoke to him, but he is still there.

UMKC’s assistant softball coach, Greg Bachkora, reportedly so often strolled into the women’s locker room while his female players were changing that one student said, “He’s seen me naked more than my boyfriend has.”

The coach’s excuse was that he needed to use the microwave in that room. Because apparently, his cup of tea or bowl of popcorn couldn’t wait for five minutes.

But what happened as a result of three player complaints about these intrusions? He got a new microwave, and the players were retaliated against.

Even after Bachkora admitted to the substance of the complaints, he was protected, and the students were not.

They’ve since left the program, earlier than planned. And he’s still there, along with his new oven and his old habit of showing up as the women are changing.

Problem solved?

Only if you think Title IX requires paperwork but no actual action.

Did officials at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, including Chancellor Mauli Agrawal, learn anything from the situation involving Ashim Mitra, the longtime pharmacy professor who resigned late last year after The Star reported that he’d forced graduate students to act as his servants? In that case, too, which one student described as “nothing more than modern slavery,” an investigation into a formal complaint was rushed and incomplete. And a colleague who complained about Mitra’s behavior alleged in a lawsuit that he’d been retaliated against as a result.

One of the mothers of a softball player who left over Bachkora’s behavior said she still can’t believe all that happened and all that didn’t happen: “They were afraid to say anything, but we told them that in today’s ‘Me Too’ environment they would be protected. Then when they do talk, nobody does anything.”

This is just one more example of a potential Title IX violation that provoked a punishment for the victim rather than the accused.

And where were the women officials whose job it was to protect students from harassment and discrimination? Where was the female head coach, Meredith Smith Neal? Or the female Title IX officer at the time, Mikah Thompson, who has since gone back to teaching in the law school? Or the female athletic director at the time, Carla Wilson, now UMKC’s Senior Director for Student Support Services & Student Development? Or the female deputy athletic director and deputy Title IX director, Ursula Gurney? All seem to have been MIA.

Thompson’s first reaction to the reports was that they could “possibly” constitute sexual harassment.

But then she spoke to Bachkora and accepted his explanation that yes, he’d gone to the locker room “multiple times,” but not when players were undressed and not without announcing himself. He just needed to use the microwave, or get some equipment, but never saw anything he wasn’t supposed to.

Yes, he’d kissed some of the players, but only in a fatherly way, and yes, he had joked about female genitalia that once, and was sorry to hear that anyone had been offended.

Thompson dutifully put all of that in her report to the university’s human resources department.

But where was her duty to the women athletes? To their reaction that no, he did not announce himself until he was already in the room, and yes, they were often undressed when he did so? Thompson’s report recommended no disciplinary action beyond her conversation with him about observing boundaries.

Somehow, Thompson concluded that because the coach had “admitted that he had engaged in the alleged conduct, there was no need to conduct a formal investigation of the allegations.”

According to one player, Neal got involved to protect the school, not the players, whom she asked not to talk to The Star about the complaints. Bachkora reportedly begged players to say good things about him to The Star. That’s exactly the sort of pressure not to acknowledge harassment that Title IX is supposed to prevent, or remedy.

UMKC officials also lashed out at those players who had complained by sending The Star a copy summarizing disciplinary action against them and other players who had taken high school recruits to an off-campus party where alcohol was being served.

Circling the wagons never seems to go out of style, but doing so only undermines the “aggressive strategy” Agrawal said he’d pursue to boost enrollment and build UMKC into the first-tier university that this city needs.

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