About three months after her first day at the University of Kansas, on Nov. 7, 2014, alumna Daisy Tackett, who left Hockaday in 2013, attended a Halloween party at the Jayhawker Towers, the university-owned dorms which house many students and athletes. As the night went on, a KU football player invited Tackett to his apartment. That night changed her life forever.
It’s no secret that women on college campus’ are vulnerable to sexual assault. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, one in five women are sexually assaulted at some point in their college career.
Recruited to row at KU, Tackett, like many other college freshman, had disregarded these statistics until she became a part of them: when she was sexually assaulted by the football player. This event forever altered her interactions with friends, family and other contacts that make up her social network.
“[The assault] really led to a lack of trust in people. Also, I don’t like being touched. I get really freaked out when people touch me in public, even on the shoulder or a pat on the back,” Tackett said. “Little stuff that I didn’t normally think about before I definitely think about it now.”
Taking a Stand
It took Tackett almost a year to report the assault to KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, the university’s department in charge of responding to harassment complaints and overseeing university policies on incidents such as discrimination and sexual violence.
“I didn’t report it for about a year, mostly because I felt like people wouldn’t believe me because he was a football player,” Tackett said. “I was kind of ashamed. I’m not small, I’m a rower, I’m big, I’ve taken self- defense and I knew how to be smart in situations but this still happened. I was really kind of upset with myself for a while.”
Tired of suffering in silence, Tackett emerged from the isolation of her dorm room to report the sexual assault. She used the values she learned at Hockaday in advisory, in the classroom and on the water to give her the strength to come forward.
“Something that we talk a lot about in sports is mental toughness, and I think that Hockaday gave me a lot of base mental toughness going into this,” Tackett said.
Kyle Vaughn, former honors english teacher at Hockaday, impacted Daisy in the classroom and beyond when she was in Upper School. Acting as a mentor to many students including Tackett, Vaughn strived to teach his students how to establish their voice and speak out against the injustices of the world.
“At Hockaday, I always taught my students to use their voice to advocate for themselves and others, especially through writing, and to better themselves and learn to empathize with others,” Vaughn said. “Social justice and human rights were always big focal points in my courses.”
With this foundation, Tackett was determined not to be another nameless, faceless “Jane Doe” as she decided to share her name with the media. She would stop at nothing in order to protect other students from sexual assault.
“Think about all the times you’ve read comment sections on news stories about Jane Doe or anonymous complainer. People are so harsh, it’s incredible,” Tackett said. “They don’t think that’s a real person behind that lawsuit. So what I wanted to do was put an actual name and an actual face to campus sexual assault at KU.”
With more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses not reporting their assault, Tackett chose to share her name with the media to encourage other women to overcome their fears, which had silenced their voices for too long.
“I wanted to help other people feel empowered to come forward,” Tackett said. “I remember hearing stories about people that read about my case and came forward about their own sexual assaults and already got justice.”
Vaughn recognized Daisy’s courage and praises her for taking a stand.
“I am incredibly proud of Daisy for speaking out and seeking justice. I am glad that she is advocating for own rights, but I am also so grateful for the good that she is doing for so many others,” Vaughn said.
But her attacker kept on raping women. Ten months after the assault, KU freshman and recruited rower Sarah McClure was sexually assaulted—by the same man who raped Tackett. With similar stories, McClure and Tackett were frustrated by the University’s limited support.
Tackett along with McClure became irritated with the IOA, which was reluctant to fulfill promises of escorts to class and campus parking passes to make them feel safer at KU.
The women felt a sense of abandonment from their rowing coaches and teammates. Suffering from verbal harassment from their team and their attacker, they no longer feel safe on campus.
“I noticed kind of a change in how the KU rowing team treated me, which was very upsetting because I was a recruited athlete so I thought that they would be behind me a little bit more,” Tackett said.
Eventually the IOA recommended the rapist be permanently expelled, even though he was never charged with a crime as a result of these allegations. He was also required to stay away from McClure and Tackett and banned from campus for 10 years. But this didn’t stop him from transferring to Indiana State University, where he joined the football team. When the new school discovered more information regarding his past at KU, he was removed from the team but not from the university.
Tackett’s parents sued the University of KU under the Consumer Protection Act, claiming that the university had made false claims about the security and safety of their dorms and withheld information about past incidents of sexual assault on their campus. McClure later joined the lawsuit.
In a separate lawsuit, the McClure and Tackett families brought a class action lawsuit against KU claiming that the hostile environment of university violated Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded institutions, including discrimination against pregnant students, sexual harassment and sexual violence.
“If I hadn’t reported my sexual assault and if I hadn’t put the pressure on KU to constantly investigate my assault I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Tackett said. “Yes, things didn’t necessarily turn out the way I wanted them to but I learned that advocating for myself was the only way to get out of this bad situation.”
And Tackett and McClure are not the only victims who feel their attacker did not receive the justice he deserved. According the the Maryland Coalition Against Sexaul Assult, only 5 percent of sexual assault cases result in a felony conviction and only 3 percent of rapists are imprisoned. This leaves 97 percent on the loose.
But a major change occurred in 2015. According to American Association of University Women, on July 1, 2015, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act became a law which requires colleges to be more proactive in ending sexual violence. If any university chooses to disregard this law they are at risk of investigation and disciplinary action from the U.S. Department of Education.
A New Beginning
Looking for progress in her own life, Tackett decided to get a fresh start, leaving KU in the spring of 2016 and transferring to New York University.
In contrast to the hostile environment at KU, Tackett felt comfortable at NYU with a large network of support from her classmates, including many Hockaday, St. Mark’s and Episcopal School of Dallas alumni who currently attend NYU.
“It’s really awesome to see these people support me even though I haven’t necessarily gone to school with them for three years now,” Tackett said.
Tackett decided to tackle a different aspect of rowing at NYU: coaching. But she struggled to be in a rowing environment following the assault and after a few months she decided to end her coaching career and focus on studying political science and history, her two current majors.
Tackett, however, could not stay away from the sport for long; she eventually joined a club rowing team at NYU, which she says is much more relaxed than rowing on a division one level.
“I really love the sport of rowing,” Tackett said. “This team gives me an opportunity to kind of re-fall in love with the parts of rowing that were ruined for me while I was at KU.”
Almost losing one of her most prized passions, Tackett aims to teach all people, whether victims of sexual assault or not, that silenced voices must fight to be heard. If she had continued her life in silence she could still be suffering.
“One of the most important things I’ve gained from this is it’s really important to advocate for yourself, because if you don’t advocate for yourself that’s when people take advantage of you,” Tackett said. “I think that is one of the things I really learned at Hockaday.”
– Amelia Brown – Assistant Sports & Health Editor -