Women’s basketball leader Jennifer Rizzotti spoke on athletes as catalysts for cultural change.
By Ruth Steinhardt
George Washington University women’s basketball coach Jennifer Rizzotti joined Vice President Joe Biden and numerous activists against campus sexual assault at the White House’s final It’s On Us summit Thursday.
Ms. Rizotti was part of a breakout panel on student athletes and campus culture.
“Athletes in general are role models on campus,” Ms. Rizzotti said. “I think that they get publicity, whether they do something great or do something negative. So it is important that they stand up for what is right and use the influence and leverage that they have to make a stand for what is important.”
It’s On Us is a White House-facilitated national campaign against sexual assault on campus, emphasizing collective responsibility and an end to victim-blame. George Washington President Steven Knapp and other GW community members attended the White House launch of the initiative in 2014. That same month, GW students including athletes lent their voices to university videos publicizing the problem and encouraging bystander intervention.
Other panelists at Thursday’s event included Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade, Jen Zudonyi of Major League Baseball, NCAA Chief of Staff Cari Van Senus and Jacob Martin, a student athlete at Temple University. Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, moderated the panel.
Many athletes have personal as well as collective opportunities to combat the problem of campus sexual assault, Ms. Rizzotti said.
“Student-athletes in general are in the social scene a lot and when you are talking about something like the It's On Us campaign, and the age range they are in, it is important for them to understand the role that they can have in sexual assault prevention,” she said. “It is also important for them to look out for one another.”
At the summit, Vice President Biden teased an intention to continue his work with the issue, to which he has been dedicated.
“I’m going to be setting up a foundation that is going to devote the rest of my life to dealing with violence against women,” he said.
Ms. Rizzotti said GW will also continue its commitment to preventing sexual assault, especially among athletes.
“As an athletic community the administration has been very dedicated to providing programming for our student-athletes outside of their sports,” she said. “Creating an environment where they understand that career development, leadership and awareness skills are really important in their lives. We are creating a whole person, and not just an athlete. From the top down, It's On Us is an initiative that is really important to us.”