Clark Atlanta University athletics director J. Lin Dawson. PHOTO CREDIT: CLARK ATLANTA UNIVERSITY

Student criticizes Clark Atlanta’s handling of harassment charge

Clark Atlanta University is facing criticism from some that its athletics department is hostile to women and has dragged its feet on a student tennis player’s complaint that her coach sent her unwanted sexually suggestive messages.

The 19-year-old student said the messages occurred a few days in mid-March but weren’t seriously investigated until about two weeks ago when she discussed it with the university’s women’s basketball coach.

The student’s coach, Will Riley, told her in a text message obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution not to eat too much to maintain her figure.

“[L]ol I won’t,” she responded, hoping to diffuse the situation.

“Mmmmmmm hmmmmm hope not lol,” Riley replied.

The student said the coach followed her on social media and left some inappropriate messages.

“I was real shocked,” the student, a rising junior, told the AJC in a telephone interview. “I thought this is weird. ‘Why is my coach texting me this kind of stuff?’ “

The university’s athletics director, J. Lin Dawson, told the AJC that the university promptly looked into the matter, but declined to discuss the situation in detail because the investigation is ongoing.

CAU said in a statement it “takes all personnel matters seriously. When internal complaints are filed, a thorough review is conducted with multiple checks and balances in place. Appropriate action will be taken for policy violations pending conclusion of an investigation.”

The university declined further comment.

Some say the situation highlights a larger problem at the university, which is beginning a year-long celebration of its 30th anniversary: mistreatment of women in its athletics department and lack of funding for women’s sports. Three female coaches filed a complaint on June 27, according to a letter obtained by the AJC, with the university’s human resources department alleging that they’ve been “subjected to harsh and unwanted criticism, physical and psychological intimidation tactics as well as gender and equity issues.” The complaints include alleged tantrums by Dawson, derogatory remarks about women, and scholarship cuts to various women’s sports programs. About 75 percent of the university’s students are women.

Dawson said he couldn’t discuss the claims because of the formal complaint, but said he helped create gender-equity plans for prior employers, such as Grambling State University, where he was the athletics director from 2008 to 2011. He was hired at Clark Atlanta in November 2015.

Division I athletic departments spend on average about twice as much on their men’s programs than their women’s programs, though schools without football spend nearly the same on each (about $5 million), according to a 2017 report by the NCAA. Dawson said he’s tried to improve the ratio at Clark Atlanta, which was 2-to-1 in favor of men’s athletics when he was hired. Clark Atlanta is a Division II athletics program.

Clark Atlanta is facing an ongoing lawsuit by a doctoral student who claimed the university did little to stop a graduate student she said sexually harassed her. The university has said in court papers it didn’t act with indifference to her complaint and has tried to have the lawsuit dismissed.

In the current situation, the Clark Atlanta tennis student said she initially brushed off her coach’s text messages, but got concerned when she said he stopped speaking to her. About three weeks later, she requested and had a meeting with Dawson, but heard nothing afterward.

“I was just trying to address the situation,” she said.