Former Division I football player Katie Hnida spoke about her experience with sexual assault and rape to a large crowd of attentive and interested students in JRC 101 on Tuesday. Hnida was the keynote speaker for Sexual Assult Awareness week. In addition, 25 percent of Grinnelians will be wearing teal shirts as a part of today’s feature event, “To be One in Four,” which shows the breadth of sexual assault on college campuses. One in four women will be sexually assaulted before they graduate. Hnida shared here own story while visiting with the athletic department, students, and members of the College community.
“I speak at colleges and universities across the country, and I have been so impressed with the action and the progressiveness of [Grinnell,]” Hnida said.
Hnida’s visit was sponsored by the Real Men Program, which is also holding Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Week.
“This week is really something phenomenal,” said Hnida. “Taking this issue, grabbing the bull by the horns and talking about it—that is so important.”
Because of an injury to her quad at the age of thirteen, Hnida stopped playing soccer, but because she could still kick well, her father encouraged her to try out for the football team.
“Something about it just got my blood going,” Hnida said. “It was just right. I had found a home [in football].”
After graduating, Hnida enrolled at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she was a walk-on kicker for the Buffaloes. Although her gender was accepted by her teammates in high school, members of Colorado’s team harassed Hnida throughout her year there. A teammate raped her, and she left Colorado. After recovering, she transferred to The University of New Mexico, where she continued her athletic career and became the first woman to score in a DI game.
JRC 101 was filled mostly with women, but many men, especially athletes, were also present.
“I think that [her talk] was vitally important, both because of issues with athletics and issues with the football team becoming more integrated on campus,” said Sam Offenberg ’14, a member of the Pioneer football team.
Hnida stressed that sexist behavior is not inherent in athletic activity. Although her time at the University of Colorado was “one of the darkest periods” in her life, Hnida was impressed and reassured by her teammates at New Mexico.
“It was like having 100 really terrific brothers,” said Hnida. “I was just like a sister to a lot of the guys.”
However, Hnida needed healing before getting back into the game. After being raped, Hnida struggled to seek help, because she had difficulty defining what happened to her and she did not know where to turn for help.
“I did not go to the police. As a matter of fact, I did not tell anybody,” said Hnida, who explained that she also felt uncomfortable confiding in her parents. “I fell into a depression so deep that I couldn’t even get out of bed in the mornings.”
Eventually, Hnida found the courage to have hope.
“There was no giant Oprah ‘Ah Ha!’ moment. I just knew that I couldn’t live like that anymore,” Hnida said about seeking therapy. “It was really hard. It was really painful.”
Although she had avoided football after the attack, she began practicing her kicking at night on the field, and her love of the game returned.
“I wasn’t going to let anyone take that dream away from me,” Hnida said.
When other women accused football players at Colorado of sexual abuse, Hnida decided to come forward. Sports Illustrated‘s story generated a tremendous response that was at times overwhelming for Hnida.
“It was brutal when I reported,” Hnida said. “One of the worst things about sexual assault is that no one really wants to talk about it.”
The University of Colorado fired its coach, and two players from the team apologized to her for the abuse and harassment.
Hnida stresses the need for continued communication about issues concerning sexual abuse and rape, for both prevention and healing.
“I think that it’s really important when you’re with your peers, friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends, that this is something that you need to be aware of, something that needs to be discussed,” Hnida said.
“I think it was a great talk,” Cristal Coleman ’15 said after Hnida finished her speech. “Grinnell is a very aware and socially progressive place. I think that this talk created more awareness, and it’s going to fuel more progressive changes that are going to make Grinnell a better place.”