Florida International U

FIU player and her mom say school botched handling of sexual harassment claim

FIU’s Destini Feagin (21) gets ready to shoot against Rice at FIU Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.
FIU’s Destini Feagin (21) gets ready to shoot against Rice at FIU Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. mocner@miamiherald.com

FIU women’s basketball captain Destini Feagin told the Miami Herald that she and mother Joi Nicholson detailed her allegations about women’s basketball coach Marlin Chinn to FIU’s athletics administration on Feb. 25.

Two days later, Chinn coached Saturday night’s Senior Night game against Florida Atlantic. Chinn remained active on social media Sunday night.

He wasn’t suspended by the university until at least Monday. FIU announced Chinn’s suspension Tuesday, two hours after Feagin’s allegations appeared in a Herald article.

Neither Feagin nor Nicholson, when they spoke to The Herald Monday, felt her complaint was handled properly after they spoke to Senior Associate Athletic Director Julie Berg and FIU Director of Equal Opportunity Programs and Diversity Shirlyon McWhorter. They never met with FIU Athletic Director Pete Garcia.

“To me, it appeared like they were trying to brush it under the rug,” Nicholson, said. “They didn’t want to talk about it. They just seemed like they didn’t want any part of it. As if they were in not disbelief, but denial. Basically, I went in and talked to Julie Berg. I talked to the Title IX coordinator (McWhorter).”

“It didn’t seem like they were trying to help the situation, and it didn’t seem like justice would be served,” she continued. “Even when she heard the tape, [Berg] still didn’t say, ‘I’m sorry this happened. We’re going to do our best to get to the bottom of it.’ She just kind of looked at me.”

Feagin and Nicholson said they played Feagin’s recording of a recent conversation she had with Chinn. Feagin shared that recording with the Herald.

So FIU possibly allowed Chinn to coach Saturday night after administrators heard Chinn say, “When you decide that we lay down together, I want you to want it more than I do.”

Also, “Married. Kid on the way. Attracted to a woman I have, No. 1, no business being with because I’m coaching her. I’m putting everything on the line because of how I feel about you.”

The meeting with Berg and McWhorter happened, Feagin said, only after a chance encounter with FIU President Mark Rosenberg, who regularly attends FIU men’s and women’s basketball games.

“I came from talking with Shirlyon McWhorter. I couldn’t get in contact with Julie Berg to tell her about the situation. I just ran into President Rosenberg. We waved. He said, ‘Are you okay? What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I’m not OK. I’m going through a lot.’ He said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I’ve been sexually harassed.’ He said, automatically, ‘OK, so what can I help you with?’ I said, ‘I’m trying to get in contact with Julie Berg.’ I couldn’t get in contact with her, but when he called, he contacted her. She was definitely avoiding me because I had called her three times before.”

The afternoon before, Feb. 24, an email went out to FIU athletics employees requiring their attendance at a Tuesday, March 1, meeting. According to an FIU source, employees were told about counseling available to them; reminded about proper coach relations; and what constitutes sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, Feagin didn’t participate in Saturday’s game or the Senior Night ceremony after being suspended Friday for using a teammate’s Athletic Panther Bucks card. Although the game program included Feagin as one of the seniors, Chinn’s Twitter and Instagram post acknowledged only Taylor Shade, Katrina Epnere and Brianna Wright.

“It makes me feel like I failed as a parent that I left my daughter down at this university, thousands of miles away with people whose moral compass is off,” Nicholson said. “I’m able to make that statement because we didn’t just go in there telling them what we heard. I didn’t go in and say what I heard, I didn’t go in and say what I thought. We went in there with evidence. We went in there with an email from one of her teammates (Jade Cheek) who was able to corroborate Destini’s story, tell what she saw and what she heard. And that she also stated in her email that she really didn’t feel comfortable playing under coach Chinn’s tutelage.

“So I feel like the university has failed my daughter, but the university has failed me as a parent. Because, even though she’s 22, I left them governing my child. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been any governance. She’s been mishandled, misused and sexually harassed by an authority figure you’re supposed to trust.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

FIU came close to pulling off the biggest upset in women's college basketball in years, but the 2-11 Panthers fell to Western Kentucky (11-2 this year, 41-7 the last two years) 71-69 at FIU Arena on Jan. 8, 2016.

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