A cause for celebration for some, concern for others: Community reacts to Cephus’ return as Badger

Wide receiver Quintez Cephus will officially rejoin the Badger football team after UW-Madison announced he’s been readmitted to the university. It’s news that’s being met with both celebration and concern.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced Monday that the university would readmit 21-year-old Cephus following his acquittal in criminal court on sexual assault charges. The announcement came after about two weeks of reviewing his petition for readmission.

“It says justice,” the Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen said of the decision. “It’s all we were asking for, was justice.”

While away from the football field, Cephus took refuge in the pews at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison.

“It was a place of hope,” Allen said. “Ultimately, that’s what we provide.”

Over the past year, Allen said the football player became a regular at his church, along with some teammates.

“He’s been a humble young man,” he said.

Allen was an advocate for Cephus throughout the court process, joining the Black Leadership Council of Dane County in writing a letter asking UW-Madison’s chancellor to readmit him. He was glad to hear that Cephus can return as a Badger.

“I was excited,” he said. “Thankful. Grateful.”

Quintez Cephus’ attorneys say on his flight here “he couldn’t sit still” after learning @UWMadison is allowing him back in.

He does want to play football this year. Why he wants to do it here?

“Because of my teammates and my coaches…I have no reason to leave WI.” pic.twitter.com/kRg9RXlChF

— Madalyn O’Neill (@news3madalyn) August 19, 2019

Not everyone is excited by the chancellor’s decision.

“It can feel very lonely being a survivor and hearing the crowds roar for somebody who in your eyes you see as a perpetrator,” said Erin Thornley Parisi, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center.

Thornley Parisi said she worries the decision sends a message to students that the campus isn’t a safe space for sexual assault survivors.

“I’m not going to second-guess the chancellor’s decision, but I am very aware that there are going to be people on campus who are going to be hurt and survivors who are going to say, ‘There’s just no point in ever telling,'” she said.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Cephus’ attorneys said the jury’s verdict should put concerns to rest.

“It’s time to stop,” attorney Stephen Meyer said. “He’s an innocent man. Treat him like that.”

But Thornley Parisi said it’s been a complex issue from the start, noting that only about 2% of sexual assault offenders end up behind bars.

“Those of us who work in this field, you know, I don’t want to second-guess the jury. They made a decision based on what was in front of them, but it doesn’t mean that he was innocent and that’s the thing that people have to realize is that this is about how the legal process works,” she said. “Until we start improving our criminal justice system for survivors of sexual assault and improving our criminal justice system for black people, there’s going to be pain,” she said.

“I don’t want communities against each other at all. It’s not that,” Allen said. “It’s ‘right is right’ and justice.”

Allen looks forward to seeing Cephus back on the field and back in his church’s pews.

“I know he’ll be here,” Allen said.

Saja Abu Hakmeh, the chair of Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, or PAVE, a victim empowerment group on campus, said she’s displeased but not surprised by the university’s decision.

Thornley Parisi wants to make the Rape Crisis Center 24-Hour Helpline available to anyone who would like to use its free services. The number is 608-251-7273.

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