A group of Baylor University supporters is calling on the administration to improve the way that sexual assault complaints are handled after a graphic report from ESPN last week suggested a pattern of failures in cases involving football players.
On Friday, another student came forward with an account — in this case not involving an athlete — of how she felt university officials had failed to help her after an alleged rape, compelling a group of alumni and others to ask for meaningful change.
The letter, open to current students, faculty and staff as well as alumni, had been digitally signed by more than 1,100 people within 24 hours after it was posted this weekend. “Baylor students deserve more than mere assurances by administration officials that the University is doing its part,” they wrote. “Accordingly, we respectfully insist that the University promptly take action to improve its responses to sexual assault – and publicly state what those will be…”
A candlelight vigil in front of the university president’s house is planned for Monday evening.
Kenneth Starr, the former White House independent counsel who led several high-profile investigations during President Bill Clinton’s tenure, is the president and chancellor of Baylor. The private Christian research university in Texas is just one of many colleges facing criticism over the issue of sexual assault. The topic is controversial, with some critics believing the extent of the problem has been exaggerated, and the U.S. Department of Education investigating scores of institutions for their handling of such cases.
ESPN reported last week that they found several examples “in which school officials either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence. In many cases, officials did not provide support to those who reported assaults. Moreover, it took Baylor more than three years to comply with a federal directive: In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to all colleges and universities outlining their responsibilities under Title IX, including the need for each school to have a Title IX coordinator. Baylor didn’t hire a full-time coordinator until fall 2014.”
A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post on Monday. But on Sunday afternoon, a letter from Starr was emailed to the campus community and alumni.
As a community, our care and concern extends throughout every area of our campus life, including our efforts — like those of other colleges and universities across America — to eliminate the scourge of sexual violence. Such despicable violations of our basic humanity contradict every value Baylor lifts up as a caring Christian community.
Our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence. No one should have to endure the trauma of these terrible acts of wrongdoing. We must never lose sight of the long-term, deeply personal effects such contemptible conduct has on the lives of survivors. Let me be clear: Sexual violence emphatically has no place whatsoever at Baylor University.
In the letter Starr noted that “Last fall, Baylor University’s Board of Regents initiated a comprehensive external review of the University’s response to previous reports of sexual violence.” He went on to describe the ongoing efforts of a law firm that has been holding meetings with administrators and students and scrutinizing documents. Starr said he expects the efforts will result in a frank assessment of past policies and recommendations for the future.
Some alumni were already talking about the ESPN “Outside the Lines” story when they read about the other student came forward with her account, said Laura Seay, a 2000 alumna, an assistant professor at Colby College, who is speaking for the group who wrote the letter. (Seay contributes to The Post’s Monkey Cage blog about politics.)
“I was really just appalled and also saddened that Baylor had failed her in so many ways,” Seay said. “We do expect a higher standard [from Baylor]. I’m a Christian. I think you have an obligation as a Christian university, to not just follow the letter of the law … the Bible says you care for the vulnerable.”
The letter reads, in part:
We are a group of Baylor University alumni and friends who are increasingly concerned about multiple reports of the University’s apparent mishandling of cases of sexual assault involving Baylor students. While we understand that there are often conflicting accounts in these circumstances, that the University does not have all the resources available to law enforcement, and that the University is constrained by privacy laws from commenting on specific cases, a pattern of inadequate response has clearly emerged in recent months.
This pattern of response does not represent the distinct Christian identity on which Baylor prides itself, nor does it keep Baylor students, faculty, and staff safe.
…Baylor’s most important distinction as a Christian institution drove many of us to apply in the first place. As a Christian university, Baylor’s actions in all matters must be above reproach. Baylor’s failure to adequately serve survivors of sexual assault compromises the University’s Christian identity. Parents must know that their children will be safe at Baylor, and students must be assured that should the unthinkable happen, their decision to report sexual assault will be met with the University’s full support and resources. We can and must do better, for the sake of Baylor students, and for the sake of faithful Christian witness to the world.