Baylor Students, Alumni Call for Changes to School's Response to Sexual Assaults

By Sandi Villarreal 2-08-2016
Baylor University
Baylor University, by Danny Huizinga / Flickr.com

A group of Baylor University students and alumni will gather for a candlelight vigil outside university President Ken Starr’s home on Feb. 8 in an effort to urge changes to how the school handles sexual assault.

The vigil is being organized by Stefanie Mundhenk, a recent graduate who described her own experience through the school’s Title IX process in her personal blog. Mundhenk’s account — coupled with a recent ESPN report accusing the school of mishandling cases of sexual assault by Baylor football players, and subsequent CBS Sports commentary calling on President Ken Starr to “stop stonewalling” about the rape cases — sparked outrage among Baylor alumni, many of whom responded in an open letter to the university administration over the weekend. Since the open letter was shared on Saturday, the list of signatories has risen from 50 to more than 1,300.

“Baylor students deserve more than mere assurances by administration officials that the University is doing its part,” the open letter reads“Accordingly, we respectfully insist that the University promptly take action to improve its responses to sexual assault — and publicly state what those will be.”

In the fall of 2014 — after the most recent case cited in the ESPN report — Baylor appointed Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford. But the group of alumni is calling on the school to do more, including: retaining qualified investigators, prioritizing facilitating survivors’ participation in school activities, referring survivors to immediate counseling and ensuring there is no income barrier from receiving services, and implement stronger training programs for students on consent, bystander intervention, and reporting and treatment options available.

Crawford and Starr have maintained that the school cannot comment on specific cases of sexual assault due to privacy guidelines. But Starr further insists that the school cannot comment on any deficiencies in the process of responding to sexual assault cases because the school is currently undergoing a review of its policies and “any observations about policies and practices would be premature.”

On Sunday, Starr echoed the same sentiments in a letter on the school’s website titled “Safeguarding Baylor’s Students.”

“… it is vital to the integrity of the ongoing review by Pepper Hamilton that we refrain from comment and observations about policies and practices until their review is concluded. Although it is difficult for us, we are constrained to show restraint as we allow the firm’s review to proceed to completion in an orderly manner.”

Starr also spoke to some of the concerns listed in the alumni open letter by outlining the school’s Title IX efforts, inclusive of appointing Crawford’s position, a full-time case manager, and two trained investigators. He also writes, “every member of Baylor’s campus has been provided the opportunity to attend Title IX training.”

But Starr’s comments don’t seem to be stemming the tide of concern throughout “Baylor Nation.” The Facebook event for Monday’s candlelight vigil and following prayer service has elicited supportive comments from students and alumni, with hundreds planning to attend.

From the event page: “We hope to show in a visible way just how much rape affects us, those we hold dear, and our community in a peaceful effort to incite change.”

Sandi Villarreal is Web Editor and Chief Digital Officer for Sojourners. You can find her on Twitter @Sandi.

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