Baylor's sexual assault response draws protest

WACO, Texas (BP) -- Baylor University's response to reports of campus sexual violence has drawn scores of protesters to the university president's house and provoked at least two observers to call for the severing of official ties between Baylor and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Baylor President Ken Starr responded to critics with two statements, which affirmed the protesters' "poise and maturity" and stated the university is conducting a thorough review of its response to reports of sexual violence.

A BGCT spokesman told Baptist Press the convention will "celebrate the good and work to resolve the bad" in its "long and storied relationship" with Baylor.

About 200 people participated in a candlelight vigil at Starr's home Feb. 8 asking Baylor to "handle campus rape cases better," according to The Dallas Morning News. The protesters then held a prayer service at the university's George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

The vigil occurred one week following allegations by ESPN's Outside the Lines that in multiple instances, "school officials [at Baylor] either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence," including two instances of sexual assault by former members of the university's football team.

The football players referenced, Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwauchu, both have been convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to prison.

The Dallas Morning News reported at least three women who allege they were assaulted by Elliott say the university mishandled their allegations. During Ukwauchu's 2015 trial, "it was disclosed that Baylor officials had conducted an internal investigation into the assault complaint and cleared him of any wrongdoing," ESPN reported.

A day before the vigil, Starr released a letter to the Baylor community explaining that last fall, the university's board of regents hired the law firm Pepper Hamilton to review its sexual violence policies because the firm has "expertise in the institutional response to all aspects of sexual misconduct."

Vigil participants said in a statement on the event's Facebook page, "Baylor University's Administration repeatedly promises justice to students raped at Baylor and fails to provide it. Ken Starr repeatedly issues emailed platitudes while students still suffer. Policies outlined in Baylor's Title IX compliance documents are inconsistently followed, and, at times, ignored altogether. Perpetrators are repeatedly allowed to go free due to these shortcomings. This makes our campus unsafe."

Starr responded to the vigil in a Feb. 9 statement posted on Baylor's website.

"Last evening, our students came together as a family," Starr said. "They displayed great poise and maturity during the vigil at Allbritton House [the official name for the Baylor president's home] and in the prayer service that followed at our beloved Truett Seminary. We hear your voices loud and clear."

Starr gave his word the university would "continue to improve" and take "definitive, responsible actions" after it receives recommendations from a Philadelphia law firm that is conducting what Starr previously called "a comprehensive external review of the university's response to previous reports of sexual violence."

The university has not publicly discussed "specific reports of sexual assault," Starr said, in an effort to comply with federal student-privacy laws. Baylor will not comment on "policies and procedures" until after the external review is complete.

Under Baylor's current policy on "sexual harassment, sexual violence and interpersonal violence," Starr said, "a trained and experienced external professional reviews [each] investigative report, meets with the parties and witnesses and renders an objective and impartial determination as to responsibility. When a student is found to have committed an act of sexual violence, strong disciplinary consequences ensue."

Bart Barber, a Baylor alumnus and pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, speculated on the SBC Voices blog that Baylor's quest to achieve top national rankings in athletics and academics may have led the university to "cover up sexual misconduct," and opined that the university "handled sexual violence on its campus in such a shoddy and disgraceful manner … because it has learned so much from churches."

"Ambitious people and ambitious organizations," Barber wrote, "often see allegations of sexual assault as a threat to themselves."

Churches that "have tried to cover up sexual misconduct" should be disfellowshipped from their local Baptist associations, their state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention, Barber wrote, until "they have made amends with the victims and have put in place procedures and safeguards to protect those who report sexual misconduct in the future."

In the same vein, Barber encouraged the BGCT "to take disciplinary action in its relationship with Baylor University."

Barber's call for cessation of the cooperative relationship between the university and the convention echoed a similar call by Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel, who wrote Feb. 2 Baylor should "distance itself" from "the Baptists, or quit messing around with these overly enabled ... football players."

Engel concluded, "Don't take my word for it, listen to Jesus Christ when he commanded: 'Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.' If you can't, just drop the charade with the Baptists."

BGCT communications director Rand Jenkins said in a statement, "Baylor University and the Baptist General Convention of Texas have a long and storied relationship that dates back to the founding of both entities." BGCT funding of Baylor "is directed to provide scholarships for students in ministry training. Most of those scholarships are directed to Truett Seminary.

"All individuals and institutions go through difficult times," Jenkins continued. "We celebrate the good and work to resolve the bad. In the midst of this horrific situation surrounding Baylor and some students, we prayerfully hope for a satisfactory resolution to this matter. Furthermore, we grieve with those who are suffering and prayerfully approach resolution for all involved."

Currently, the BGCT elects 25 percent of Baylor's board of regents and planned to send the university $353,124 this year, according to the convention's 2016 Missions and Ministries Budget.

In his letter, Starr assured friends of Baylor that the university is seeking "to eliminate the scourge of sexual violence" from campus life. "Such despicable violations of our basic humanity contradict every value Baylor lifts up as a caring Christian community," he said.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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