The 2015-2016 academic year at Baylor University had its fill of disappointments, heartbreak and negative media attention. It seemed as though losing our two starting quarterbacks to injury was the biggest tragedy we’d face at the beginning of the fall semester. However, after an ESPN report brought to light some serious sexual assault allegations surrounding several members of the Baylor football team and the athletics program at large, the rest of the year was a collection of investigations and controversy.
It seems impossible to move on from these blows to the school’s leadership, reputation and morale, but time doesn’t stand still. Baylor has taken the summer to give a facelift to the old Title IX system and the existing staff. We will see the result over time, but the changes have raised questions in the Baylor community, and some wonder if the school has truly done enough to combat the issue of sexual violence on campus.
The future of Baylor transcends football and the struggles we’ve faced this past year. Our academics alone rank us among the top 100 U.S. universities in 2016, according to the U.S News and World Report, and student life revolves around a set of time-honored traditions such as the famous Baylor Line. This tradition helps Baylor bring in the best and the brightest of each generation.
Some believe that former Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr and former football head coach Art Briles should not have been fired. Starr and Briles’ involvement in the cases last year is inconclusive and up to speculation, but what the Executive Council saw were two incredibly influential men at Baylor failing to complete their duties to the school as a whole.
Briles and Starr, as the faces of Baylor, were expected to uphold the values of the school and encourage students to follow those values. By not being forthcoming, they showed the students affected by this situation that a football season or a reputation is more important than people who live, work and study on Baylor’s campus. While these men weren’t solely responsible for obstructing the community’s views on the issue, allowing them to stay in powerful positions would only raise more questions about how far Baylor was willing to go in repairing the damages.
Faulty leadership was not the only variable. Existing policies within the Title IX office allowed for reports to not be filed, students to be turned away from reporting a sexual assault and information to be hidden or not properly investigated when an incident occurred. Baylor hired a private law office from Philadelphia to look into the accusations after the allegations against the school came out. The Pepper Hamilton team came and spent the entire year sifting through documents and designing a restoration plan for the Baylor system.
At the time, people were concerned about the secretive nature of the investigation and the fact that they would not release any information to the public. This did not instill confidence that all was well at Baylor. Many saw the choice to hire a private law firm as a method for Baylor to protect its image and anticipated receiving sparse updates.
Contrary to popular belief, however, Pepper Hamilton did release information after the investigation was over. In several statements from the firm, a total of 105 reparations were suggested, outlining exactly how Baylor can improve the Title IX office and the process for investigating and addressing claims of sexual assault. Baylor has already implemented 74 out of the 105 suggestions, and as the semester progresses, it will continue to rebuild its system.
Resources provided by Pepper Hamilton and the Baylor Title IX office are available on the Baylor website for students, parents and faculty interested in learning more.
Many of the common arguments on Baylor’s approach to dealing with sexual violence have been addressed in recent months. Baylor has removed several key members of the Baylor staff besides the figureheads Starr and Briles. They have also completed a year-long investigation in which attorneys completely reformatted the way our Title IX office should run. Sexual assault is not a problem solely at Baylor, and it is time we stopped treating it as though we are now defined by our faults.
Our school is continually working toward creating a better Baylor. Now it is time for the Baylor family to stop leaving it to those in authority and turn their attention to the future. We have all dreamed of changing the world, so why not start with Baylor?