Baylor HEAL seeks to educate future law students about victims of abuse

A new student organization plans to bring awareness and education about sexual assault and misconduct to law students. Kristen DeHaven | Photo Editor

By Mary Watson Vergnolle | Reporter

The following article contains information relating to the subject of sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. If you or someone you know is struggling with this, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, available 24/7, or the Baylor University Title IX office at 254-710-8454.

Baylor HEAL, a new student organization created for law students, seeks to help educate students to advocate for victims of sexual abuse, assault and harassment in a legal setting.

The organization, co-founded by law students Tanner Scheef and Kristopher Ruiz, held their first meeting Monday at 4:30 p.m. The officers said they are eager to create a safe space for students to learn how to bring awareness to this important topic.

A first year law student from Friso and president of Baylor HEAL, Scheef said she wanted to help law students be better equipped with knowledge on such topics for their future career.

“HEAL stands for help, educate, advocate and learn. Those are our four main goals: to help victims, educate law students on how to better prepare ourselves to deal with victims, advocate for victims and advocate for change and ultimately learn from victims to better understand where they are coming from,” Scheef said. “A lot of us either know victims or have our own experience and a lot of the reason victims don’t come forward is because the legal process can be so traumatic. I think that we as future attorneys can lay the groundwork to make the legal pathways that victims have a safer space for them.”

Being a new organization, especially in the midst of a pandemic, has proved no easy task, but as future lawyers, the officers of Baylor HEAL are passionate about removing the stigma around the conversation of sexual misconduct and are hoping to help other law students steer away from being desensitized to the topic.

Wylie second-year law student Bridgett Meyer serves as Baylor HEAL’s treasurer and said she is excited about being able to offer an enriching experience to members.

“In law school, we read cases, and it can be easy to disassociate from that actual person who really went through something,” Meyer said. “Having an organization like this to help you bring back your humanity and to not detach yourself [from an experience] and to get back into the shoes of the victim is already so powerful.”

Baylor HEAL officers plan to host meetings in which they bring up these important topics, invite guest speakers and fundraise for local Waco organizations in order to expand their impact beyond the classroom.

“We also are going to try and work with the Waco Women’s Shelter as well as provide a bank of resources for members or even people who aren’t in our club and for those going through it,” Scheef said. “We also are going to be aware of possible trigger warnings and make our club a safe space as well.”

Fayetteville, N.C., first-year law student Rachel Hales, the club’s secretary, said she values the opportunity to connect online with other students.

“We have an Instagram where we post updates about meetings,” Hales said. “We have also done a couple polls about what the student body wants from us, and we are hoping to continue that. Ultimately, we want to serve our student body in a way that best educates them and works with their schedule.”

Round Rock second-year law student Kristopher Ruiz said he agrees the club’s main goal is to educate. Serving as vice president of Baylor HEAL, Ruiz said he remains dedicated to educating not only law students, but also providing a comfortable environment for the future clients they’ll serve.

“As lawyers, we have a responsibility to properly communicate with our clients,” Ruiz said. “We aren’t really taught how to talk with victims of abuse and harassment, and we really wanted to educate Baylor lawyers on how to do that.”

The officers of Baylor HEAL also seek to learn more about how to advocate and listen to victims and their stories.

“This education is so important in so many ways, and I know that I am grateful that we [as officers] are able to serve people and meet law students where they are at and make it relevant to their future,” Meyer said.

Scheef said the resources offered and the conversations had are not only relevant to law students or college students but all people.

“No aspect from people’s lives is going to be free from this unfortunately,” Scheef said. “We want people desiring to learn and be better. Having the resources that are going to be in our club for all students is going to be so important.”

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