Allegations that some Baylor University officials used student-conduct prohibitions against drinking and premarital sex to intimidate and discourage victims of sexual assault from pursing their complaints are enough to raise one’s blood pressure in outrage. And even though these are as yet unproven, such claims should prompt Baylor leadership to further explore whether stern, unforgiving student-conduct codes have positive relevance today — even on a resolutely Christian campus where parents expect their children to walk the straight and narrow as students.
One can debate whether the question is more relevant now because of Baylor’s national profile in football and other areas. But even in the days of Floyd Casey Stadium, one was struck by the irony of Baylor’s official intolerance of student drinking when the activity was so obviously a part of tailgating merriment. Isn’t it hypocritical to turn a blind eye to such gameday revelry when conduct standards loom over students in other venues and other scenarios?
Baylor leadership should seek to address these inconsistencies. After all, BU regents’ “Findings of Fact” outlining administrative failures in recent years to prevent sexual assaults and properly address student victims indicate conduct policies represented a hurdle. Even without misguided Baylor administrators to complicate matters, these policies might have caused any traumatized Baylor student victim to think twice about reporting an incident to higher-ups, especially if activities such as drinking were involved.
“The administrators tasked with implementing Title IX prior to November of 2014 [when a full-time Title IX coordinator was hired] had a limited understanding of the dynamics of sexual violence and existing barriers to reporting on Baylor’s campus, including the impact of other campus policies regarding the prohibition of alcohol and extra-marital sexual intercourse,” regents wrote in their May 26 findings amid a national scandal over sexual violence involving students and football players.
Fully acknowledging that some sexual assaults stemmed from unwise decisions by students, Baylor should at least scrutinize the steps at Mormon-run Brigham Young University to scuttle student-code infractions when the horrendous charge of sexual assault is raised. Baylor should scrap any vestige of victim-blaming and ensure the greater sins are prioritized through its significantly expanded Title IX office. As the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights notes of such matters in an April 2014 report, “a school should review its disciplinary policy to ensure it does not have a chilling effect on students’ reporting of sexual-violence offenses or participating as witnesses.”
Which leaves us with an awkward question, particularly as Baylor officials now implement recommendations offered by the Pepper Hamilton law firm charged with investigating systemic failures in Title IX gender-violence issues: How should a university such as Baylor continue to imbue everything from student life to academic research to, yes, winning football games with a decidedly Christian stamp?
Perhaps this is the golden opportunity to make chapel an even more compelling experience. Perhaps this is an even greater opportunity for student organizations that seek to put the Christian principles of charity and good acts to work in pursuits ranging from philanthropy to weatherizing old homes in run-down neighborhoods. For those whose faith is ripe with possibilities, the sky is the limit. If the ongoing scandal and systemic failures even vaguely revealed to the “Baylor family” in recent months are any indication, the current model has run its course.