The tone of the conversation about sexual assault at Baylor University changed Tuesday night.
A group of graduate students, graduates and local pastors hosted a prayer service called “A Space for Anger.”
“We wanted to create a space where we could explore and address the anger we feel about assault, violence and abuse,” said Kyndall Rothaus, pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church. “And to say that anger is an OK and natural response to have.”
About 50 people attended the service at Baylor’s Elliston Chapel. It consisted of litanies and songs about justice and anger, and attendees wrote prayers of protest against sexual violence. Counselors and pastors were available for those wanting to talk.
“We are angry that justice can seem so far away and that healing can be so elusive,” one of the prayers read. “May the energy of our anger fuel our commitment to justice.”
There were two spoken-word performances and three “anger stories,” in which people described their experiences with the emotion. Baylor religion major Keith Sena said he was angry over university’s mistreatment of rape victims and that he wrote the nine questions that appeared in chalk in front of Pat Neff Hall last month.
Sena said the questions were removed after publication in the Tribune-Herald.
“We want our abusers to be held accountable,” organizer Natalie Webb read in a litany of protest. “We want our schools and workplaces to take action on our behalf.”
Rothaus said anger can be an energy to fuel the cause for justice.
“Not just anger for anger’s sake, but also anger in the name of change,” she said.
Afterward, the group held a poetry event on the same topic at the Waco Hippodrome. About 75 people attended.
Seven poets performed pieces from the perspective of assault survivors. The group of poets included Stefanie Mundhenk, a former Baylor student who previously told the Tribune-Herald how the university mishandled her alleged sexual assault.
Previous prayer services in the four-part series focused on lament and silence. The final installment, “A Space for Hope,” is scheduled for March 29.
Baylor has faced heavy criticism for mishandling reports of sexual assault. An ESPN “Outside the Lines” report featured women claiming Baylor did not effectively respond to allegations against former football player Tevin Elliott. He was convicted on two counts of sexual assault in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In August, former football player Sam Ukwuachu also was convicted of sexual assault. Shortly after his conviction, Baylor hired Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP to investigate how the university handles rape allegations.
Last month, members of the Baylor community held a candlelight vigil outside President Ken Starr’s house to express frustration about the situation.
Shortly after the vigil, now-former student Cailin Ballard claimed she was blamed by Baylor police in October 2013 for her alleged sexual assault.
Baylor Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford, who was hired in November 2014, has said she is dedicated to addressing concerns of sexual assault. Her team determines jurisdiction issues and survivors’ needs after an alleged sexual assault, and Crawford said she meets with Baylor Police Chief Brad Wigtil each week.
Last month, Baylor’s Board of Regents approved an “administrative plan to prevent sexual violence.” It includes counseling service expansion; Title IX training for incoming and returning students, faculty and staff; and continuing education for Title IX services.
On March 3, 20-year-old Phi Delta Theta president Jacob Anderson was arrested on a sexual assault charge for allegedly forcing himself on a woman outside of a fraternity party. He was removed from the fraternity the next day, and Baylor and the national organization suspended the local Phi Delta Theta chapter’s activities.
Baylor Greek Life officials then sent an email to elected leaders of Greek organizations instructing them not to speak with the media about the situation.