Protesters supporting a 2015 Baylor University graduate who accused the university of fumbling her rape allegation planned to take their concerns to President Ken Starr’s front door Monday night.
A student-led group organized the vigil for 9:30 p.m. after Stefanie Mundhenk posted a lengthy account online last week alleging that she was raped twice in one night by another student in March 2015.
She said university officials, including Starr himself, failed to take action against the accused student and allowed him to work in an office housing her academic program.
Mundhenk posted the blog item Thursday night and said it has been viewed more than 90,000 times.
She points not to a problem in Baylor’s procedure in handling her sexual assault allegation, but a lack of urgency from an understaffed team handling the case.
“Their actions don’t match up to what they said they could provide me with as a victim,” Mundhenk said in an interview Monday with the Tribune-Herald. “That’s sort of my claim here. False advertising, if you will. But the entity that was supposed to care didn’t, and when that happens you start to believe your story doesn’t matter. I believed it mattered to me because it changed my life.”
Several calls to multiple Baylor spokespeople and the Title IX office were not returned Monday, and an employee in the president’s office said Starr was unavailable. Spokeswoman Tonya Lewis sent an email about 6:30 p.m. Monday and referred to a letter Starr penned to Baylor constituents Sunday two hours before the Super Bowl.
“(Title IX Coordinator) Patty (Crawford) ensures that students have unimpeded access to both support and resources, including academic accommodations, access to counseling, residence modifications, ‘no contact’ orders and other measures,” Starr wrote.
Lewis added, “We will consider having you meet with (Crawford) as her time becomes available.”
Todd Still, dean of Baylor’s Truett Seminary and interim provost at Baylor, contacted the students organizing the vigil and offered Paul W. Powell Chapel as a place for prayer afterward. He said the response to his offer was very positive.
“My trust and hope is that it will enable healing and understanding,” Still said. “And we stand in a position where we want to be sympathetic to those who suffer.”
The debate on how Baylor has handled sexual assault allegations was fueled by a recent ESPN report that included five women who claimed they were sexually assaulted by former Baylor football player Tevin Elliott. Elliott was sentenced in 2014 to 20 years in prison on two counts of sexually assaulting a former student in 2012.
Three women in the story claim Baylor offered little to no support throughout the process.
Baylor also faced criticism following the August 2015 sexual assault conviction of now-former football player Sam Ukwuachu, who sexually assaulted another former Baylor athlete in 2013. The school’s investigation of the victim’s outcry came under scrutiny during and after Ukwuachu’s trial.
Laura Seay, a Baylor alum and associate professor at Colby College in Maine, organized “An Open Letter to Baylor University on Responses to Sexual Assault” with friends. The letter, which had more than 1,400 signatures by early Monday evening, was written for those not able to attend Monday’s vigil. Seay said she is looking for more transparency from Starr.
“We do want to know what are the findings of the investigation when it’s completed,” Seay said, referring to an investigation by a Philadelphia-based law firm that Baylor commissioned following the Ukwuachu trial. “I understand a need for patience. But we’re really worried we won’t get any answers and not what we find about problems and concrete steps to fix them.”
In the letter he released Sunday afternoon, Starr said Baylor is working to prevent sexual violence.
“Let me be clear,” Starr said. “Sexual violence emphatically has no place whatsoever at Baylor.”
And in a slight change of tune from previous comments about the investigation into how the university handles sexual assault allegations, he also said Baylor will determine how to best share the findings of Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP’s investigation. A firm spokesman has said that investigation continues into this semester.
Mundhenk said she met with Starr in December to discuss her case, which she reported to university officials — including members of Baylor’s Title IX office, the human resources department and Baylor police — in June 2015. She said he was heartbroken and promised to follow up this spring, which he has not done yet.
“After the emails, it’s really Ken Starr we kind of have an issue with,” Mundhenk told the Tribune-Herald on Monday, referring to recent emails Starr has sent to Baylor constituents, including Sunday’s. “The administration is under Ken Starr, and he accepted being president of this university. I feel bad blaming one person for everything, but after the emails, not quite as bad.”
She wrote that though she still loves Baylor, she is tired of reading letters about the issue, but not seeing changes.
“I’m tired of a Christian university not having a passion for the hurting, and covering up its glossy image,” Mundhenk wrote in her Thursday blog post. “What is it that really matters to you? My rape, OUR rapes or a Christian image?”