Amid personnel changes, Title IX office and counseling center expansions and sexual assault convictions, arrests and allegations, Baylor University is in a transitional phase.
Interim President David Garland told the Tribune-Herald on Monday implementing the 105 recommendations presented by Pepper Hamilton LLP is his first priority. Baylor announced Friday a list of implementation teams led by two executive-level task forces to review policies, engage students and develop systems responding to sexual violence.
The Philadelphia-based law firm found a “fundamental failure” by the school in responding to such matters, and national experts say the conversation will be ongoing.
Christina Mancini, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies sexual victimization and campus sexual assault, said heightened awareness of the issue could lead to more reports of the crime at Baylor.
“I think, sure, revamping and the implementation of the changes will definitely increase awareness, and it might result in an artificial increase in making it seem like there’s more rape on campus, if you will,” Mancini said. “Because when people feel they’ll be taken seriously, they might come and report. So Baylor might experience an increase.”
According to the most recent college crime statistics, which are released every October, no sexual assaults were reported to Baylor police between 2009 and 2011. Two were reported in 2012, and six each were reported in 2013 and in 2014.
Mancini said low numbers of reported campus sexual assaults seems strange because survey research indicates sexual assaults on college campuses are far more prevalent, but those low reported numbers are not atypical across the country.
But the low number of reported sexual assaults fly in the face of statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which indicate one in five women will be sexually assaulted at college.
Mancini said creating more services for victims, as Baylor is now doing, tells victims the school embraces their rights and will not take an adversarial approach to investigations. According to a portion of Pepper Hamilton’s findings which were released by Baylor’s board of regents, “barriers created by conversations with University personnel discouraged, rather than encouraged, participation in the University’s Title IX processes.”
Baylor Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford could not be reached for comment for this report.
Adding student voices
Mark Toliver, a political science major at Baylor who has worked to promote Baylor’s “It’s On Us” campaigns, said the addition of student voices would be the most beneficial tactic to implement Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations.
“Their voices have more impact because they actually experienced it,” Toliver said. “Since they know what sexual assault victims have been through, they can better assess these issues.”
He also said he has heard students who are upset about the removal of Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach, and expressed frustration with the victim-blaming he has heard on campus. The school’s regents have continued to decline to release Pepper Hamilton’s full findings, including the evidence supporting the law firm’s “Findings of Fact” which led to Starr and Briles’ dismissals, despite pressure from the school’s constituents — including groups of alumni, students and faculty — to do so.
Women have publicly announced how the university fumbled their claims of sexual assault, with some filing Title IX lawsuits against Baylor and others threatening such lawsuits. Stefanie Mundhenk, a Baylor graduate who told the Tribune-Herald of her experience, said she is “skeptical at best” about the new efforts to implement Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations.
“Without seeing the real Pepper Hamilton report, we can’t be assured that all those who acted to cover this up are gone,” Mundhenk said.
Garland has said there is nothing else to be released, but added the board of regents and then-President Ken Starr received oral presentations from Pepper Hamilton in the form of survivor stories. The Baylor Line Foundation, other alumni, some sexual assault survivors and Starr himself have called for further transparency from the board.
Mancini, the VCU associate professor, said evaluations of new policies, once implemented, are key because false reporting is potentially an unintended effect.
“Any time you draw awareness to an issue, there may be conniving people out there that take advantage of the fact that there has been this new change,” she said. “(But) I will say false reporting of rape is very rare.”
Local criminal defense lawyers have expressed concern about a lack of due process afforded the accused in Title IX cases at Baylor. Some told the Tribune-Herald they now often receive calls from Baylor students seeking advice on such complaints.
“The university has to respect the rights of the accused, so there is due process written within the law,” Mancini said.
Baylor spokeswoman Tonya Lewis, in an email sent late Friday night, said, “Both complainants and respondents have rights and investigations are to be fair and equitable to all parties involved. . . . The University is committed to providing a prompt and impartial investigation of all alleged violations of this policy. During the disciplinary process, both parties (complainant and respondent) have equivalent rights, including the opportunity to review and present evidence, to be accompanied by an advisor of their choice, and to appeal.
Mancini said only time will tell how sexual assault policies and Title IX protocols work at Baylor and other universities.
“In the college population, it’s really a black box in terms of how these new policies are working,” she said. “They’re just so new, we haven’t tested their impact.”