In the wake of a Baylor University fraternity president being charged with sexual assault, the university Greek Life staff sent an email to elected leaders of Greek organizations instructing them not to speak with the media about the situation.
“At this time, we need the IFC (Intrafraternity Council) executive board to officially have ‘no comment’ and not talk about this with any media or with your chapter members,” the email said. “This is a devastating situation, and we need to set an example for the rest of the IFC community that talking about an incident we know nothing about is not an appropriate way to respond right now.”
Former Phi Delta Theta president Jacob Anderson, 20, was arrested last week on a sexual assault charge. The alleged victim received a sexual-assault medical exam following a fraternity party at a house in the 2600 block of South Third Street on Feb. 21. Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center officials notified Waco police of the alleged assault.
“If anyone asks you about it, you need to tell them that you are not able to answer any questions and instead refer them to Lori Fogleman in Media Relations,” the email said.
Baylor spokeswoman Tonya Lewis said in an email to the Tribune-Herald that Baylor has no policy that prevents students from speaking to media outlets on an individual basis.
“Our students regularly share their voices and opinions on a variety of topics,” Lewis said. “The difference in the case of students receiving this email is that elected leaders have a responsibility as spokespeople for their organizations to follow guidelines provided by their national offices.”
Laura Palumbo, spokeswoman at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said there is a chance students could perceive the instruction as silencing.
“It’s not the first time we’ve heard a university taking these steps,” Palumbo said. “But a university needs to consider the climate those actions can create for students.”
She also said students should know it is safe to talk about sexual assault to create a healthy environment.
The Intrafraternity Council is the governing body of 12 national and international fraternities at Baylor, while the Baylor Panhellenic Council is the governing body of eight national and international Baylor sororities.
“Each organization has their own preferred set of best practices, but it’s not uncommon for member organizations to ask that their members coordinate with their headquarters if they are speaking on behalf of their organization,” said Dani Weatherford, executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference.
Baylor has faced heightened criticism regarding responses to sexual assault allegations since the conviction of former football player Sam Ukwuachu in August. After an internal review and public scrutiny, Baylor hired Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP to review the school’s procedures and make recommendations. That review is still ongoing.
An ESPN “Outside the Lines” report featured multiple women saying Baylor mishandled their allegations against former football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted on two counts of sexual assault in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In the days after the report, two other women spoke to the Tribune-Herald and shared stories of Baylor mishandling their cases after they reported being raped.
A group held a candlelight vigil outside President Ken Starr’s house last month, and another group has organized prayer services to unite students and survivors of sexual assault.
Starr has met directly with groups of students to discuss the issue, and Tuesday, Baylor Vice President of Student Life Kevin Jackson told Texas lawmakers preventing sexual assault at the university is a top priority.
He said the request for student leaders of Greek organizations to refrain from public comment was intended to protect the investigation into the incident.
“This request from Greek Life was sent to the elected leadership of fraternities and sororities asking them to refrain from official statements calling for speculation about the incident which remains under investigation,” Jackson said of the emails. “Out of an abundance of caution for such a sensitive matter, we asked these student leaders to respect the privacy of the individuals involved. It would have been tragic if one of these student officers had inadvertently shared the name of the female student involved or in some other way compromised the investigation.”