When Patty Crawford started at Baylor University, her role was new to the university, but it quickly became one of the most critical positions at a school. She was tasked with improving its response to sexual assault claims.
Crawford was hired as Baylor’s first full-time Title IX coordinator in November 2014, taking over the responsibilities from senior administrators who had other full-time duties.
While building an office from scratch, Crawford said, she faced challenges fostering cross-campus communication on Title IX. She was hired about three years after the Department of Education instructed universities to create Title IX offices.
“What I do is not easy to talk about for people who don’t do it professionally every day,” Crawford said. “We’re trying to build a platform for people to come forward and talk about some of the most difficult things anyone could talk about — and definitely that anyone could experience.”
She said the recent months have been painful for her, especially when she sees victims who may be suffering speak publicly about their situations as they raise awareness of the issues Crawford is working to improve.
“What’s happening right now gives me the opportunity to lead and build, in collaboration with this university, the best Title IX office in the country,” Crawford said. “So we can look at all this, and I can tell survivors, or you can tell them for me through your pieces, that your voice and your work and your concerns, no matter how consistent or inconsistent they are with what I know in my office or what we have, is not in vain. This is making a difference.
“As painful as it is, sometimes this is what we have to go through to be the best. It wasn’t as though anyone intentionally didn’t want to be the best. I think the reality has become, this stuff happens everywhere, and it also happens here.”
Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP found a “fundamental failure” in Baylor’s implementation of Title IX and federal laws protecting women during a nine-month investigation. It ended with regents removing Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach. The board sanctioned Athletics Director Ian McCaw, and he resigned days later. Starr resigned as chancellor and will remain a law professor.
Regents have since significantly increased resources and staffing to the Title IX Office.
According to the “Findings of Fact” released by the regents and based on Pepper Hamilton’s findings, “perceived judgmental responses by administrators based on a complainant’s alcohol or other drug use or prior consensual sexual activity also discouraged reporting or continued participation in the process.”
Amnesty for minor student code violations for complainants was given in August 2015, and Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson in March voiced those changes, which Crawford co-wrote, to Texas legislators.
“We understand at this university, and it’s been a big part of my work here, that sexual violence and interpersonal violence and harassment and discrimination is much more egregious than underage alcohol consumption or a consensual sexual act that might be a precursor to the nonconsensual pieces that are being alleged. . . . We want students to feel comfortable reporting,” she said.
Crawford also said Baylor Title IX training sessions, now campuswide, teach students about sexual consent, and she had no push-back from administrators in making the change.
Teaching sexual consent can lead to a dilemma at faith-based colleges, said Jill Levenson, associate professor of social work at Barry University in Miami.
“There is maybe a reluctance to talk about sexual activity because perhaps there’s a fear that it’s encouraging sexual activity,” Levenson said. “If we don’t talk about how to be respectful of sexual boundaries and sexual interactions, we really do students a disservice.
“If students are electing to be abstinent, and that’s consistent with their faith beliefs, that’s great. But rape is different from deciding about abstinence. Rape is a crime. It’s a violation of somebody else’s boundaries, and I think we do need to be talking about respect and consent.”
Crawford said amnesty is only one aspect of sexual assault claims and ensuing Title IX investigations, which require a “preponderance of evidence” for a ruling, different from standards in a court of law. Investigations also must be completed quickly, and officials do not have all the resources criminal investigators would.
“It’s not easy to get to preponderance in a case,” Crawford said. “It’s, ‘Do I believe this happened more likely than not?’ We do not take it lightly, and our adjudicators do not take it lightly. You need good facts to make a finding. They’re very good at what they do.”
While Baylor has seen convictions, arrests, investigations, firings, services, vigils and constant conversations about sexual violence, Crawford remains confident that Baylor can become a national model.
“I would not have stayed at Baylor through this, something from before I was here, if I didn’t know and be encouraged and understand that I still have authority and opportunities to build the best,” Crawford said. “I’m not going to be a part of something unless it’s going to be the best and it’s going help students. We’re not at the best yet. Hopefully, it is a possibility in this world of such complexity as interpersonal violence.”
As universities continue to learn how to best implement federal guidelines and regulations, Crawford said her office studies and understands the nuances of the nationwide issues.
“There are a lot of complexities to this that, maybe on the outside, people don’t understand. But know that we understand it. We’re experts in this and we care about it. And we’re always going to want to get it right and do the best, and we work really hard. I’ve sacrificed two years of a life, and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t care.”