Women who say they were raped while attending Baylor University held a silent demonstration Friday night in the Bill Daniel Student Center on Baylor’s campus.
About 10 women wore tape across their mouths with a victim’s first name, initials or a message written on it and observed 10 minutes of silence. About 35 people attended the event, including Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson.
“So far, this has been the only chance for victims’ voices to be heard in a safe environment,” said Karen Petree, a 2007 Baylor graduate who helped organize the event.
The demonstration came amid fallout from the board of regents’ May 26 decision to remove Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach while announcing the school’s “fundamental failure” to implement federal laws, including Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act.
The women shared their stories of experiencing sexual assault, and Petree then read aloud an open letter addressed to the Baylor community, which was sent to media Thursday.
“We ask the Board of Regents and the Baylor community to enlist our perspective to consider additional, needed improvement to the current processes as well as make the Baylor community aware of the experiences that survivors went through in the aftermath of their assaults,” part of the letter said. It was signed by, “The Survivors.”
Matt Burchett, Baylor’s director of student activities, did not return phone calls requesting comment about the event, but Baylor spokeswoman Tonya Lewis emailed the Tribune-Herald the following statement: “Staff in the division of student life have worked actively with students to support the event tonight. We respect the decision of our students to gather in community to share their concerns and support those who have been impacted personally by the devastating effects of sexual violence. It is important that they feel the freedom to gather and to shine a light on what Baylor intends to do to address this subject at our University.”
One of the speakers, Baylor student Julieth Reyes, 19, said events like this are important for survivors to join their voices and raise awareness of sexual assault. She said she is confident Baylor will improve its response to sexual assault victims. Reyes identified herself as a survivor of sexual assault, and gave permission to the Tribune-Herald to use her name.
Local counselors and Baylor employees, as well as Jackson, also attended the event. Jackson was visibly upset during the stories and spoke privately to the group afterwards.
According to the board of regents, Pepper Hamilton LLP, the law firm that investigated Baylor’s response to sexual assault allegations, found Baylor policies were “wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response under Title IX, that Baylor failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures, and that in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, or address its effects for individual complainants or the broader campus community.”
Pepper Hamilton findings also revealed a “cultural perception that football (players were) above the rules.”
Starr, the Baylor Line Foundation, alumni and some sexual assault survivors have called upon the board to release Pepper Hamilton’s full findings.
Since 2014, two former Baylor football players, Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwuachu, were convicted of sexual assault. Another, Shawn Oakman, was arrested on a sexual assault charge in April. Other football players have been named in Waco police reports alleging sexual and physical violence.