It was all smiles Thursday morning at Baylor University. Incoming freshmen and their families arrived to enthusiastic volunteers who unloaded cars and rushed belongings to dorm rooms, about three months after a major leadership shake-up and revelations about the school’s responses to sexual assaults.
Baylor’s class of 2020 — the second-largest in school history, spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said — is moving in as officials work to implement 105 recommendations from Pepper Hamilton LLP, which found a “fundamental failure” to implement Title IX universitywide and detailed the football program’s failure to report specific sexual violence and dating violence cases, according to Baylor’s board of regents.
The law firm’s report led to the demotion of popular President Ken Starr and firing of football coach Art Briles. Nevertheless, students and parents are excited for Baylor’s next chapter.
“It doesn’t make me feel any differently about Baylor,” freshman Kayla Joslin, of Bellville, said of the scandal. “Everybody makes their mistakes, and I think we handled it the way that we should have, so I support Baylor 100 percent.”
One incoming freshman declined comment on Baylor’s situation, but others said they are proud of the changes made in the Title IX Office, counseling center and more and said it did not affect their college decisions.
“I feel like the measures that needed to be taken were taken,” said freshman Kavya Ramagiri, of Plano. “They handled it appropriately when the time came.”
Sharon Seelson, a mother from Killeen who dropped off her son, said she was glad Baylor addressed the scandal to students and families.
“When we went to orientation. I liked the fact they addressed what had happened,” Seelson said. “They didn’t push it under the rug. They let it out in the open and they gave us a chance to talk about it. I feel like they’ve learned from what has happened. And they’re going to do better, because I wouldn’t let my son go here if I didn’t think so.”
Since 2014, two former Baylor football players have been convicted of sexual assaults committed while they were students. A football player was arrested on a felony stalking charge at the beginning of this month, and another former football player was arrested on a sexual assault charge in April. Others have been named in police reports alleging sexual and physical violence.
Mary Barr, a 1980 Baylor graduate visiting campus with her high school-aged daughter, said the issue may be common throughout college football.
“It’s probably the tip of the iceberg,” Barr said. “I admire Baylor for stepping forth and admitting there was an issue in handling it. I would have absolutely no problem sending my daughter here. I feel like it’s a safe campus. I think alums are appalled that it happened, but I think the response has been tremendous. So we’re hopeful for the future.”
Officials expect more than 3,500 freshmen this fall. Applicants for Baylor’s class of 2020 were accepted at a 39.7 percent rate, Fogleman said. The university admitted 44 percent of applicants in 2015 and 55 percent in 2014.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Texas Christian University accepted about 49 percent of its applicants, Southern Methodist University accepted 52.4 percent and the University of Texas at Austin accepted 39.7 percent in 2014.
About 34 percent of Baylor’s incoming class identify themselves as minorities, Fogleman said. The 2015 incoming class had a 33.5 percent diversity rate, and the 2014 class had a 35.4 percent rate. As of December, 35 percent of Baylor students identified as minorities.
Also, a school-record 35.9 percent of the class is not from Texas, Fogleman said.
Alexa Keith, of Parker, Colorado, is in that group. Keith said she will have to get used to the humidity and not seeing her mother every day.
“It’s a really cool experience,” she said. “I like the family atmosphere.”
A group of 3,400 students, faculty, staff and community members are volunteering to assist the newcomers during the three-day move-in period Wednesday through Friday. Volunteers represented local churches, student groups and university departments.
“We have a peace about this, and we feel like it’s a really good campus,” said Troy King, a Houston father who dropped off his daughter. “The move-in experience itself was very organized, so that certainly helped. We dropped her off just now, so that’s a little hard.”