A Baylor University graduate student and her friends are continuing the conversation about sexual assault at the school with a public prayer service Tuesday night.
Natalie Webb said a series of four such services, beginning Tuesday, are open to male and female survivors of assault and anyone else who wants to support them.
The services will focus on four stages of healing: lament, silence, anger and hope.
“Each service will be hanging out in each one of those spaces,” Webb said. “They’re healthy spaces and biblical spaces for prayer. A lot of times, victims feel pressure to get past those to hope, or forgiveness or get over it, because it’s a taboo issue and hard to talk about.”
The Tuesday service will include moments of silence, Scripture readings, prayers and hymns.
University Chaplain Burt Burleson helped spread the word for the 8 p.m. event at Baylor’s Elliston Chapel.
“It really is the opportunity and calling of the church and faith community to approach all of life through our life of worship and our liturgical life,” Burleson said. “So in that experience, we’re able to face life together honestly. We’re able to look toward God for healing, but also to call one another to faithfulness in the world.”
The first student response to allegations of Baylor’s alleged mishandling of sexual assault came at a Feb. 8 candlelight vigil outside President Ken Starr’s house.
More than 200 students, faculty and staff attended the event, which was followed by a prayer service at Truett Seminary.
Webb said she is organizing the services with another graduate student and other local pastors, including the Rev. Kyndall Rothaus, pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church.
Rothaus said these services are important because trauma does not lead to instant healing.
“I was moved by the vigil a couple weeks ago, and this is an issue that has mattered to me a lot over the years,” she said.
Rothaus also said she wants to provide a faith-based awareness that sexual assault affects many people, not just those on college campuses.
“We’re hoping these services draw in people from the community,” Rothaus said. “Sexual violence is a national problem and a universal problem.”
The candlelight vigil was led by Stefanie Mundhenk, a former Baylor student who posted a blog detailing how she thinks the university mishandled her sexual assault case.
That night, another Baylor student, Cailin Ballard, posted a blog explaining how Baylor police blamed her for her reported sexual assault.
“They literally told me that if I hadn’t been drinking or hadn’t gone to the party, I wouldn’t be in this scenario,” Ballard told the Tribune-Herald of the interaction.
On Feb. 12, Baylor revealed “an administrative action plan to prevent sexual violence” approved by the board of regents.
The plan will immediately increase funding to hire more counselors and add counseling space; provide academic resources for students who prompt a Title IX investigation; and increase Title IX training for upperclass and graduate students and annual training for faculty and staff.
Starr has also announced that he will determine how best to share the results of an ongoing investigation by Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP.
The investigation was sparked by the case of former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu, who sexually assaulted another former Baylor athlete in 2013.
The school’s response to the victim’s outcry came under scrutiny during and after his trial, which ended with his conviction in August.
A recent ESPN report featured multiple women claiming they were raped by former Baylor football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 on two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Amid the accusations Baylor faces, Burleson said the prayer service is an example of how the university responds to the world in a positive way.
“It’s a practice of ours as a university,” Burleson said. “Whatever is going on in the culture and in the world, we want to embrace it and enter into it this way, even as we engage in other ways.”