Given the seeming plague of high-profile sexual assaults marking Baylor University’s recent past, it was only natural to expect that Baylor Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson might dominate last week’s Texas House Committee on Higher Education meeting on sexual violence at colleges statewide. It didn’t quite work out that way.
State Rep. Myra Crownover unwittingly stole some of the thunder by pressing another witness about the correlation between drinking and sexual assaults. Some later suggested this was outrageous, though expert witness Noël Busch-Armendariz of the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault didn’t think so. Often enough, they are intertwined.
But even putting aside the dustup over Crownover, Jackson’s 20-minute appearance before the committee offered few revelations beyond his general remarks about the need for universities and colleges in Texas to mount a summit “to talk about this and to share best practices with each other.” Which is, of course, not only smart but overdue.
Jackson talked a lot about best practices, listing steps that Baylor has taken including extensive training in the prevention of sexual assault for students and faculty (to the degree it would seem hard for anyone to now elude such training); bolstering counseling services and its Title IX program, whose staff includes a coordinator, two investigators, a case manager, a training coordinator (all full-time) and, by contract, two external adjudicators, one of them a judge; and increased scrutiny of groups where insularity can breed bad behavior — athletic teams and fraternities, for instance.
Jackson’s appearance comes amid rough times for Baylor. Athletic and academic strides have been overshadowed by allegations it not only mishandled sexual assaults involving Baylor football players (and others) but showed little regard for the victims. Some women since then have recalled for the news media (including the Trib) and social media what they say were campus experiences that only added to the trauma of sexual assault.
For instance, one woman said that, even though she learned her accusation of rape made a total of six such allegations leveled at Baylor football player Tevin Elliott, she was told by the Baylor associate dean for student conduct that the situation would require a court decision for any campus or team action because, otherwise, it was a “he-said, she-said” situation.
Such experiences mirror that of Annie E. Clark, executive director of the national organization End Rape on Campus, who last week talked of her sexual assault at the University of North Carolina in 2007 and her discussion afterward with a campus administrator: “She told me rape was like a football game, that I was the quarterback in charge of the situation, and what I might have done differently to prevent that from happening. While that was hurtful, I don’t think this person said that out of malice. I think there was a structural lack of training and that person should have known better.”
Baylor awaits a comprehensive review of its protocol involving such matters conducted by Pepper Hamilton, a law firm with expertise in institutional responses to sexual misconduct. In the meantime, Baylor officials would be wise to review Clark’s testimony and that of Busch-Armendariz, who talked about how campus services for assault victims must count on an “axiom of trust-building, dialogue, evidence, competence and thoughtful action.” Which raises a fair question: Are the individuals tasked with such duties at Baylor up to what Jackson himself acknowledges as complex, deeply personal and heart-breaking work?
As Clark said last week quoting a sexual assault victim who felt let down by campus protocols: “Best practices are only best when they’re practiced.”