Let’s put a couple cards on the table:
- Sexual assault is always wrong
- Covering up sexual assault is always wrong
- When sexual assaults occur at universities (and sadly they do far too often), it is incumbent on the institution’s leaders to deal with the situation fully and ethically
- Casting a net of blame across an entire university campus might feel good, but it does no good; demeaning people who had absolutely no role in what happened and only some say in fixing it is not the way to go.
A harsh spotlight has remained on Baylor University in recent months. And it’s not hard to understand why. The university’s football team racked up win upon win in recent years, but it also racked up sexual assault upon sexual assault.
The university’s inappropriate and inconsistent actions in addressing what happened compounded the problem. The mistakes, once made public, led to the conclusion that winning football games was more important than ridding the program of men who saw women as nothing more than play things.
The university’s Board of Regents ordered an investigation. The results were scathing. In a 13-page Findings of Fact report, which summarizes what was learned, several statements make clear the university’s leaders were negligent in putting a stop to the climate that allowed repeated sexual assaults to take place. Consider these excerpts from the report:
“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;”
“Specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence;”
“The University lacked a proactive compliance function that would have identified the nature of the risks attendant to sexual and gender-based harassment and violence and interpersonal violence, the likelihood of occurrence, and the adequacy of existing controls to ensure an informed and effective institutional response;”
“Administrators engaged in conduct that could be perceived as victim-blaming, focusing on the complainant’s choices and actions, rather than robustly investigating the allegations, including the actions of the respondent.”
The interim president appears sincere in addressing the crisis. Equally important, the athletic director and head football coach who were at the university during the worst of the crisis have been dismissed.
Sure, leaders of a Christian institution not properly addressing sexual assaults is mind-numbing. “How could you!?,” whether phrased as an exclamation or a question, is on many lips.
But let’s also be careful in assigning blame for what happened, especially with a lengthy timeline of events that are connected to what took place in Waco.
The media attention our university has received as a result of our “Big Mess” is not a punishment, it is a direct consequence of Baylor’s mistakes. Yes, the coverage has been broadly negative, but it hasn’t been disproportionate to the scandal. We have not been victimized by the media.
A valid point. But we all know perception can become reality; and in a national climate in which example after example of female college students saying they were raped (Minnesota, Michigan State, Brown, Vanderbilt and many more) by football players ever-present in the news headlines, it is reasonable for the public to adopt a the-whole-darn-place-is-screwed-up-and-let’s-get-rid-of-everyone mentality.
That sentiment might make you feel better about what you have learned about Baylor or another school. But it’s wrong. Hold those people who had it within their power to change something accountable for what happened. Do not implicate an entire group of people. And do not reject the good that institutions like Baylor do each day.