"Because of what Baylor has meant to you in the past, because of what she will mean to you in the future, oh, my students, have a care for her. Build upon the foundations here the great school of which I have dreamed, so that she may touch and mold the lives of future generations and help to fit them for life here and hereafter."
- Samuel Palmer Brooks, 1931
It finally feels like Baylor is moving out from under the shadow of What Happened. The football season, constantly tainted by the previous year's revelations, recriminations, and in-fighting, is essentially over. Kim Mulkey's team is laying waste as usual. Scott Drew's team is laying waste in ways even the most optimistic Baylor fan could not have expected. We have a new football coach who appears to be an amazing fit for the university in ways that go beyond hoped-for success on the field. Lawsuits aside, things are looking up.
But in the midst of basketball success, the euphoria of Coach/Reverend Rhule, and the deep yearning to move on from one of the most painful sagas in Baylor's history, we as students and alumni must not move on from the lessons it has to teach us. Regardless of how much blame one lays at the feet of Coach Briles, the Board of Regents, or the administration, it is clear that Baylor had deep flaws in its system of dealing with allegations of rape. Young women were victimized by their fellow students, and received no help, in some cases reporting actual hindrance and persecution from the university. On the flip side, at least one young man was cleared by the Title IX process and was still punished by the university, stripping him of his scholarship and effectively destroying his prospects at other schools, and thereby his future. And while many of these cases involved the Athletics Department and particularly the football program, it is painfully clear that the problem was and is larger than the Athletics program, encompassing the entire university. Indeed, it is likely that the root causes of these flaws still exist at Baylor.
Tragically, rape does happen at Baylor, and it will continue to happen at Baylor from time to time. That may seem fatalistic to some, but it is important that we acknowledge those facts. It is also important to acknowledge a certain tendency that Baylor has, a tendency to foster the idea that bad things don't happen at Baylor. And for the most part that is true. Baylor is not cleverly hiding the set of a Deathwish movie behind its red brick walls. For most students, young women included (I hope, PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong), Baylor is a safe and wonderful place. But when bad things do happen at Baylor we must acknowledge them, and we must ensure to the extent that we can that the administration acknowledges them and deals with them appropriately. We know that the bureaucracy at Baylor can be callous at times and be more concerned with how things will look or teaching life lessons ("Well what were you doing drinking anyway?") than with caring for students who come to them seeking justice. We must actively seek to maintain a culture of openness and accountability at Baylor to combat these tendencies.
For students and alumni, the call to action should be active vigilance. We may argue about the extent of the failures at our alma mater and we may argue about who should be held responsible for them, but it should be clear that Baylor University has failed some of its students. And if we are horrified and angry about those failures as we should be, we must be sure to hold the university to account from now on. It's not as exciting as football recruiting news or the run-up to March Madness, but we must keep tabs on the reforms that the administration puts into place to combat their past failings with the same level of interest that we follow Rhule on the recruiting trail. We need to keep our eyes and ears open for reports of abuse and follow up on them with the same level of scrutiny that we give injury reports and stat breakdowns. If something comes to light we must let university authorities know and insist that action be taken if necessary.
To be clear, we should not watch with a spirit of vengeance or hostility. Calling for heads to roll or new blood is not always productive, even if it is at times unavoidable. The system and attitudes that facilitated these failings are bigger than just the Board of Regents or Art Briles or the Title IX office, and I believe Christ said something once about trying to put new wine into an old wineskin. Rather we should watch with a spirit of exhortation, looking for ways that systems and protocol fail Baylor's students and looking for ways to correct them, and exhorting the administration to do the same. Dealing with accusations of rape is extremely difficult, not least because a university is naturally ill-equipped to investigate such cases themselves, and because before anything is proven, the university must do right by both the accuser and the accused. Because it is hard, we must help the university by keeping them accountable and insisting that those in charge make a real, honest attempt to fix failures rather than sweep them under the rug or usher them out the door.
Assuredly, Baylor is not the only university with these issues. One hopes that at some point, a national conversation can be had about how universities are required to deal with accusations of rape in general and ways to improve Title IX that will be fair to accused and accuser alike. But the fact that others have similar problems and the fact that these issues are exceedingly difficult to navigate in a way that results in justice for all parties does not excuse Baylor. As a proudly Christian university, we are called to a higher standard, and that is a calling that all of us, students and alumni as well as administration and coaching staffs, have a solemn duty to respond to, and we cannot let that calling get lost in renewed athletic success or the waning of news stories or the simple forgetfulness of time. We must remember that our university failed young women and men in a profound way, we cannot forget the pain and injustice they suffered as a result, and we must work from here on out to ensure that such failures are not allowed to pass without redress again. It is difficult, it will be tedious, and we must realize that unfortunately we and our university will never be perfect. But we can be better. We can do it. We will do it. Because we are Baylor.
Sic 'em, Bears.
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