Thursday, February 18, 2016

Patterns emerge: Baylor

As I wrote last week, the University of Tennessee and Baylor University find themselves in similar situations: student athletes accused of sexual assault and subsequent indifference to these reports by administrators. More has come out about Tennessee, specifically Peyton Manning's involvement when he was a student athlete. I am moving on to discuss the cases at Baylor though for now and may return to Manning later. 

As I noted in my original post, the two situations share characteristics but are different in key ways. First, the judicial system has already handled the cases of two of the accused. Two former Baylor student-athletes were convicted of sexual assault, but the school did nothing about either of them. They did not investigate when victims came forward. What we more often hear is that schools think that because law enforcement and the legal system did not accrue enough evidence or did not find the accused culpable, schools are off the hook. Though not true, it is not difficult to see how this thinking manifests. But here there were two guilty verdicts. Tevin Elliot, a former football player serving twenty years, is one of those players. He was tried for one incident but is accused of a handful of others. ESPN's Outside the Lines ran a story on it which featured several of the women accusing Elliot of rape.

The story reveals the culture at Baylor that allowed athletes to continue to assault women. Women reported the assaults to local police and to Baylor. One woman, a student athlete as well, reported Elliot's assault to the Chief Judicial Officer at Baylor, Bethany McCraw. The student athlete named Tevin Elliot specifically and McCraw responded that this was the sixth accusation against Elliot. She told the victim that there was nothing Baylor could do until a court acted on it. We all know by now that this is wrong. Did the CJO know her institution was required to investigate?

So scenario one: McCraw did not know Baylor was legally obligated to investigate all reports of sexual assault. This requires us to ask: why not? How do you not know the laws that directly affect your job which is maintaining the welfare of the students at your school? At best, Baylor has ineffective people in very important positions. Even if McCraw did not know the law, she knew this was not the first time. She knew that the football program and the athletics department were aware of Elliot's behavior. As an administrator in the Dean of Students office, one might think she would be interested in the welfare of Baylor students who have been victims of sexual assault. What she offered this sixth victim was help with finals. This leads me to think that scenario two was more likely. McCraw was protecting and/or being pressured to protect the program by protecting Elliot. She discouraged the victim from seeking redress in the form of a restraining order or filing criminal charges. She did not initiate an investigation.

So how administrations deal with reports contributes to the sexually hostile environment at Baylor and the culture of privilege within the athletics department: everyone knows and no one is doing anything. This is a legal failure most certainly and Baylor has, in the wake of the publication of these accusations, been releasing all sorts of statements about how they are examining and changing the policies and procedures. But this was a moral failure as well. While this is often true in other cases we hear and write about, it seems so much more salient at Baylor. I absolutely do not think a Christian university is or should be more morally upstanding than secular institution. But Baylor flies its Christian flag very prominently. They use the religious affiliation of the school to justify discrimination. It is unfortunate, but it is not difficult to see how Baylor's intolerance of certain lifestyles and behaviors (including premarital sex!) has resulted in this culture of misogyny.

Sadly, that culture extended to all corners of the institution, including counseling services. Victim number seven, the one whose criminal charges against Elliot were what got him convicted, sought out mental health services after she reported the crime to the Waco police. They told her they could not help her and warned her about hurting the reputation of the programs by accusing one of its premier players of rape.

The second conviction against another Baylor football player came after Elliot was released from the team and expelled because of the criminal charges against him--still without an investigation by the school into the accusations. In this case the district attorney found a culture of ignorance about sexual assault at Baylor. She reported an inability by administrators to see non-stranger rape as rape. Maybe this is true, though the cover-ups and the narratives suggest something more insidious than ignorance or even indifference.

Baylor has hired a law firm to look at old cases. But there is no promise that those findings will be made public. They hired, as of 2014, have a Title IX coordinator. Right now, all of those actions look like CYAs. I find it almost impossible to believe that in 2011, when these accusations began, that administrators were unaware of the issue of campus sexual assault. This was the year of the Yale complaint and the fallout from the Penn State scandal. There had already been verdicts (sometimes with large jury awards to victims) against K-12 schools who had neglected to address sexual assault against its students. There was a Dear Colleague letter that year as well. Everyone, including Baylor, was on notice.

Final note: there is no OCR investigation into Baylor at this time.