Sex Assault Scandal-Embroiled Christian University Forbids LGBTQ Organizations, Drawing Scrutiny

A wide-angle shot of the crowd during October 2007’s Baylor-U. Texas football game. / Image via Andy Thrasher

As Jeremy Bauer-Wolf reported at Inside Higher Ed yesterday, student activists at a scandal-plagued Christian school, Waco, Texas-based Baylor University, “want the National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA] to examine the institution’s treatment of [LGBTQ] students who say they have long faced discrimination” by the school.

The students and recent graduates, Bauer-Wolf explains, “wrote last month to Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, imploring the NCAA to investigate” Baylor. The school, which is located in Waco, Texas, is asserted to be “the only member institution of the Big 12 Conference … that ‘prohibits LGBTQ+ students from being officially recognized as part of the campus community.’”

Other large, Christian universities with competitive sports programs include the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Notre Dame and Boston College, both Catholic-affiliated universities. In 2012, Notre Dame announced “LGBTQ and the Pastoral Plan,” a policy commitment “to fostering an environment of welcome and mutual respect … grounded in its Catholic mission.” Today, Notre Dame offers multiple resources to LGBTQ students, though campus culture and broader social acceptance were challenged in a HuffPost article by student Anne Jarrett, who cited rigid gender-segregated housing, the subtly condemnatory language of the “Pastoral Plan” noted above and more as serious challenges.

Boston College, for its part, offers more-expansive resources, though the school’s history of supporting LGBTQ students has been described by community members as “uneven and cyclical,” with “bursts of activism” and mixed successes.

Baylor, however, is described by Bauer-Wolf’s reporting as a distinctly hostile environment.

The school has withheld “official recognition [of the LGBTQ student group Gamma Alpha Upsilon] for eight years,” without explanation; formally “prohibits” any recognition of LGBTQ-related student groups entirely; has ignored Title IX’s bar on “sex discrimination on college campuses,” including “protections for gay or [trans] students,” without seeking a religious exemption; and, per the student letter, features a campus environment in which “students regularly face harassment and discrimination,” are “called inflammatory names during walks to class” and are made to feel “physically unsafe and threatened.”

Pressed for response, Baylor issued a less-than-compelling comment eliding any of the foregoing, specific allegations of a hostile campus environment:

Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman provided a written statement on the university’s behalf: “Baylor is committed to providing a loving and caring community for all students, including those who identify as LGBTQ. We believe that Baylor is in a unique position to meet the needs of our LGBTQ students because of our Christian mission and the significant campuswide support we already provide to all students.”

Dueling petitions over LGBTQ inclusion have been launched by students, but “Baylor’s Board of Trustees has declined to let Gamma Alpha Upsilon representatives speak during board meetings,” largely locking LGBTQ students out of conversations about their own interests on campus.

Baylor Policies Rooted in 1960s-era Baptist Doctrine, Belie Recent Scandals

Bauer-Wolf notes Baylor’s very conservative social policies derive from the school’s Baptist affiliation, including “rules on sexual conduct [that] cite Baptist doctrine from 1963, [holding] that sexual intimacy must be ‘in the context of marital fidelity.’”

Putting aside any theological incongruities or challenges, this is an unconvincing basis for anti-LGBTQ discrimination at Baylor, given the school’s recent scandals. At best, Baylor’s inconsistent conduct suggests selective application of moral precepts, one motivated by anti-gay sentiments, not some consistent, tradition-rooted codex.

Since 2012, Baylor—and the school’s vaunted football program in particular—has reeled from numerous sex assault allegations, prompting intense scrutiny of university leaders. That year, Baylor football defensive end Tevin Elliot was arrested and charged with multiple counts of rape; two years later, he was convicted on two of those charges, both relating to his assault of a female athlete at Baylor, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In 2015, another player, Sam Ukwuachu, was indicted for sexually assaulting another female athlete at the university, leading to protracted criminal proceedings. Ukwuachu’s pre-Baylor sexual misconduct—before he transferred from Boise State—came to light, contradicting coaches’ claims of ignorance about the player’s history. A formal Title IX investigation was opened as the scandal’s reach spread.

Numerous other sexual misconduct claims emerged beginning in early 2016, ranging from harassment to violent rapes, implicating both Elliot and another ex-player, Shawn Oakman. (Oakman was later found not guilty at the conclusion of his trial in February 2019.)

President Barack Obama signs the Campus Sexual Assault Presidential Memorandum during a White House Council on Women and Girls meeting in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 22, 2014. / Image via Official White House Photo, taken by Lawrence Jackson
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadets wear blue jeans and black shirts on April 24, 2019 during Denim Day, honoring sexual assault awareness and prevention month. / Image via US Air Force, photo by Darcie L. Ibidapo

In May 2016, Baylor’s head football coach, Art Briles, was forced out and two other members of the football staff were fired. (Briles recently was hired as a high school-level football coach in Mt. Vernon.) University President Ken Starr would begin a long, acrimonious separation from Baylor by fall.

In the intervening years, the scandal deepened as new allegations emerged, including gang rapes—more than 50 incidents implicating dozens of football players—and voluminous records of administrative incompetence and indifference in handling students’ claims. These latter claims gave rise to a federal lawsuit against Baylor this past March, again alleging rape by two football players in November 2017, while “a third [player] filmed the assault and shared it with a freshman football Snapchat group and others.” The suit alleges Baylor’s responses “violated federal Title IX laws” and alleges Baylor “allowed the [players] to attend tutoring sessions and the athletic dining facility” in proximity to their accuser, all “despite a ‘No Contact Order’” effective at that time.

Beyond the many allegations against Baylor football players, separate cases proceeded against other men at the school. For example, former Phi Delta Theta fraternity president Jacob Walter Anderson “was arrested in March 2016 after [another student] reported Anderson sexually assaulted her during a fraternity party.” In December 2018, that case concluded with a highly “controversial plea deal” in which Anderson received “no jail time,” avoided having “to register as a sex offender” and only faced “probation and counseling,” in addition to fines.

“Cruel,” Compounding Indignities

With the avalanche of misconduct, substantiated allegations of cover-ups and administrators’ indifference to students’ claims of sexual abuse and more, Baylor’s disregard for LGBTQ students’ pleas for enhanced safety and recognition casts the school in an even less-flattering light.

Bauer-Wolf’s Inside Higher Ed piece concludes with the personal accounts of rising Baylor senior Kyle Desrosiers, who called Baylor’s “failure to protect him and student like him … cruel” in a recent Tribune-Herald column. “My experience,” writes Desrosiers, “is not unique.” Rather, it is a

pain shared among a sizable population at Baylor University. Trans and gender-nonconforming students face a far greater level of harassment and exclusion on campus. For many of us, experiences of alienation and marginalization result in a strain on our mental health. Worse, we are often afraid to turn to the Baylor Counseling Service or Title IX [office] for fear of losing academic and professional opportunities at Baylor.

Though the school’s recent history is not encouraging, it seems reflective of a longstanding pattern that’s seriously damaged Baylor’s image – and one which, hopefully, might lead administrators to undertake meaningful reforms to benefit all students there.

The NCAA declined Inside Higher Ed’s requests for comment; the Baylor Bears will make their 2019 football season debut against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks August 31.

(Source: Inside Higher Ed)

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