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At Orientation, Students and Parents Face BU's Sexual Assault Scandal

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via flickr.com/photos/edithosb/
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This year's Baylor orientation is a bit different. It’s been nearly a month since major leadership changes at the University following an investigation into the school’s handling of sexual assaults. So what are incoming incoming students thinking in the wake of Baylor’s sexual assault scandal, and what changes are Baylor working towards?

Baylor campus is busy this June as students from the Class of 2020 gear up for this fall. Throughout campus you can spot the incoming freshman, some wondering where to go, others piling into the new business building during orientation to get their IDs made and classes scheduled.

"I think we have a lot of work to do and a good opportunity to rebuild Baylor."

 The orientation sessions they’re attending are held every year for each new class, but this year is different: It’s been roughly a month since Baylor’s leadership faced major changes due to Pepper Hamilton’s investigation into the university’s response to sexual assault. In the wake of the findings, some parents and incoming students are wondering about their future at the largest Baptist University in the country. Others – like incoming freshman Becca Howard –  seem confident that the university has made the appropriate steps.

“I was really surprised at what had happened, I mean I know rape happens across tons of campuses, but as hard as it was for Baylor, I’m really proud of their response,” Howard said. “I feel like they handled it really appropriately.”

Howard says she felt Baylor’s actions appropriately reflected what she called the University’s “classical Christian” values. Other students expressed hope that Baylor will soon achieve full compliance with Title IX

A Campus Sexual Assault Study funded by the US Department of Justice in 2007 found that by senior year, nearly 26 percent of women report being sexually assaulted while in college. The study also noted the true rate of sexual assault during the entire college experience may be higher. With nearly one in four women facing sexual assault in college, Hannah Humphreys, an incoming freshman, is hoping that her class will be able to help Baylor change this statistic.

“I think as an incoming student we have a lot of responsibility for rebuilding Baylor’s reputation for, like nationally,” Humphreys says. “I think we have a lot of work to do and a good opportunity to rebuild Baylor.”

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Brad Wigtil, Baylor chief of police; Patty Crawford, Title IX coordinator; and Meg Patterson, Baylor director of wellness, speak at the Community Expectations session during Orientation

To ease the concerns of incoming students and their parents, Baylor discusses community expectations and overall campus safety at a mandatory session each year. This includes an introduction to Title IX. But this summer, they’ve introduced a new optional orientation session on Title IX.

The session – like most orientation events this summer – is being held in the business school. An orientation itinerary describes the session as “an introduction to the serves provides by the Title IX department, with an emphasis on prevention and sharing ways for everyone to be involved in keeping our campus safe.” Sarah McPherson is the Title IX training specialist leading that session. Throughout the 30-minute presentation she detailed exactly what the Title IX office is doing at Baylor University to improve the handling of sexual assaults and ensure compliance with Title IX.

“We really are about empowerment and putting power and decision making back to the student when power may have been taken away from them,” McPherson said.

Despite Baylor’s desire to empower students through education on Title IX, only one parent and no students were present at the first of ten optional Title IX Orientation sessions that will occur this summer. Haley Shaw, whose daughter will be attending Baylor this fall, was disappointed the school didn’t discuss the string of sexual assaults and Title IX procedures more openly during Orientation.

“It needs to be bumped up to say look this is a bigger deal,” Shaw told McPherson.
Disheartened that he was the only parent that attended this session, Shaw said he’s concerned about what new systems and policies will be enacted to keep students safe.

“I’m looking for specifics, you know, hey we are going to address it specifically with the kids here here and here, and the departments are going to be changed here here and here.”

"A part of the shift is reducing the stigma and taboo around talking about these things - rape, violence, power, and sex in general. We have to create and foster safe spaces for questions to be asked, conversations to be had, and growth to be achieved."

  In the coming months, Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford hopes to fully address these concerns. In the fall there will be a mandatory event for all incoming freshman and transfer students on the laws that govern Title IX and bystander intervention strategies. This event will be followed up with mandatory online training and one-on-one trainings with student groups throughout the year. It’s here, Crawford says, that the real student training takes place.

“We trained about 10,000 people over the course of this year and the course of last year, just in the Fall semester having one-on-one dialog or small group dialog,” Crawford said.

Despite having all of these measures in place, Crawford stressed that this is a new program that needs time and development. Her team is working to reach out to students and research other campaigns, such as Green Dot, to achieve the best program possible at Baylor. They’ve also increased coordination with the Baylor counseling center to provide additional support for sexual assault victims and are in the process of hiring an additional Tile IX investigator.

It’s all part of the “cultural shift” that Baylor is trying to create in the wake of an investigation that found “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 and to a report of dating violence.”

In an e-mail, Baylor officials said creating that shift is what they’re working towards.

“A part of the shift is reducing the stigma and taboo around talking about these things – rape, violence, power, and sex in general,” the e-mail reads. “We have to create and foster safe spaces for questions to be asked, conversations to be had, and growth to be achieved.”

During another orientation event, where overall campus safety is addressed, Crawford told a crowd of incoming students and their parents that ultimately she wants for her job to not have to exist anymore.