WACO, Texas – A candlelight vigil to protest Baylor University’s response to campus sexual violence drew scores of demonstrators to the street in front of the university president’s home Monday night.
About 100 people participated in the vigil in front of President Kenneth Starr’s home. The group then marched to a brief prayer service outside Baylor’s Truett Seminary.
The protest comes after ESPN reported earlier this month that three students said the Southern Baptist-affiliated university in Waco failed to act on allegations that they were sexually assaulted by a former football player later convicted in one of those cases.
Policies regarding Baylor’s compliance with federal requirements that it address and prevent sexual harassment “are inconsistently followed and, at times, ignored altogether. Perpetrators are repeatedly allowed to go free due to these shortcomings. This makes our campus unsafe,” the group said in an online statement Monday.
In a letter Sunday, Starr said university leaders’ “hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence.” He also noted that Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, which Baylor hired, is conducting an outside review of the university’s response to reports of sexual violence. When the review is complete, “we will determine how best to share the firm’s recommendations,” Starr said.
Starr also wrote that federal privacy laws and related requirements by the U.S. Department of Education have prevented Baylor from being forthcoming with past reports of sexual violence against students.
Starr’s letter came hours after the release of a letter signed by more than 1,300 Baylor alumni, students, faculty, staff and family of students. That letter said: “Baylor students deserve more than mere assurances by administration officials that the university is doing its part. Accordingly, we respectfully insist that the University promptly take action to improve its responses to sexual assault — and publicly state what those will be. This is about more than compliance with the university’s regulatory obligations.”
Baylor alumna Laura Seay, now assistant professor of government at Colby College in Maine, said Starr’s letter is “disappointing” and “doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.”
She said the university is hiding behind privacy laws in not addressing the issue candidly.
“I think the pattern is undermining the identity that we’re distinctively a Christian university,” Seay said of Baylor.