On any given day over the past several months you were very likely to come across a headline about Baylor University and its problem with sexual assault. Football players were (and still are) de-committing, administrators were being fired and repurposed, there were convictions, cover-ups, interviews and investigations at every turn. If chaos has come to mind at any point while taking it all in, I’d say you’ve got an excellent grip on what’s going on down in Waco. For years the University has been insufferable in its handling of claims of sexual violence perpetrated by its student-athletes, and now all hell is breaking loose as things are coming to light. The administration has provided shameful and unlawful responses to numerous women who have voiced their allegations of sexual violence. And it seems the school has done so in the name of protecting the pigskin. But while the headlines have a laser beam on Baylor, Baylor is really only a fraction and consequence of the problem, not the entire or source of it.
Before we get into the root of Baylor’s scandal, let’s clear the air on what the heck is actually going on in Texas:
While the timeline above just begins to scratch the surface, it makes it abundantly clear that (at least from the time that Briles had been head coach and the football team has shown promise) the administration has chosen football players over accountability in instances of sexual assault. Women’s lives were forever altered while the University stood by and did nothing close to properly investigate the claims or punish perpetrators. It really is a travesty that so many lives have been ruined and so much shame is being placed on an institution with a rich history of excellence. And it didn’t have to be that way. It’s unconscionable to think that administrators and coaches would sit by idly while numerous women were assaulted by their fellow students, rather than handle separate instances in a compassionate, lawful manner. It’s unlikely that Briles could have stopped the intial assaults, but reacting to them differently could have saved women from trauma and allowed football and Baylor to continue. What’s worse is that we probably wouldn’t know about any of this if women had not brought criminal charges which in turn forced the University to shine a spotlight on itself. It really is saddening.
Despite how deplorable the Baylor behavior has been, we can’t allow our disgust with Baylor to cause us to overlook the larger issues at play that made the Baylor Scandal possible. At the heart of so many of these instances of sexual assault on and off Baylor’s campus is the culture of campus partying and alcohol. If you take the time to read the numerous accounts of sexual assault at Baylor and other college campuses, you will see that a great percentage of them occur in an environment where alcohol and/or partying is involved. The combination of inhibited cognitive functioning, raging hormones and music seems to set the perfect stage for sexual assault. Ukwuachu’s and some of Elliott’s assaults occurred in party settings, and Chatman’s and Armstead’s accuser declined to press charges because she stated that she was too intoxicated to recall exactly what happened. Partying and alcohol clearly have an effect on how people engage one another. Now, that’s not to say that you don’t place blame on the assailants or you shame the victims for drinking. Not at all. No man (or woman) should be able to use alcohol as an excuse to force their will on another human being. But it is important to acknowledge that across this country, we have said that it is acceptable for young people to play with fire. And maybe we should take notice of and work to change that.
The other cultural norm at play here, the one at the heart of Art Briles’ belief that it was ok to turn a blind eye to his players’ behavior; is the one that condones rape and violence against women. For many it’s inconceivable that someone could know about a sexual assault and not help the victim either medically or lawfully. But a large percentage of our population sees nothing wrong with that. It has become the norm that children and adults circulate videos of women being assaulted at parties. A look at the internet reflects little compassion for assault victims and a great deal of victim blaming and shaming and excuse making for the assailants. While many wonder how Briles let the assaults go on for so long, many others do the same thing on a regular basis. Violence against women just doesn’t seem to shock the system the way it should.
What’s going on and has occurred at Baylor is inexcusable and it appears that those responsible might finally suffer some sort of consequences. But what’s more inexcusable is the society that paved the way for Baylor’s scandal. When we’re taught that it’s ok to binge drink and lose inhibitions and that women are less than the brotherhood, what do you expect to happen. To prevent another Baylor we need a cultural change. Rather than be reactive, schools, athletic programs and society as a whole has to become proactive. We have to change the language around what’s acceptable behavior in college and the position of women in this world. There’s absolutely no reason that we can’t teach our kids to have fun in school in a smart, responsible way. And there’s even less reason why we shouldn’t be teaching our children that women and men are equal and deserve the same amount of respect and protection. Instead of asking what the heck is going on at Baylor; ask what the heck is going on in this country?