From Under the Dome

It was September 2011. In many ways, it was the time that started everything. I was waiting on a call from the State Department. Over to my right was a conference room nearly at capacity. Neither the side door nor the kitchen entrance had been touched for at least two hours. If it had, I’d have heard it.

It was the middle of the collapse of the Big 12, and my first week on the job. Nebraska had already left, and Texas and A&M were threatening to. Apart from the occasional raised voice from the conference room, the office was silent. I was more concerned about my phone call, mostly because I had no idea what was going on.

In some ways, that week set the tone for an important portion of the next three years of my life. Because it was usually above my pay grade (ha), I never knew exactly what all went on in that office. I had access to his schedule, but I never knew exactly what Judge Starr did. And that’s common sense. I was a student with privileged access to the university’s highest office for three years, and there were limits to what I was allowed to know. Besides that, I didn’t snoop; for most of that time, I didn’t really even talk about my job.

I’m not here to do an exposé. I’m here because I’m in an unusual position: as a Baylor grad, I’m saddened by what the university has allowed to happen for so long. As a former employee, even if just a student employee, of the office that allowed it to happen, I’m not particularly surprised, for reasons I will explain. And as a rape survivor who was assaulted, twice, on Baylor’s watch, I can’t help but feel a little vindicated. It’s a complicated maelstrom. But this is a complicated time.

The State Department call I was waiting on that day pertained to my case report from Argentina, which the State department had a copy of per consulate requirements. My court-appointed lawyers were in the process of assembling the original copy prior to trial the next month. I wouldn’t be able to attend the trial, because I had class and no money for a plane ticket to Mendoza, so the Department was keeping tabs on the trial on my behalf and would send the document to me when it was ready. I didn’t really even want justice at the time. When it happened again, the next year, I did, but my reasoning at the time was that I didn’t want to ruin someone’s life just because they hurt me.

Baylor never forced me to keep my secrets. I need to make that very clear. At the same time, though, I never felt entirely comfortable disclosing what Baylor didn’t already know. They knew a student had been raped on a study abroad trip to Argentina, but they didn’t know it was me. And they didn’t know about the second rape at all, even though it was a student, and it happened on campus. I was afraid, primarily, of facing consequences for violating Baylor’s conduct policies if this got out. Even after being assured (by my counselors at the counseling center) that this wouldn’t happen, I couldn’t shake my fear of repercussions. Of course, I now know that these fears are both quite common to survivors and usually untrue. But fear is a hard emotion to talk someone out of, and besides, didn’t I already have the support I needed?

My problem was this. Partially because I wasn’t sure, at the time, if what had happened to me (the second time) was rape at all, partially because I am possessed of a nature that makes me want to move quickly on when bad things happen to me, and partially because I worked for Judge Starr, I didn’t want it getting out. I had lost important friendships over the first one and didn’t want that to happen again. And I didn’t want to become the office mascot, either. So I soldiered on, and never told anyone at the university besides my counselors and a couple of professors what had happened, in either case. Maybe that was selfish of me. I preferred to think of it as self-preservation.

I have no clear memory of rape being discussed in the office at all. I only worked about ten hours a week, so it could easily have happened while I wasn’t there, or in one of many closed rooms I didn’t have access to. But I do very clearly remember that for much of the time I worked there, the tone of the office was Excelsior: onward and upward. Baylor itself had to be protected. But it also had to be above reproach. If any one part of the Christian mission was emphasized, it was that one: we were, like C S Lewis’ shoemaker, to be the very best kind of university—as part of our Christian witness, not in spite of it.

Why I am not surprised at the outcome of the report: for all the amazing things Judge Starr did for and on behalf of Baylor, that office had a tendency toward macroscopic focus, sometimes at the expense of individual people. The office cared deeply about students, but it seemed, sometimes, like that care was for students as a concept, or for students as representatives more than individuals. If there is any one lesson Baylor can learn from this, it is that students are both. They are representatives of Baylor, representatives of whatever cause they book an appointment with Judge Starr about, but also people, with individual cares and loves and hurts that may be unrelated to what they come in about. And while Baylor might not ever know their full stories, Baylor has a duty, as a Christian university, to make sure its members—its body, the body of Christ—know that if they need it to, it will protect them. It’s not an issue of safe places. It’s an issue of one body, of which every individual member is of critical importance.

I am saddened by what has happened. Judge Starr, and also Coach Briles and Ian McCaw, who always said hi to me when the VPs met on Fridays, are very excellent people who care deeply for Baylor and for the work they do and who it affects. Did they preside over some big mistakes that hurt people? Yes. But I still join the growing chorus for Baylor Nation to forgive them. They are part of this body too, and there is no sin that is too big for grace.

Pray for Baylor. And pray for Judge Starr, Art Briles, Ian McCaw, and everyone else who has been dealt a blow in this fallout. And pray for justice for survivors too. There are no winners here. I hope we can be humble enough to remember that.

Baylor PN

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