Baylor University is Not the School I Though it Was, But There is Still Hope: An Open Letter to Baylor Leadership
Dear Baylor Leadership,
In light of the recent sexual assault scandal that has plagued Baylor University, I find myself between a rock and hard place. I love Baylor University but I hate your
response to Baylor’s recent sexual assault scandal. Given the wave of sexual violence reports that have made the news thanks in part to players in the National Football League, Baylor University was positioned to set a high standard for handling, issuing punishment for, and creating policy against sexual assault. They had an opportunity to be a leader for equality, advocate for victims, and eliminate violence.
But, you took the “ostrich approach” instead.
Baylor University meant a lot to me personally. I graduated from Baylor in December 1999. I am also a seemingly rare graduate whose hometown is also Waco, Texas. Growing up in a poor neighborhood in the shadows of Baylor, I often felt detached from the “world’s largest Baptist university”. I wasn’t Baptist nor was I the self-perceived, prototypical student that I thought attended Baylor. I remember my first day on campus driving through the parking garage in my 1988 Mitsubishi Mighty Max that had squeaky shocks, pealing black paint, and a broken tailgate and parking next to brand new Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, and the occasional Camaro. I felt economically out of place.
But not academically and not socially. I quickly learned that I could compete intellectually with wealthier students at Baylor despite my own misguided perceptions driven by growing up in the poor side of Waco. But it often felt odd being the ‘kid from Waco’ attending Baylor.
As that Waco kid, I didn’t know about Baylor’s world class academics, its numerous colleges and schools,
high quality professors and researchers, or its wonderful campus traditions which include Homecoming Bonfire, the Baylor lampposts that “Light the Ways of Time”, or Ring Out. All I knew about Baylor was its terrible football team that had 4 different coaches over the span of 10 years in the 1990s.
But, after going through Baylor, graduating, and moving on to adulthood and a career, I am thankful for my time at Baylor. People have often heard me say that Baylor saved my life. If not for the opportunity to be part of the Baylor community and earn an outstanding education, I know I would have been another low-socioeconomic statistic.
As such, I am a huge fan of Baylor athletics and I was an advocate for the university. I got teary-eyed when Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy, I have a basketball signed by Brittney Griner, and I have talked students that I have worked with into attending Baylor because of the wonderful and positive experience that I had as a student. Baylor became a huge part of my life.
But as much as Baylor means to me personally, I can’t support the university right now. Baylor often asks their graduates to represent Baylor by “flinging their green and gold afar” and I have done my part for almost 20 years. But Baylor has abandoned their alumni, their Christian values, and their mission and vision statement by ignoring a significant issue that is hurting women across the world. How can I represent Baylor when I no longer share Baylor’s value system?
I commend the efforts of major athletic boosters to call for reform through the Bears for Leadership Reform initiative. These businessmen, politicians, and attorneys said all the right things and called for appropriate reforms, but I believe this was an attempt to hold their money and support hostage if their demands weren’t met. In other words, their grandstanding was more about football and less about the real issues at hand.
I urge you, university leadership, to take a stand NOW and create real reforms throughout the academic and athletic communities. It’s not too late to become a leader and BE the standard by which other academic institutions should follow for policy and practice in handling sexual violence. You should work to urge the alumni who are standing more beside a former coach than they are the university to stop their grandstanding. Ask them to stand down as they appear more as an embarrassment to the institution, and the issues at hand, than a support system for a coach who is never coming back. Listen to the advice of the advocates who speak out against sexual violence. Take a step back and reflect on what is truly important at a university — safety — emotional, social, and academic.
Dr. Jerry R. Burkett, Class of ’99