An open letter to Baylor University: It's time that you become part of the solution instead of the problem
To the Baylor Board of Regents:
I read the 13-page "Findings of Fact" on your website based on a report prepared by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, and I could taste the vomit in the back of my throat. Seventeen years ago I was drugged and gang-raped by four college football players, two of whom were from Oregon State University. I immediately reported the crime to police and I had a rape kit done. But no one wanted to believe these football players were rapists, so I was blamed, bullied, threatened and shamed by my community. At the advice of the local District Attorney, I dropped the criminal charges and left it up to Oregon State University to discipline my attackers.
Sixteen years later when I came forward again, I found out that the D.A. lied to me. I had been told I had a "difficult case" and I'd have to go through four separate trials to get convictions. What I didn't know was the D.A. had taped confessions from all four men. They basically corroborated my story, and yet I was encouraged to keep quiet. My rape kit was not tested; it was destroyed before the statute of limitations had expired. Oregon State University, after obtaining the police report, gave my rapists 25 hours community service. Football coach Mike Riley suspended his two players for one game. Oregon State and the city of Corvallis prioritized football and money over my life and the safety of its students—and they did it willfully and intentionally.
You might wonder what my story, which happened 17 years ago, has to do with Baylor, a school 1,600 miles away. My rape has everything to do with Baylor because over that time nothing has changed. Universities are still prioritizing football and money over human lives. My story is not the exception. Baylor is not the exception. It is the rule. Baylor will not be the last sexual assault scandal we hear about. It will not be the last time we hear that a victim was betrayed by her school for the sake of the football program.
Recently, I had the honor of hearing vice president Joe Biden speak on issues of campus sexual violence at an event in New York. Like me, he is horrified by the statistics. At one point, Biden said: "I was disturbed to learn that in over 20 years nothing has changed on our college campuses. One in five women are still being sexually assaulted."
This should outrage all of us. Rape should not be part of the college experience, but for many women it is, and it has been for generations. Do you understand you're partially responsible for this?
Just the other day, my 23-year-old son, Darius Adams, wrote an open letter to the NCAA asking the organization to ban student-athletes who are convicted of violent crimes from playing sports. He wrote, "I would never hurt a woman that way and I know that most men wouldn't. Why are we protecting this small group of men? Why are we allowing them to destroy people's lives? All of these victims have families and they get hurt too."
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It's time for university presidents, administrators, athletic departments and coaches to step up and start doing the right thing. It needs to start at the highest level and it needs to start now. Where is the leadership? There are plenty of people on the ground level doing good work to fight against campus sexual assault. It's time for the NCAA and university administrators to go to work. You can only have a good outcome when you invite survivors to the table and make accountability and transparency priorities. Baylor could start this conversation, first by releasing the entire Pepper Hamilton report.
I know firsthand that change is possible. Oregon State issued an apology to me after my story went public. They hired me as a paid consultant and I now assist the school with issues related to campus sexual violence. OSU President Ed Ray has publicly stated numerous times that "human lives are more important than the reputation of a university." Former coach Mike Riley, now the coach at Nebraska, also issued a public apology. Next month I will travel to Nebraska to talk to his football team. I will stand before his players and explain to them what he did and the impact his decision had on my life.
When you're the survivor of a sexual attack, there's a small part of your brain that can rationalize "This is a rapist. This is what rapists do." But how do you hold on to your faith in humanity when the people who are supposed to protect you turn their back? When the "good" people don't help you? When your school, your coach and your administrators betray you? That hurt and devastation runs deeper than the actual rape. Institutional betrayal is a different, and in many ways worse, type of devastation.
My story is the story of so many other survivors betrayed by a coach and university administrators. But because people who messed up are willing to admit so, my story is also one of redemption and healing.
Coach Riley can't take back what happened to me, but he can do differently today and moving forward. He can accept responsibility and choose transparency. He can set the example for other coaches and their staff. He can stand in the gap between survivors and the terrible legacy that Baylor has created. It only takes one person to trigger a shift for change.
But I hope Riley isn't the only one. College athletics needs a hero—and not the type that scores touchdowns. There are plenty of people at Baylor who are really good at that. But can Baylor be good at what really matters?
Brenda Tracy is a nurse and a consultant for Oregon State University, where she frequently speaks about sexual assault.