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Baylor and Stanford: We are Missing the Point

11:47 AMHeather

Just a month ago, I sat at Baylor graduation, cheering on our "Canadian son" as he earned his degree in Engineering. It has been such a privilege to be Ben's surrogate parents while he's been in Texas for college, and he has had an amazing experience at Baylor. 

The day after graduation, we toured the campus with his family and walked by the home of the president. I vividly remember making the off hand comment that under Starr's leadership, it seems Baylor has seen a lot of good things happen.

Within 10 days, I read this blog post from a rape victim at Baylor.  She tells her own story of meeting with and communicating with Ken Starr regarding her own case and how he said he could do nothing, according to university policy.

Suddenly confronted with a different perspective, I have been quite confused over these last few weeks. The endless debates and blog posts and sudden experts and newspaper articles and ads. The social media opinions and Twitter wars. The mud slinging and the smug reactions.

I've stayed silent because I just couldn't find the words. Honestly, I also never see the merit in adding my voice to the loud grumbles of debate unless I have something new to add to the conversation.

As I've pondered over this situation, let me say this. The issue of rape is not new to me. As you may recall, my dear friend offered her own story of being raped at college when she was a guest blogger for me last November. 

I've known that Baylor was beefing up their counseling services over the last few years. I've know that even prior to all this media attention, Baylor had a speaker share her rape story at chapel, with the intent to crack open the conversation and stop the silence. The hope was to talk about prevention and standing up for the victim. Even if you are a friend of the perpetrator. Counselors were manning the exits to receive those whose own stories reflected the chapel speaker's story. And I know that there were those who came forward as victims, friends of victims, or even friends of the rapists who had chosen silence.

In the light of all this publicity, I've had so many conflicting feelings about Baylor. And then the Stanford case hit the news.

I finally found some words on Saturday and posted this on Facebook:

On Baylor, as a Baylor alum: My years at Baylor were precious to me as my Baylor story is one of finding safe haven and home during a tumultuous time in my personal life. I've felt sick to know that victims have the opposite Baylor story. May they find hope and a tiny measure of healing knowing that light IS at long last shining into the darkness of silence. Let's rise up, Baylor nation...Let's throw all we can at becoming the place where NO ONE is silenced, shamed or victimized. Let's quit pointing fingers and start offering a warm embrace to those who deserve to know they are heard. They are loved. They are honored as we work to right what was wrong. This is not about football. This is about the value of young women. #Baylor #sicem

Here's what I want to say. Here's what I want every single reader to really grasp.

In all the media circus and attention, we are missing the point. 

This is not about Baylor. Or our reputation among others or our sense of Baylor pride. This is not about Stanford. This is not about Ken Starr or Art Briles. It's not about football or champion collegiate swimmers. 

And for the love of any ounce of justice here, this is not about debating who knew what when.

All that conversation accomplishes is perpetuating the he said/she said problem that seems to be at the heart of every rape case from the very beginning. 

No, dear readers, this is not about dissecting the time line of each case.

This is about a rape culture. This is about each and every one of us. All of us who live in a society where we debate things like whether the victim was to blame because she was drunk. Or, whether the college administration acted properly or the NCAA should give out the death penalty.

And in such conversations, we miss the point completely. Because we miss what is most important.

And that is the victim.

Finally, Joe Biden offered such insight and compassion and truly, the words I wish I had written, when he wrote this letter to the Stanford victim. At last, the point of all this uproar was seen, heard and addressed.

The point in all of this is the young women. The point in all of this is that we have to own, as a culture, that we fail young women, not once but twice, when we send them off to college where young men are not taught to properly respect and value a young lady. And then, we react by debating the guilty party and the particulars, instead of responding to the individual pain and creating solutions to stop the madness.

The conversation should be laser focused on how to change the statistic that one in four (or one in five, depending on the source) women will be sexually assaulted. That number should be the outrage.

We need to quit wasting our breath and our energy debating about the university, the sports program, the administration -- the anything -- BUT the victim and how we help her and prevent others from becoming victims.

We need to be rallying every ounce of breath and energy behind conversations about her well-being, her recovery, her worth and her value. And we need to be creating prevention programs that work. We need to be discussing how to stop the "boys will be boys" mentality. We need to be equipping parents to instill a deep sense of respect for others. 

We need to be considering how to properly celebrate and applaud what is truly most valuable in a young man. It is undeniably his character and not his athletic contributions. Or at least, it should be. I'm afraid our celebrity worship culture is part of the problem here.

We need to be training our youth, from an early age, how to look out for others. How to right wrongs. How to stand up for what is right even if you stand alone. We need to empower those who know or suspect a problem in a young man to actually come forward and speak out. 

We need to rush to the aid and healing of the ones who are the real story here. And that is the beautiful, precious young women. They deserve our attention. They deserve our conversation. They deserve our listening ear, because I know they all have something to say. They all have lessons to offer us that we need to learn. If we will only turn our heads from the white noise and focus in on their voices instead.

If you want to assemble an incredibly productive and educated task force to address this problem, then gather the victims. Let them speak into where the failures occurred and what needs to change. They actually know better than anyone else. And I'd venture to guess that being part of keeping even one other woman from having their pain would be quite empowering for them. It would give them an avenue to bring purpose to all they have lost. After all, they are unfortunately, the true experts to every facet of this issue.

This rape culture is not a Baylor University problem. Or a Stanford problem. Or even a college problem. 

This is happening in high schools too. It's not just among teenagers. You even see it on the news when an adult teacher is charged with an inappropriate relationship with a student.

At this point, I'm honestly sick of seeing some guy's photo. I'm tired of hearing how Baylor is awful. Or how Ken Starr deserves or doesn't deserve a full page ad. How Art Briles is the scapegoat or how some sick dad cannot hold his son responsible for his despicable actions.

We are standing around arguing over which life guard was supposed to be on duty. And all the while, someone is drowning.

It's all a distraction to the ones who actually deserve our attention.

The young women. The ones whose own brokenness cries out for something to be done. For initiatives to be formed. For safety to be a priority. For responses to be compassionate and quick and loving and healing. For the person to matter more than the sports record.

Listen, she is screaming in a room and not being heard. She needs us to be looking her straight in the eyes, with great kindness.

She needs us to say, as individuals and as a culture, that we see YOU. We hear YOU. 

YOU are what matters. YOU are what is paramount to any other debate or conversation.

What are we going to do for YOU? What are we going to do to stop others from having your same story?

You are a dear, darling, precious and valuable treasure. And your story matters.

YOU are seen. 

And YOU have our full attention.   

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