As a writer, one might think it a bit strange that I headline a post “Action v. Words,” especially since I’m about to gripe about words. But it’s exactly because I am a writer that I know the importance of action versus words.
Here’s a simple example: If I talk all the time about writing a book and never take the action to actually write the book, I fail as a writer.
Here’s another example: When I teach writing, I emphasize–like most writing instructors do–the importance of showing, not telling. For instance, I could tell you that Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children, was a terrific mother and you would have every right and just reason to disagree with me. Her actions–killing her children–are much stronger than my words. But if I show you her loving actions …
She spent her hours playing with the boys and videotaping them.
May 3, 1998, Andrea Yates videotaped Noah and John outside their trailer.
“What are you young boys doing?” she asked as she taped.
“Shucking corn,” Noah replied.
“What else do you like to do?”
“We like to run around and color,” Noah said.
“What games do you like to play outside?”
Noah busily shucked, and John quietly shucked.
“What’s the hiding game? What’s that called?” she sweetly urged.
“Hide and seek,” Noah answered with a big grin.
She turned the camera to John and complimented the three-and-a-half-year-old on his spic-and-span corn shucking.
My words depicting her actions might make you think she was a good mother … or at least make you reconsider and perhaps slightly adjust your initial belief.
Similarly, if I tell you Andrea Yates was mentally ill, you could easily argue that she simply was an evil, cold-bloodied killer. But if I show you her insanity … her orange jail uniform hanging off her shoulder revealing her white bra strap, her taped-together eyeglasses, the balding spots on her head from picking at her scalp, her soft and hesitant voice, short phrasing, and lengthy pauses as she tries to talk but lapses into psychosis … if I show her listening to the voices in her brain telling her not to talk, if I show her falling into zombie-like silence, her jaw twitching, and give you some of the dialogue and action between Yates and psychiatrist Lucy Puryear …
Yates began to cry. She wiped her eyes. She choked up.
“Are you okay?” Puryear asked.
Yates scratched her head.
Puryear asked Yates if she thought that [drowning her children] was a way to get rid of Satan.
Andrea sat still. Eventually, she said, “What’s what?”
Do you think anyone is putting messages in your head, Puryear asked.
Right now? Yates replied.
Yates was silent again for a long time. “Think so,” she finally responded.
Who? Puryear asked.
If I show you that, i.e. show you the action, you might begin to believe that Andrea Yates truly was mentally ill when she drowned her children. But me just telling you she was mentally ill doesn’t mean squat.
That’s the way I feel about Baylor University.
“Huh?” you’re probably saying.
I get that.
But if you read my previous post, “Rape & Faith: ‘Please don’t ignore the victims,'” you know that I am beyond distraught–some might say insanely angry–over Baylor’s lack of response and protection of its sexual assault victims, who have had to become sexual assault survivors through no help of Baylor, my alma mater.
And you could say–legitimately say–that it’s insane of me to compare Baylor to Andrea Yates, especially since Baylor has issued many words and press releases saying it’s going to improve its interactions and reactions to campus sexual assault victims and survivors. Their words don’t mean squat, though, because I haven’t seen one bit of action backing that their many, many words.
Yes, Baylor did issue press releases that got wide coverage saying it was going to increase its Title IX budget and hire and train additional sexual assault counselors. But I have yet to learn what that budget increase will be. For all I know, it could be $1.50. I have yet to learn how many counselors they hope to hire. I have yet to learn how and when those counselors will be trained. I have yet to learn Baylor’s target date for having those counselors on the job.
I inadvertently wrote wrote counselors, the plural, but is the plan for multiple counselors or one counselor or one part-time counselor? I have no idea. Baylor hasn’t issued a press release about that.
Yes, Baylor’s president, Ken Starr, has held a few round-table meetings with student “leaders” from the athletic department–the very department that has protected star football players from its sexual assault victims, some of whom were female student athletes who lost scholarships and left the university while their abusers stayed. And Starr has met with sorority and fraternity leaders, who–if they’re like they were when I attended Baylor–fall at the feet of the university president and would never dare publicly to say anything against him, because they need his approval. You get my gist. He met with people who would nod yes with him, no matter what.
He has not agreed to meet with the entire student body at a public–or even closed–forum for Q&A. He has not met with the press. And worst of all, he has not met with the sexual assault victims/survivors.
Baylor did tout that it is having a series of prayer services for its sexual assault survivors. And it made sure that Ken Starr was photographed at the first prayer service. But let me emphasize what the Waco Tribune-Herald, a newspaper that is pro-Baylor, wrote in its lede paragraph of the prayer service story: “President Ken Starr made a brief appearance beforehand.” Yes, you read that right. Starr made a BRIEF appearance BEFOREHAND. He didn’t bother–or have the courtesy–to stay for the prayer service for his school’s sexual assault survivors.
Ken Starr, as far as I know, has not exhibited any self-doubt about issuing many words but taking no action.
I, however, always doubt and question myself, so I went to Stefanie Mundhenk, one of Baylor’s sexual assault survivors who has publicly stated her name and written about her assault and Baylor’s reaction to it (she even had a meeting with Ken Starr). I asked Mundhenk if I was was overreacting. In reply, she sent me one of her recent Facebook posts, which she said I could quote in its entirety.
“The same exact individuals in Baylor administration who:
1. Looked me in the eyes as I sobbed and told me that they found my story “very moving” but didn’t hold my rapist responsible when I appealed on 26 COUNTS OF PROCEDURAL UNFAIRNESS
2. Have not ONCE reached out to me since that day or since my blog post went viral,
3. Have not ONCE admitted their complicity in the egregiousness that is happening at Baylor,
4. Have not ONCE apologized for messing up the lives of their students,
5. Have not ONCE acknowledged our suffering before we waved it in their faces,
6. Have not ONCE specifically and intentionally sought out survivors who have come forward to find out where the problems are and how to fix them,
7. Are the CAUSE of our lamenting
DARED to show up and offer their “support” at the Survivors Services. They didn’t even stay for the whole thing, yet are getting kudos for it. This is literally hypocrisy in its finest form.
If it Baylor Admin’s presence were anything other than a PR move, there would be a prior recognition of blame and an apology issued to survivors who felt that their cases were handled unjustly.
For those who say “They can’t do that, or they’ll face legal trouble” – that’s my POINT. To me, human lives and the havoc Baylor’s failure has wreaked on them is of infinite MORE importance than potential lawsuits. A failure to apologize in order to avoid lawsuits demonstrates that they are more concerned with covering their bases than they are with accepting they messed up.
That’s not Christianity. And it’s not true survivor support.
I am irate. Baylor Admin’s presence at these services does not mean things are getting better – please do not fall for that idea. Instead, it confirms that things are still just as bad, and maybe even getting shellacked over with an extra coat of fake gold paint.
God, help us.
(And no, I will not cut them any “at least they’re trying” slack. I will continue to hold them to the very high standards they’ve set for themselves and claim to be able to adhere to. Someone’s got to. And no I am not bitter. I am angry at injustice and hypocrisy. It’s different.)”
* * *
When I titled this post, I purposely made it “Action v. Words” for four reasons:
In football games the home team is the “versus” team.
The home team, especially when it comes to Baylor football, is considered to have the advantage.
Baylor’s lack of action for its sexual assault survivors was initially revealed due to its choice to protect its rapist star football players over its female students.
Baylor and Ken Starr’s words are resoundingly beating action. That’s not the way it should be. As I said at the beginning words without action is failure.
In fact, Baylor’s words without action–Ken Starr’s words without action–make me think of these Bible verses:
“Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?
“Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”