A Voice for Justice

Patty Crawford went up against Baylor University after hundreds of women bravely came forward with sexual assault allegations. Her faith is what got her through.

This is a story about the power of faith in the face of a formidable challenge—a choice between the difficult road and the right one. This is Patty Crawford’s story.

It is one that has been full of twists and turns, ups and downs. It has taken her to foreign lands and through troubling times. When she went up against Baylor University regarding a situation she saw as fundamentally wrong, her faith was tested and her integrity questioned. Suddenly, she found herself without a job or a plan for what to do next. But in the end, her faith carried her through.

A Solid Foundation

Crawford’s faith was formed from a young age in Ohio, where she grew up with her parents and six older siblings. Their home, she says, was filled with faith and examples of how to live it. Her parents “committed their lives to their faith and social justice,” she recalls. Her dad was one of the first men to be ordained a permanent deacon in the 1970s, and her mom was on the archdiocesan lay pastoral council in the 1980s.

During her formative years, she developed a passion for social-justice issues. “I remember doing speech contests as a middle schooler, talking about social-justice issues.”

The inspiration, again, came from her parents. Her dad, Crawford proudly says, “was one of the leaders in changing the laws to give rights to people with disabilities, including helping to shut down inhumane institutions for those with developmental disabilities. He ran county programs around the state of Ohio with the work centered on dignity and value for those he served with developmental disabilities.”

The Adventure Begins

As Crawford grew older, that passion didn’t diminish. Following high school, she spent a gap year living in Italy with 64 women from 24 countries before embarking on a backpacking excursion. For a few months, she trekked across Europe on a $300 budget.

After returning home, Crawford enrolled at The Ohio State University, where she earned her degree in strategic communications. Upon graduation, she became the assistant director of the Albert Merritt Learning Center, a small nonprofit she and her friends had established. The center, located in a rural county in Indiana, empowered families in need through free and affordable literacy education programming.

While working there, Crawford began graduate school. Yet, at the same time, she “felt called to do sustainable work through a Christian nonprofit in another country in need.”

Next Stop: Sierra Leone

That is how, during 2005 and 2006, Crawford found herself living in Sierra Leone, where she worked with Hope Micro, a local microfinance organization. The experience, she says, was part of her research “on microfinance and how it empowers women out of acute poverty with a focus on education and their children’s right to an education.”

It “was my first real understanding of how terrible injustices exist, and power and money create a culture of oppression,” she says. It was a lesson she would encounter again later in her career.

Back home, Crawford got a job with Indiana University East, where she worked in a number of diverse roles, including as the school’s Title IX coordinator. Title IX is a one-sentence law that states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

“My parents always instilled faith,
education, and loving our neighbor into everything we did,”
says Patty Crawford.

The law gives all genders equal rights to educational programs, activities, and federal financial assistance. The role of a Title IX coordinator is responding, remediating, adjudicating, preventing, and educating on complaints related to sexual harassment, stalking, sexual assault (including rape), dating and domestic violence, and any other type of sex discrimination related to success in educational access, such as women’s access to admission, scholarships, sports equity, etc.

A Life-Changing Career Move

It was her work with Title IX that brought Baylor University in Waco, Texas, calling. In 2014, Crawford was recruited to serve as the school’s first ever Title IX coordinator and was tasked with establishing the office and bringing the university into compliance with the law.

“I thought this was a sign. As I navigated cases of sexual harassment and other types of discrimination cases, I realized that the gift of my faith—especially on human rights, justice, and dignity—was essential in this work,” she says.

Crawford immediately got to work fielding reports. During her time at Baylor, over 400 people came to her to report stalking, relationship violence, sexual assault, and harassment. Unfortunately, the situations she was facing are found on many college and university campuses—not only Baylor.

At this time, Baylor found itself amid a media storm regarding the rape conviction of a former football player. Other reports began to emerge regarding the football program and sexual violence, leading to the firing of football coach Art Briles and university president Ken Starr. Crawford says she was unaware of many of the complaints. In 2015, Baylor engaged the law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate. The firm released a report in May 2016 that said Baylor repeatedly mishandled allegations of sexual assault.

The university’s board of regents then released a Findings of Fact Summary stating that the Pepper Hamilton findings reflected “a fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).” Pepper Hamilton found that the university’s efforts to implement Title IX were “slow, ad hoc, and hindered by a lack of institutional support and engagement by senior leadership.”

Crawford says that throughout this time, she continually ran into resistance and accused the Baylor board of directors of impeding her from fulfilling the duties of her job as the Title IX coordinator. Yet, despite the red flags she saw, Crawford says she still had hope that Baylor would do the right thing. Things did not change, though, she says.

“I was at an impasse: keep my job and betray those who trusted me with their painful truth by remaining silent, or speak out and risk the consequences. But I felt there was only one way to move forward—to be a voice of truth,” she recalls.

She filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights about the way Baylor was handling Title IX complaints. According to a story in the Houston Chronicle, the university offered Crawford a monetary settlement to sign a nondisclosure agreement. She declined and began telling her story.

Crawford did so, she says, because “standing up for the truth was worth more than millions of dollars or a lucrative career. I knew that I had to speak on behalf of those who didn’t have the opportunity to speak out; to help continue to pave an easier way for the victims, survivors, and others who could be in harm’s way of abuse and violence in the future because of the corrupt systems that made up the foundation of the Baylor community—a community that I had just begun to care for.”

In a statement issued to Texas Monthly, Baylor University said it “was surprised by the action taken by Patty Crawford, given her public comments in August about the strong support she felt from across the university.”

Following her resignation, Crawford spent two days with the media, explaining her side of the situation, and then stepped out of the picture.

“This ultimately wasn’t a story about me or my work but, rather, about working against lies and silence in order for love to heal and rebuild a community and its systems and structures,” Crawford explains.

Moving On

Within six weeks of her resignation, Crawford, her husband, and their three kids sold their house and moved to Georgia, leaving behind a difficult chapter in their family’s story and facing an uncertain future.

“I have had moments that have been very challenging because of leaving Baylor or because I refused a large sum of money in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement upon my resignation,” says Crawford.

Following the move, Crawford quickly immersed herself in the details of life—searching for employment, enrolling the kids in school, securing health care. “It was really survival,” she says.

It was only after things started to calm down a bit—when she didn’t have her spiritual guard up—that she says doubt began to set in.

“I’ve had moments where I’m like, ‘I should have just taken the money.’ It wouldn’t have gone public; it wouldn’t have been out in the media. I probably wouldn’t have lost my professional reputation. But it really felt like it would have only benefited me.”

Starting Again

Crawford found herself at a crossroads. There was one thing she knew, though, and that was she would no longer work as a Title IX coordinator. That was confirmed by her former colleagues at Indiana University East after Crawford attempted to go back to her old job.

“I had to start all over career-wise, and that was scary because I was already 35 and had dedicated 15 years to a certain career path.” But, she says, “Most of my education and career path have been rooted in ‘God, whatever your will is, I’ll do it.'”

In January 2017, Crawford shifted gears and joined a web design firm in Georgia. A little more than a year later, her position was eliminated, and she once again found herself in search of a new adventure. Again, her faith sustained her.

“Most of my education and career path have been rooted in ‘God, whatever your will is, I’ll do it.'”

“God’s plan is never easy nor does it always make sense in the moment, but it is real, it is beautiful, and the reward is not earthly. This is where I get strength and continue to seek strength.”

Earlier this year, in a move that some might call providential, Crawford became the marketing coordinator for Franciscan Media, the parent company of this magazine. (She was not, however, on staff at the time of this interview.)

If you ask Crawford, she probably would tell you that God had something to do with it.

“I remember every day a sign in my childhood home,” she says. “It said, ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength.’ This helps me refocus my trust in God, put my worries in him, and also give gratitude for all God has given me, like my faith, family, and the support I have received in so many special and unique ways.

Thoughts on #MeToo

When asked about the #MeToo movement, Crawford says she applauds “anything that brings attention to sex discrimination, from unequitable wages to rape and violence. I am proud of those survivors who have come out and spoken about their injustices. It is amazing and powerful, and I am praying for them and in solidarity with them.”

She does, however, have concerns regarding Hollywood and media-based movements. “There are many complexities to what causes violence and discrimination. I do strongly believe that Hollywood and the mass media have contributed greatly to this current generation of horrific violence and discrimination. They have not only been part of producing pieces, movies, commercials, and TV shows that celebrate violence and discrimination (especially of a sexual nature), but they have also financially benefited from doing it as well.

“A hashtag and a dress aren’t going to solve these problems. We need to be fully committed to disrupting the status quo, even though we’re up against moneymakers and incredibly powerful industries.”

Crawford says she believes that “for things to really shift and change, we must look deeper and change the culture,” such as the devastation that pornography and the Internet have had on young people and their sexual practices and expectations.

“This also pertains to violence in schools—both physical and emotional—and its relationship to abuse in the home, desensitization of violent games and movies, and the lack of human connection in modern technology,” she says. “The only way to do this is to act, each of us, out of love, truth, and with no basis on our own self-interest. This truly has to be out of love for our neighbor—which is not easy, but necessary.”

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