UT freshman settles with Scottish Rite Dormitory after accusing dorm of discrimination

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Photo Credit: Sarah El-Zein | Daily Texan Staff

After moving out and preparing to file a lawsuit, Kaj Baker said she has reached a peaceful settlement with Scottish Rite Dormitory.

Scottish Rite Dormitory, a private women’s dorm located off-campus, revoked Baker’s guest privileges last November because dorm administrators said residents felt “uncomfortable” with her sexual orientation, as reported by the The Daily Texan. The restriction garnered attention from national media outlets and support from several LGBTQ activists and organizations for Baker, a communication sciences and disorders freshman.

In addition to the support, Baker received pro bono legal representation from attorney Lenore Shefman of Shefman Law Group in Austin. Shefman, who identifies as queer, said she did not hesitate to help when Baker contacted her for legal assistance.

“I was more than happy to reach out to council for Scottish Rite Dormitory and discuss with them where this could potentially go and how they could avoid that,” Shefman said. “We presented them with terms, and they agreed to those terms.”

Shefman said the terms of the settlement are confidential, but “increased education and awareness” by Scottish Rite Dormitory were key to de-escalating the conflict.

 
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In order to not jeopardize the settlement, Shefman said both Scottish Rite Dormitory and Baker agreed upon statements to distribute to the media.

“I had my father, my partner, community allies and the media standing by my side through this trying and emotional time,” Baker said in her statement. “The good news is that Scottish Rite Dormitory and I came to a peaceful resolution and have settled this matter.”

Before the resolution, Scottish Rite Dormitory director Mary Mazurek said the dorm was already planning to clarify its visitor policies and provide sensitivity training for all staff and resident assistants.

“We’re glad to have reached a mutually beneficial solution with Ms. Baker,” a dorm representative said in Scottish Rite Dormitory’s statement. “We wish her all the best in her college career and beyond.”

 

In the months following the incident, Baker’s girlfriend Carlee, whose last name has been withheld for privacy reasons, raised more than $400 from 17 donors to try to secure new housing for Baker. In December, GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy organization, also offered resources and assistance to Baker.

“I am really lucky to be at this school because so many people are supportive and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community,” Baker said in an email. “I wouldn’t change anything about the experiences I’ve had in my life as a lesbian because it’s made me who I am today and introduced me to the group of people I can be myself with.”

Mazurek did not respond to a request for further comment from the Texan.

Shefman said the outcome of a similar conflict would have been different 20 years ago and is grateful for the quick resolution.

“Kaj is an amazing young woman who has an incredible future ahead of her,” Shefman said. “I am glad to see that this didn’t waylay her and this outcome was swift. She’s not letting stuff get in her way, so she’s someone to keep your eye on. She’ll do great things.”