Committed to Community
Embarking on the first year of a college journey can be daunting for even the most prepared students. Along with the inherent transitions from life as a teenager still under the watchful eye of parents and guardians to entering young adulthood and the independence that it brings, undergraduates find themselves building a life — often in a new city, state or country — with others from myriad backgrounds and experiences that are potentially vastly different than their own.
At Baylor, students hail from all 50 states (as well as the District of Columbia) and more than 100 countries around the globe. These students bring to campus the sum of their own experiences to weave the tapestry of their Baylor experience on the foundational loom of Christian community.
When Tavis King left his hometown of Chicago in 2021 to begin his Baylor journey, he felt all the nervous excitement that the transition to college brings.
“It was scary,” King says. “I was a 15-hour drive from home, from all my friends that I’d grown up with and gone to school with since third grade. I’d just always been used to knowing everyone’s face, even if I didn’t know them.”
Thanks to his experience at Baylor Line Camp, King quickly connected with a variety of students from different backgrounds and found the community he sought during his college search.
“The reason why Line Camp is so amazing is because of the authenticity of people at Baylor. I think Baylor people right out of the gate — starting at Line Camp and continuing throughout the four years — are just willing to be open and authentic. That’s what makes it so special. It’s this beautiful group of people from all over who love one another,” King said.
It was during his Baylor Line Camp experience as a first-year student that King met Geoffrey Griggs, associate director of multicultural affairs. And as a sophomore, King worked as a Line Camp leader alongside Griggs.
“I remember him [Griggs] as one of our camp directors — seeing his passion for integrating people into the community, no matter who they are, was incredible,” King said. “He was great at not only creating a space where diversity is tolerated but where diversity is encouraged, because Baylor sees the value of it and sees the value of giving students those multicultural experiences, whether it’s small interactions or big events.”
Baylor Line Camp is just one of the many ways students can extend beyond their own comfort zones to connect with others. With the more than 300 student organizations to join, each opportunity to share a meal or build a relationship brings the community closer and prepares students for their next steps beyond Baylor.
A Global Perspective
Students interested in enhancing their educational experiences by developing the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from their own, participating in mission and study-abroad opportunities, and being a part of undergraduate research are often drawn to Baylor & Beyond Living Learning Community (LLC). Housed in North Russell Residence Hall, Baylor & Beyond LLC serves as a comprehensive and intentional community where residents learn with and from each other, encourage and support academic success, embrace the culture of Baylor and broaden their global and cultural understanding.
“I’ve only spent one semester in North Russell, but it’s felt like home.”
“Incoming students ask us all the time what Baylor & Beyond is all about,” said Leia Duncan, program director for Baylor & Beyond LLC. “First, we want students to get plugged into Baylor. We want them to know about the many resources the University offers and celebrate the traditions. When it comes to the ‘beyond’ piece, we want students to learn how to engage the world — literally and figuratively.”
The community houses the largest number of international students on campus. Overall, 90% of the students housed in Baylor & Beyond LLC are freshmen and the other 10% are students who have gone through the program and keep coming back.
Uchechukwu Oguchi is a senior University Scholars major with concentrations in international studies, Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. While at Baylor, she’s been involved in women’s choir, an on-campus ministry called FaceTime with God and studied abroad in Scotland through Baylor at St. Andrews.
“Choosing to be a part of Baylor & Beyond had a lot to do with identity and just trying to find community that understands how I’ve wrestled with my identity as a result of being from two places,” Oguchi said.
Originally born in the Houston area, she spent part of her childhood there and part in Nigeria.
“I’ve only spent one semester in North Russell, but it’s felt like home. I’ve developed friendships with people who are wrestling through these same questions that I am — What does it mean for me to be American? What does it mean for me to also be Nigerian? What does it mean for me to like exist within both, but also not fully exist in one or the other?” Oguchi said. “I’ve been able to find a home for those questions in Baylor and Beyond’s community — that’s what drew me and kept me there.”
Students taking part of Baylor & Beyond LLC can be from any academic discipline. Joel du Plessis is a sophomore Business Fellows major with alternate majors in economics, finance and philosophy and minors in math and French. Originally from South Africa and now Houston, du Plessis was excited to experience a global perspective through his residential experience.
“I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to get in community with people from around the world from different cultures — I was able to find real community in this program because culture is a very big part of people’s lives,” du Plessis said. “It guides the way that you think about the world, about society, about yourself. And the dialogues provided a way where you could just talk with people. It would give you an excuse to talk to them and learn so much. And that with every event that we have, it makes it very easy to just connect with people.”
Baylor & Beyond is intentional about the communities they foster for their students. The Living Learning Community features different “neighborhoods” that students can be a part of and participate in. Neighborhood leaders are students who focus on a specific field of study or a specific culture or language and host regular meetings. Previously, du Plessis served as a French neighborhood leader. This fall, he returned to North Russell as a community leader (CL).
“I felt like being a CL meant that I would get to be even more involved. All the CLs I knew had these extremely global experiences because you’re looking after a hall full of people from around the world and from completely different backgrounds,” du Plessis said.
Along with du Plessis, this fall Soowon Lee, another senior studying biochemistry on the pre-med track, is a returning CL to North Russell. She’s lived in South Korea, Uzbekistan and Ethiopia, where her parents are missionaries. Previously a Korean neighborhood leader, Lee knew she wanted to continue to gain global perspectives as she finishes her undergraduate degree.
“I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to get in community with people from around the world from different cultures.”
Joel du Plessis>
“I loved how Baylor & Beyond promoted global leadership, especially as I’m typically someone who identifies as a ‘follower’ or ‘teammate,’” Lee said. “My experience with Baylor & Beyond has helped me grow into leadership — to actually step into the leadership role without hesitation.”
Lee’s experience only emphasizes Baylor & Beyond LLC’s hope for its students.
“We really want to lean into the Baylor mission of preparing students for worldwide leadership and service,” Duncan said. “We have a naturally diverse community here, and students love getting plugged in. Not only that, but they love each other. They know each other. They’re bonded. We celebrate them and who they are.”
Seniors Manaal Salman from San Antonio and Noor Saleh from Houston met during their freshman year in their Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC) course, The Examined Life. The class focuses on exploring interconnected aspects of human flourishing and invites first-year students to reflect critically upon their lives as a part of a global community of which the University is a microcosm.
There, their instructor regularly encouraged her students to get involved with Better Together BU — a collaborative partnership that seeks to offer students opportunities to reflect on their own culture, community and sense of self to learn about others in the hopes that they can share with one another and develop a deep understanding and appreciation for each other.
“We were getting acclimated to Baylor and then got really involved our second semester,” Salman said. “We became friends — we got really close. We’re actually roommates now, which never would’ve happened if we hadn’t gotten plugged into Better Together.”
“Every room you walk into, there are people that have different faith identities.”
Over the last three years, Salman and Saleh have spent their time intentionally meeting new people, diving into new experiences and being spiritually mentored.
“Every room you walk into, there are people that have different faith identities,” Saleh said. “Creating a world where students are given avenues to express those identities and the struggles that they’re facing within those identities without the fear of repercussion is essential.”
While the group focuses on building intercultural relationships, Better Together also provides educational opportunities to enhance students’ degree plans. The Civic Interfaith Studies Minor course sequence is a collaborative effort among Spirituality and Public Life, the Leadership Academy, the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC), the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, Department of Multicultural Affairs and the School of Education. Both Salman and Saleh will be graduating with the minor.
“We’ll be the first graduates with the minor,” Saleh shared. Currently studying anthropology, she hopes to attend law school after graduating in December. “When it comes to law school, I really want to tie in that idea of bringing interfaith people to the table. Historically, policy work has been held for a very specific group and now that’s opening up. We want to make sure that faith leaders of all religious traditions and congregations of all religious traditions are able to access policy makers.”
These roommates and best friends testify that Better Together has made their Baylor experience one they’ll never forget, experiencing true authenticity — even in hard conversations.
“A lot of times there are two different ways that people approach hard conversations — either ‘I can’t have these conversations because I’m afraid I’m going to hurt someone or insult someone on accident’ or it’s ‘these conversations don’t need to be had.’” Saleh said. “And so Better Together offers a really beautiful middle ground between the two where these conversations are okay to have and it’s okay because we’re assuming everyone walking into this space is acting in goodwill.”
Celebrating Diverse Experiences
While Baylor does an excellent job at cultivating spaces for diversity and community on campus, the University is also mindful of sending students out into the world with the same intention. Each May, the Multicultural Affairs office hosts the Baylor University Kente Ceremony, a pre-commencement event open to all graduating students to recognize and celebrate their educational achievement in a deeply personal way.
“Though historically identified with African American culture at other institutions, we encourage any students to participate in this celebration as an opportunity to demonstrate the pride in the intersection of a history deeply rooted in Christianity and our hope for future graduates of Baylor University,” Griggs said.
As the Kente cloth is bestowed on the graduate, they are encouraged to remember those who came before them — students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who have made their mark on the Baylor campus and completed their academic journeys in their respective disciplines. The Kente cloth itself dates back to 12th-century Africa. Today, the cloths are worn as a part of church celebrations, graduations, Juneteenth and other holidays.
“I found out about the Kente Ceremony through a good friend, and we decided to participate because we knew it would be something more intimate and personal,” Juana Anaya, B.A. ’22, said. “The day of graduation is special and memorable in its own way, but in the Kente Ceremony we were able to share our future goals and thank those who helped us along the way — we were also able to recognize our own heritage in the process.”
During the Kente Ceremony, students’ individual accomplishments, as well as the accomplishments of the entire graduating class, are celebrated as they move toward worldwide leadership and service.
“My absolute favorite part was getting to share my story and receiving my stole — I was able to recognize my parents for their sacrifices in migrating to a different country,” Anaya said. “I felt like I was finally paying them back for everything they did as a daughter full of accomplishments.”
“God created us diversely, and God values diversity. And in all of that, we’re called to love one another — that’s what you find at Baylor.”
Anaya’s parents migrated from Guanajuato, Mexico, when she was a young child in the hopes of providing her a better future. They were able to attend the Kente Ceremony and Anaya’s graduation with her whole family, including her three-year-old son, Isaí. Anaya was incredibly thankful for the opportunity to recognize them.
To further celebrate the moment, participating students choose a faculty or staff member who made an impact on them during their time at Baylor to present them with their Kente stole.
“While of course the ceremony means a lot to the students, being asked to present a stole to a student means so much to our faculty and staff,” Griggs said. “It’s an honor knowing they truly had an impact on that student.”
The ceremony concludes with a benediction during which students applaud all of the individuals who helped them get there, a prayer for the graduates and a final send off.
“It takes a village to get a degree,” Griggs said. “And to see that village first-hand, it’s truly incredible.”
And of course, Baylor’s mission continues to be carried out through these graduates as they go out into the world.
“Baylor provided me an extraordinary education, one of a kind, while mentoring and flourishing my Christian faith,” Anaya said. “I love Baylor and I learned so much during my time there. Now I get to go out into the world not only with a degree, but a heart devoted to God.”
God Values Diversity
Though each Baylor student has an experience that is distinctly his or her own when they arrive on campus and is celebrated in myriad ways, there is unity that is achieved in the diversity among the Baylor Family. Since King’s freshman year, he’s been able to build his own community at Baylor and appreciate the experiences of those around him.
“I think God values diversity, because diversity is beautiful. Diversity is what makes the world interesting at a very practical level, but for Kingdom purposes, I think if we don’t have diversity, we are very limited in how we are able to accomplish God’s will,” King said. “God created us diversely, and God values diversity. And in all of that, we’re called to love one another — that’s what you find at Baylor.”
THERE ARE NUMEROUS STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS at Baylor that emphasize multiculturalism. Open to all students, these organizations provide opportunities for student to celebrate the diverse backgrounds represented throughout Baylor’s student body. Among them:
- African Student Association
- Aikido Club
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated
- Alpha Kappa Delta Phi (Sorority)
- Alpha Phi Alpha (Fraternity)
- Alpha Phi Omega
- American Sign Language (ASL) Club
- Anthropology Society
- Asian Ministry InterVarsity
- Asian Student Association
- Baylor Italian Club
- Beta Theta Pi (Fraternity)
- Better Together BU
- Black Business Students Association
- Black Student Coalition
- Black Student Union
- Caribbean Student Association
- Chinese Language and Culture Organization
- Chinese Students and Scholars Association
- Coalition of Asian Students
- Delta Epsilon Psi (Fraternity)
- Delta Kappa Delta (Sorority)
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated
- Filipino Student Association
- Gamma Alpha Omega (Sorority)
- Global Business Connect
- Hawai’i Club
- Heavenly Voices
- Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc. (Sorority)
- Hispanic Student Association
- Indian Subcontinent Student Association
- International Student Association at Baylor
- Japanese National Honor Society
- Japanese Student Association
- Kappa Alpha Psi (Fraternity)
- Kappa Delta Chi (Sorority)
- Kappa Phi Gamma (Sorority)
- Korean Student Association
- Lambda Phi Epsilon (Fraternity)
- Latin Dance Society
- Latino Fellowship InterVarsity
- Latinx Association of Science and Health
- Latinx Coalition
- Le Cercle Francais
- Lebanese Student Association
- Males Inspiring Success Through Education and Relationships (MISTER)
- Mariachi Osos Dorados
- Middle Eastern Student Association
- Multicultural Association of Pre-Health Students
- Multicultural Student Nurses’ Association
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- National Association of Black Accountants
- National Association of Black Journalists
- National Pan-Hellenic Council (Fraternity/Sorority)
- National Society of Black Engineers
- Omega Delta Phi (Fraternity)
- Orthodox Christian Campus Ministries
- Phi Beta Sigma (Fraternity)
- Polish Club at Baylor University
- Portuguese Student Association
- Russian Club at Baylor University
- Sigma Gamma Rho (Sorority)
- Sornum Taal
- Taekwondo Club
- The Beta Kappa Gamma Fraternity
- The Italian Club
- Unified Greek Council (Fraternity/Sorority)
- Unite Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
- Urban Dance Society
- Veterans of Baylor
- Vietnamese Student Association
- Zeta Phi Beta (Sorority)