Recognizing Our Past, Committing to the Future
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
A national discussion is rightfully taking place today about bigotry and prejudice in our country, stemming from appalling and offensive images found in college and university yearbooks. It is shocking and deeply heartbreaking to see that such reprehensible attitudes – borne out in photos and illustrations, regardless of time period in which they were published – have left an indelible mark on our own University.
In 2010, Baylor Libraries staff began an examination of controversial content in historic Baylor University‐produced materials as they began digitizing Roundup yearbooks for inclusion in the Baylor University Digital Collections. While painstakingly studying and scanning each page beginning in 1896, staff discovered photos of students in blackface, racist stereotypes and repulsive illustrations that are deeply disturbing to all of us. Since the majority of each Roundup helps preserve the cultural record and Baylor's history, our Libraries staff notified the University Administration and began discussing how to proceed: Should they restrict access to digital materials or censor potentially offensive content that could reflect negatively on Baylor?
In its recommendations to the University's leadership at the time, the Libraries staff took a strong stand of digitizing full yearbooks, providing open access without any censorship, regardless of how the historical content might be viewed in the future. The University Administration endorsed this approach with the inclusion of an historical context statement, as many university and governmental archives have done, that historical materials may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes and that such materials should be viewed in the context of the relevant time period, although those views are not endorsed by Baylor.
That being said, regardless of the time period, these offensive images are disturbing to us, and we denounce them today because we know and understand their context. We see the pain and hurt and anger they caused then and cause now. As a Christian university called to love one another as Christ first loved us, we are remorseful they were ever published, and we unequivocally apologize for the pain these images have caused our students, faculty, staff, alumni and many others.
Throughout our history and, sadly, even recently, our University has experienced instances of discrimination and cultural insensitivity. As a strong, caring Christian community, we stand together for a purpose greater than ourselves, which is to care for and treat each other with love, compassion, dignity and respect.
In fact, it is Jesus himself who reminds us in Matthew 22:37-39 to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
That's the Baylor Family we are called to be.
Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.