A Welcoming, Uplifting Community
Dear Baylor Students, Faculty and Staff:
In only a few days, we will have the great joy of welcoming back to our campus the thousands of men and women who call Baylor University home as students. This Monday, the first official day of class for the fall semester, is a day for which all of us have been yearning and diligently preparing for months. It will be a day of celebration and togetherness. It will also mark a new chapter in the life of Baylor -- one of innovative adaptation in the midst of hardship and one of renewal in our commitment as the Baylor Family to love one another as Christ has loved us.
The preceding months -- in every corner of our nation and world -- have been filled with an abundance of pain, moral reckoning, and grief. However, the constant presence of Christ in our lives has also allowed us to carry the light of hope and love through this time of darkness and uncertainty. As we move forward, grounded in our Christian mission as an institution, Baylor continues to place great value on fostering a compassionate community and creating an environment of possibility for all our students. Indeed, equal opportunity and biblical justice are a natural outgrowth of Baylor's caring Christian community.
In recent weeks, members of our student and alumni communities have shared stories with me about incidents of racism at Baylor that date back many years. These include accounts from individuals affiliated with several important groups at Baylor -- the Baylor Chapter of the NAACP, the Black Student Coalition, the LatinX Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Students -- as well as from members of our Baylor Alumni groups. Recognizing one another as being created in the image of God requires treating each other with love and respect, and these stories have provided sobering examples of members of our Baylor Family being denied that dignity.
Listening and Learning
The faces of the Baylor Family are as diverse as our surrounding world, and that diversity is an enduring strength. Our students come to Baylor from across the globe and from families of all backgrounds. We recognize that we must continuously strive to improve our response to this diversity. I am reminded of a quote from writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." Simply put, we want Baylor to be increasingly better.
The expressions of concern and requests for action I have heard from communities of color within our Baylor Family coalesce around four themes: inadequate space for programming for students of color on campus; a lack of accountability for individuals or groups at Baylor who commit acts of racial harm; inadequate representation of communities of color in Baylor organizations or groups with decision-making power; and a campus culture that stifles ethnically minoritized expressions in favor of the majority.
After seeing our country's deep divisions over race, justice and inequality once again brought into the spotlight following the killing of George Floyd, I wrote the following words to the Baylor Family in early June: "It's time to both step back in humility to listen and learn, but also speak up about how we treat people of color in our community and our country. . . . As members of the Baylor Family -- a Christian university with a community called to offer the grace and peace of Christ to all of God's people -- we should lean into these current events, build upon our actions to date and elevate the difficult, uncomfortable but important conversations -- with actionable steps -- regarding race, privilege, violence and conciliation in America. Not only will we broaden the conversations at Baylor, but we will look to the wisdom of our racialized minority brothers and sisters who have more experience than us."
Today, we continue to listen to our brothers and sisters, and we are still learning a great deal from them.
Implementing Institutional Measures
During the two months since I made the statement above, Baylor has undertaken a number of actionable steps -- with formative input coming from diverse perspectives -- to address issues of equity and racial justice on our campus. These steps have occurred on a number of fronts, ranging from initiatives involving our students and faculty to advances among alumni communities and in institutional accountability.
Perhaps most prominent were the actions taken by our Board of Regents in late June in passing a Resolution on Racial Healing and Justice and establishing a Commission on Historic Campus Representations at Baylor University. This advisory committee will provide guidance on presenting Baylor's history as the University pursues opportunities to inclusively explore and engage in significant conversations about this aspect of the institution's past.
I commend our Board for taking this step forward as an extension of the administration's important, ongoing work of racial conciliation. The Commission's efforts will include reviewing the historical context of the University and its connection with all statues, monuments, buildings and other aspects of the campus in reference to their physical location, placement and naming. By the end of the fall semester, the Commission will provide its observations for consideration by the administration and Board of Regents. Members of the Commission -- who embody a remarkable variety of voices from across the University, including students, faculty, staff and alumni -- have already moved deeply into their important work.
Our Board of Regents itself represents our progress in enriching diversity on our campus. Forty-four percent of its 34 members are women, including five of our seven new regents, and six regents have diverse ethnic backgrounds -- up from just one four years ago. The presence of such individuals on the governing board of the University, who are empowered to make some of the most important decisions regarding Baylor policy, is both a source of encouragement and an ongoing priority.
I was pleased to recently announce the appointment of Malcolm Foley to serve as special advisor to the president for equity and campus engagement and director of the Black church studies program at Baylor's Truett Seminary. In this joint role, Mr. Foley will facilitate engagement and interaction with and among the many diverse members of our campus community, and he will work collaboratively to develop initiatives designed to foster a welcoming and inclusive campus for all. With Malcolm's addition, three of the 11 individuals constituting the President's Council -- my leadership team -- are from ethnic minority backgrounds and four members are women.
I should also note that while the entire University is in the midst of a hiring freeze, we are nevertheless currently engaging in a search to fill two full-time staff positions in our Equity Office, which is responsible for matters concerning equal opportunity, affirmative action, civil rights and discrimination claims. Revised civil rights policies, which are currently in the final stages of approval, ensure the treatment of all students, faculty and staff with respect and dignity, promote equal opportunities and prohibit discriminatory practices, including unlawful discrimination. As a campus community, we require any issue or incident that violates the University's civil rights policy or other policies to be reported through the Report It website at www.baylor.edu/reportit or in conjunction with the Equity Office.
Building New Lives Together
On July 13, I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual Town Hall hosted by the Baylor Black Alumni Alliance and the Baylor Alumni Latino Group along with a distinguished group of panelists that included U. S. Congressman Colin Allred (BA '05); René Maciel (MS '91), Baylor Regent and Missions Pastor, First Baptist Woodway; and Michael McFarland, Ph.D. (BBA '93, EdD '05), Baylor Regent and Superintendent, Crowley ISD. Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D. (MS '98, MA '01), Baylor professor and chair of the Journalism, Public Relations and New Media Department, served as our moderator.
During the course of our wide-ranging conversation, I announced the establishment of the Trailblazer Scholars Program. This exciting new scholarship program is designed to recognize the importance of fostering diversity and mutual respect at Baylor and is being launched by the University with $5 million in scholarship support. In the months ahead, we will engage alumni and donors to support growth in the program, with a goal of providing Trailblazer Scholarships to a cohort of 80 or more students, who will participate in leadership and service opportunities through our Multicultural Affairs Department -- whose location in the Bill Daniel Student Center provides central access to our student body -- and other groups and programs on campus.
The Trailblazer Scholars Program is yet another meaningful and tangible step in supporting and encouraging diversity on our campus. Other efforts underway include plans to expand and redesign our diversity website connected to the Baylor homepage that will tell the story of our caring community, provide direct resources for faculty, staff and students to utilize, and contain a section on accountability and actions taken by the University against reports of discriminatory practices.
The University already requires diversity education for incoming students as well as for new faculty and staff -- in addition to faculty search committees and student leadership -- but beginning this fall semester all current students, faculty and staff will also be required to annually participate in campus-wide diversity education.
Diversifying Our Campus Culture
As we attract a diverse pool of candidates committed to our mission, we continue to strengthen the diversity of our faculty and staff. Among other measurements, we achieved a minority faculty rate of 16.6% during the 2019-20 academic year and promoted 10 women to full professor -- the most ever in a single year at Baylor.
Ensuring that such faculty members find Baylor to be a welcoming and rewarding community is a priority. We diligently seek to provide the support and culture necessary to retain them as they earn promotion through the ranks, working to build a faculty that reflects our diverse student body. To this end, this fall we will conduct another Campus Climate Survey, using the first survey as a benchmark, to measure the perceptions of our faculty, staff, and students regarding the inclusiveness, friendliness, cooperation, support and opportunities for career advancement and academic success found at Baylor. The results of this survey will guide our priorities and specific action items moving forward.
In addition, I will continue to host the Presidential Baylor Conversation Series -- in a virtual format for the time being -- to bring guest speakers to our campus as we extend our civil discourse discussions from last fall. These important conversations enrich Baylor as a marketplace of ideas and continue to elevate conversations on race, peacemaking and racial conciliation informed by our Christian faith.
Our students, of course, lie at the heart of our institutional life, and our efforts to cultivate a caring Christian community run through a variety of programs in Student Life and our academic enterprise. The unified core curriculum in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences that was established last year -- and in which the large majority of Baylor students participate -- also embeds issues of diversity into what are designated as "common courses." One of these seven common courses is "American Literary Cultures," a class in which instructors offer students an exploration of American literature in its historical and social contexts with an emphasis on how authors and prominent figures from a variety of societies, races, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses have shaped and continue to shape the literature and culture of the United States. Such intentionality extends through the curricula of our 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
Also, we have requested that faculty include information in their syllabus statements for students outlining the resources provided by the Office of Equity and Title IX, as well as reporting information and links to the University's Civil Rights Policy and Sexual and Interpersonal Misconduct Policy.
Students Stepping Forward
I am thankful for the leadership role Student Body President Sutton Houser and Student Government have already taken in actively listening to the concerns of students. The group has formed a Diversity Coalition to inform student leaders in how they can better represent the needs of every student. In addition, the Diversity Coalition will be charged with encouraging more students to join the conversation and participate in Student Government, as well as create opportunities for more students to become better connected to our campus and create positive change. Applications to join Student Government as part of the Diversity Coalition will open early this semester.
Additionally, Student Government is in process of developing a "Church to You" initiative to assist students of diverse backgrounds in feeling more at home with their Christian faith while at Baylor. Whether with a certain denomination, in a certain language or with a community that better resembles their cultural background, Student Government plans to reach out to local Waco ministers and invite them to campus, providing a weekly opportunity to meet with a minister and connect with a church leader who might look like them or speak a common language. In tandem with this program, Baylor's Graduate Student Association is purchasing copies of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism and hosting reading groups for graduate students to explore the book's relevance to their lives.
A Place for Everyone
As I stated earlier this summer, we are all a part of God's beautiful mosaic. Racial justice is not ancillary to the University's mission; rather, it is a vital element of the mission as we equip our students for worldwide leadership and service following their time at Baylor.
As a Christian institution of higher education, Baylor University is unwaveringly committed to fostering the diversity and welcoming character of our campus community, and each member of the Baylor Family plays an important role in our daily living out of that commitment. Being intentional about building a caring Christian community in which our members feel safe, respected and supported lies at the core of our mission to transform lives and serve others.
One of the cornerstones of Baylor's educational curriculum and communal life for generations has been the cultivation of compassion for others, both in personal service to and in civil discourse with those who have differing beliefs. Scripture advises us to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). We are also, as Christians, called to "encourage one another and build each other up" (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
I am grateful for each person who has chosen to call Baylor home and for the thousands of members of the extensive Baylor Family who encircle our campus with uplifting passion and support. Thank you for your love of Baylor University and for the important part you are playing in renewing our Baylor community every day using the unique gifts and voice with which God has endowed you.
Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.