The racist incidents and their aftermath at the University of Missouri have attracted national attention throughout this week. Students at the university have protested campus administration’s slow response to racist epithets and symbols that have recently cropped up at the predominately white school.
On Saturday night, 30 members of the university’s football team declared that they would not play their game against Brigham Young University if the school’s president, Tim Wolfe, did not resign. On Tuesday, Wolfe stepped down. Now, with a national spotlight trained on Missouri, the university must find lasting solutions to the racial problems that have plagued it for so long.
At Baylor, several student organizations are working to make sure nothing like what’s happened in Missouri takes place here.
The Baylor branch of the NAACP, the Association of Black Students and the Coalition of Black Ambassadors all use their varying capacities and strengths to create a conversation about race on campus.
“There’s definitely an underlying tension [at Baylor],” said Round Rock senior Kirk Teal, the president of the Baylor NAACP. “If you compare Baylor’s population to that of America, it’s fairly similar. But we don’t have interaction among the groups. The climate is tense. There’s a very apparent schism. The more people that acknowledge this is going on, the sooner you can start having a conversation about [racism].”
At the Black Student Orientation held by the NAACP and other student organizations at the beginning of the semester, President and Chancellor Ken Starr and Vice President of Student Life Kevin Jackson discussed ways that the administration has been trying to diversify campus. Their words might go some way to acknowledging the issues Teal has seen on campus.
“I believe that Baylor has come a long way, and I’m very, very excited and very happy for what’s going on,” said Tyler sophomore Ceron Ford, head delegate for the Coalition of Black Ambassadors. “Just being able to listen and hear the plans that they (Starr and Jackson) have for diversifying Baylor was awesome.”
For many, however, the initiatives Starr and Jackson mentioned are not enough to promote a sense of racial awareness and acceptance on campus. The Baylor NAACP introduced a number of demands to the administration that will be unrolled at 7 p.m. during Tuesday’s Emergency Black State of the Union in Marrs McLean 101. The address is part of a week-long program of events hosted by NAACP.
Among the list of demands are requests for more faculty of color, a multicultural center on campus, the recruitment of more non-athlete students of color, the hiring of a chief diversity officer for the university and a cultural competency awareness program.
“If Baylor takes our demands seriously, you would be hard-pressed not to see change on campus,” Teal said. “It’s important to get everyone to understand there’s a problem and working together, academically and socially, to solve it.”
Along with the NAACP, the Coalition of Black Ambassadors seeks ways to improve racial diversity and the black student experience on campus. CBA members confer with students at other schools in the Big 12 to find the best approaches to keeping black students in school and create a community where they feel welcomed.
“Our purpose at CBA is to better student life, to get African-American students or black American students more involved in life here at Baylor, and to try to help them to succeed,” Ford said.
Ensuring that black students come to campus and find a community here is key to promoting diversity, Ford said. CBA works with groups like the Association of Black Students to make sure black students, who compose 7.3 percent of Baylor’s undergraduate population, have a community here.
“We want to connect the black population here at Baylor to each other,” said Houston senior Ashley Graves, the president of ABS. “We are an organization that promotes diversity, so we welcome people of all races, all ethnicities, all backgrounds to come join us during our meetings and our activities, just to talk about our experiences as people from different backgrounds and to increase people’s cultural capital on what it means to be someone else. We want to promote empathy towards each other.”
Graves said the group discusses topics ranging from natural hair to police brutality at their weekly meetings. She said it is important for her group to find passionate solutions to racial problems they experience on campus and throughout the world.
“At Baylor, it’s not Missouri University. It’s a much more open environment. But on exec board, I get to hear about other people’s situations and what they’re going through, like small instances of racism that they encounter,” Graves said. “I don’t like angry people without a cause and a solution, so in the meetings I try to accomplish something. If we have a topic that needs a solution, i.e., police brutality, we talk about what to do if you get pulled over, who your first call would be.”
Graves said having the kind of community that ABS creates helps students deal with the racism that they might face at Baylor. Like Teal, she said it is important to discuss these topics so that people acknowledge and work to solve them. She described an incident last year when black students who were on a run were called the n-word from unknown drivers. ABS helps students to cope with the racism they face and try to find the best responses to it.
ABS also tries to forge ties with other organizations to ensure that black students are not isolated from the wider Baylor community.
“Something that we do every year is Fish Fry. With that, we collaborate with other organizations. This year, we collaborated with a Panhellenic fraternity [Kappa Sigma],” said Mesquite sophomore Aaliyah Thomas, the vice president of ABS. “It was really cool because it was a multicultural group and a Greek group having an event, which is something that wouldn’t really happen normally.”
The Baylor NAACP seeks to erode the kinds of barriers that are built between different students and organizations in order to promote justice and equality for all students.
“We want to make it that it’s not just black vs. white, and not just this type of person stays here and this type of person stays there,” said Temple Hills, Md. sophomore Tori Hasty, an officer of the Baylor NAACP. “A lot of the races are clique-y, and I understand that, but at the same time we want to make sure that everyone is aware of everything that’s going on and everyone is treated fairly.”
Each of these groups is seeking both to create a community for black students and to ensure that that community is heard by the campus at large. Of course, while each group has its own events and initiatives, they work together as well.
For instance, these organizations are putting on a Pray for Mizzou event on Fountain Mall. Together, they will think about and pray for the racial problems that plague the students in Missouri. Of course, as with any of their events, all students of all backgrounds are invited to attend as Baylor prays for Mizzou.
“We’re at a Christian university; we’re supposed to express God’s love,” Teal said. “If you know something to be true, if you know your experience is true, you’re not supposed to hold that in. I can’t make anyone think differently, but I can show people that this has been my experience.”