First woman religion professor leads through the Lord

By Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Dr. Rosalie Beck was the first female professor in the religion department. She started teaching in the fall of 1984, and there was not another woman in the department for 17 years. As she plans to retire in May of next year, colleagues and students reflect on her legacy and impact.

Being the First

“I got tired of hearing ‘gentlemen … and lady,’” Beck said.

While she was often aware of the fact that she was the only woman in the department, Beck said she received “active support” from the majority of her colleagues and “benign and neglect from the rest.”

Marilyn McKinney was the office manager in the department of religion for 16 years starting 1987. When Beck entered the department, “It was pretty much still a man’s world,” McKinney said. “She handled herself well. She wasn’t afraid to interject her opinion and her thoughts, but at the same time, she was always agreeable to what the department decided to do.”

Dr. David Moseman, senior lecturer in the religion department, said younger generations and even men like himself could not understand what it would be like to be the first woman in an area. He said not having a colleague of her gender in the department meant that there was not someone who could relate to her “in a way that the other gender can not.”

“She’s not going to be the person in there, arguing and shaking her fists, trying to get her way. She’s going to be the person that when something like that happens, she’s going to keep doing what she does. And I will say that’s such a powerful testimony,” Moseman said. “Who she is has won the day, and that has been affirmed over and over by students.”

Over the years, Beck said she has gotten more pushback about being a woman teaching religion from students than from colleagues. She said she had students come to her office at the end of the year to confess they were glad they gave her a chance, because they almost walked out on the first day when they realized she was a woman.

“I had students that wouldn’t take me because I was a woman, and women weren’t supposed to teach Bible to men,” Beck said. “When I first started teaching, that was a real issue for students, both male and female.”

Beck said now students make professor choices based on rating, rather than gender. She said the change in attitudes came from “time, pressure from the academy, lawsuits, and the courage of a few men to appoint some outstanding women to leadership positions.”

“I don’t want someone denied a position because of their gender, nor do I want someone given a position because of their gender,” Moseman said. “I think we would all encourage [critics] to look at the gifts. Rosalie’s gifts have won that out wonderfully. She’s a phenomenal teacher. Her department was able to support her in that,”

Beck said the academic world has been able to more quickly accept gender equality because academic publications require gender inclusive language, which “became habit, and that became morality.” In other words, neutral language brought in an inclusive atmosphere into the scholarly world.

Contrastly, Beck said she has not seen any major shift in the attitudes of the student body toward women. She said there are still students who will not take a woman professor for Bible classes.

“The majority of Baylor students are still very conservative, still believe in stereotypes as far as family structure and family responsibility,” Beck said.

She said even if a student comes to realize they disagree with conservative views of women in the church, “their external actions will be determined by the crowd they run with.”

“If you are a part of a group that doesn’t value what you think, or doesn’t value difference in thought, then you’re not going to voice it if you make a change. How can you solidify that change, how can you grow that change, without nurturing it?” Beck said. “If your ties to the original group are so powerful that you can’t conceive or believe in a new group, you put stuff on the backburner or get very angry.”


Bringing Women In

While teaching at Baylor, Beck said she underwent a personal journey to realizing the gravity of gender inequality in both the society she was living in and the area of scholarship she was studying.

She said she met two feminist professors in the psychology and Spanish departments. They would meet for breakfast once a week and discuss gender issues.

Beck said she began to notice “real discrepancies.” She reflected on her seminary experience, in which she was one of 50 women earning their master’s degree class of 2,000 students. She said she had to personally explain to the dean why she was pursuing a Master’s of Divinity degree, whereas none of her male counterparts did.

Beck said she began to recognize an absence of women in high positions at Baylor as well. She said at the time, there were no women department chairs and the only female dean was in the nursing school.

“When you saw women on campus, they were almost always administrative staff,” Beck said.

Beck said she began to have the desire to make strides for more gender inclusivity in her classroom. Teaching Old Testament, one of the two required religion courses at Baylor at the time, Beck said she would “deliberately include narratives about women as persons of faith, as persons empowered by God to do God’s will.”

“Then after a few years, I decided that Women in Christian History and Women in American Religion were two classes that I could teach. I had to study for a while, but they were two classes I could do. They have been in the catalog for a long time, and they will stay in the catalog,” Beck said.

Beck said when she proposed Women in Christian History as a topic for a graduate seminar, there were initially doubts that there would be enough content within the subject. There was a lack of scholarly work done on women until the last 20 to 30 years, according to Beck.

“On women’s issues, there was a time it was cutting edge, so people were having to write on it. Rosalie has been through that time. There were times where she would have trouble finding stuff, simply because it hadn’t been written yet,” Moseman said. “They, both men and women, have had a lot of work to do there — in the writing, in how we deal with and appropriate things, how we think about things, how we use gender inclusive language in our writing and our teaching, how we use gender inclusive examples in our classrooms.”


Transformative Education

Beck has taught a variety of religion classes ranging from Old Testament, New Testament, Biblical Heritage, Baptist History, Christian missions, History of Roman Catholicism, History of Orthodox Churches, New Religious Movements, Baptist Doctrines, and many more. She has also been able to add classes to the registrar such as Women in Christian History and Women in American Religion.

San Antonio junior Nicholas Anthony is taking Women in Christian History as the only male in a 15 student class. He said he was hesitant to take the course at first.

“Now, after taking the course, I’m realizing more men should take the course. We, as men, shouldn’t be afraid to take a course about women, but rather we should celebrate it,” Anthony said. “Most of the time in Christian history, women’s roles have been downplayed, but Dr. Beck’s course illuminated how impactful women have been on the Christian faith. As a man, and especially as a religion major, we should all be acknowledging of that fact, because women are as much a part of society as men.”

Beck said that her goal in her woman-specific surveys is to “help women gain a sense of their value” and God’s calling in their lives.

“I’ve had any number of women in my classes who for the first time began to consider a vocation in ministry, because they began to rethink who women were and what they were about,” Beck said.

In her work as the department of religion office manager, McKinney also worked in the Ministry Guidance Program, which advised students interested in vocational ministry. McKinney said she would often see Beck meeting with students discussing challenges and rewards about going into ministry as a woman.

“You can have a conversation with [Beck], and the next time you see her, she’s going to remember and relate to what you said before. Instead of feeling like you have to start over every time, it can be a continuing conversation with her, and that’s a gift,” Moseman said. “Because she’s good at that, I think you can get to where you can have an in-depth conversation with her about where you feel God calling you in your life.”

Moseman was Beck’s graduate assistant for three years as a Baylor graduate student in 1993. Moseman said they were able to develop a close relationship, and she purchased his graduation robes when it was time for him to graduate. Over the years, Beck and Moseman have been able to become close to each other’s families through dinners and over dominoes. Now, they are colleagues in the department of religion.

Now a professor for over ten years, Moseman said Beck is still a great mentor to him.

“She helped reinforce my teaching philosophy, which is ‘they don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.’ It’s a philosophy that puts people first before subject,” Moseman said.

Moseman said Beck cares about students as if they are and deserve to be treated as people made in the image of God.

“She could direct the conversation in a way that it stayed on topic and that people were respected for their opinion, and never allowed anyone to be bullied or feel inferior because they thought differently everybody else in the class,” McKinney said. “You could see sometimes people minds being changed.”

Anthony has taken two classes with Beck, and said that he has seen her interacting, listening, and engaging the students while also bringing the conversation into the realm of Christianity. After taking Beck for an elective class as well as another course, Anthony decided to take on a secondary religion major.

“What I’ve learned from Dr. Beck in the classroom has been that it is always important to understand others and to understand their beliefs and how they worked, and not to judge or condemn,” Anthony said. “Dr. Beck, I think, does an incredible job about being a professor with her faith, because she’s not afraid to state her faith and her opinion on a subject, yet at the same time, she always reminds us as students that we need to form an opinion ourselves and understand it ourselves. That’s what she always tries to get across to us.”

Anthony said he hopes to get a better understanding of people and their reasons for beliefs as well as disbeliefs through his religion major. While he is unsure of what he wants to do after graduation, Anthony said the skills he learns in this major will help him in any career he chooses to pursue.

“That’s the wonderful thing about institutions. They bring people in from all over and you have to think about things, things you haven’t even thought about before, and they offer you these wonderful opportunities to start looking at things, and be in a classroom where… the professor’s job is really to get you to think and to engage topics beyond what you’ve engaged before and to look at them from a lot of different angles,” Moseman said.

Moseman said that professors like himself and Beck hope that students take what they have learned at Baylor out into the world and “transform the world.”

“I hope this institution, and other likes it, can be part of that transformation,” Moseman said. “That’s what teaching is about. And that’s the type of teaching that Rosalie does– it’s transformative teaching that’s centered on the gospel.”