By Rewon Shimray | Staff Writer
Leaders in the Division of Student Life will receive cultural humility training in fall 2018. The new program “Leave Your Mark” launches an initiative to help leaders of student organizations grow a better understanding of themselves and their peers through the lens of culture, according to Dr. Elizabeth D. Palacios, dean for student development.
The module was piloted in March 2018 to different groups, which was further developed over the summer with the goal of presenting it this fall to 580 Student Life leaders — such as those in Living-Learning Centers and those involved in Line Camp and Welcome Week. According to Palacios, there are 9500 students involved in Student Life organizations.
Beginning with a student-made video, the 45-minute modules include open discussion and training. Lizzy Davis, assistant director of leadership development, said peer facilitators begin by guiding a self-reflection in identity and how outside influences affect the expression of that identity. Social identity is defined by things such as sex, religion, social class, age, ability, race, ethnicity and others, according to the “Leave Your Mark” presentation. Afterwards, groups define microaggressions and distinguish the difference between intent and impact. Lastly, leaders are equipped with ways to intervene in the event of a microaggression.
“My go-to question is ‘What did you mean by that?’” Davis said. “By asking that question, you’re encouraging whoever said or did that thing to think more deeply, because sometimes we just say things flippantly, or it’s something we’ve heard before, and we’re not thinking deeply about what we’ve just said.”
Recommended responses to microaggressions include talking to the victim, educating the attacker and being personally open to learning.
Davis said although everyone has said and done regrettable things, embracing an environment of learning can help build one to learn to be more inclusive of others every day.
“The highest hope I have for this is that it will help us establish a truly caring community where we really make everyone feel welcome on this campus regardless of who they are, and in fact, we want them to feel welcome because of who they are,” Davis said.
“Leave Your Mark” modules are led by 140 peer leaders who are trained by Davis, as well as two student co-chairs Folake Obasanya and Kobe Flemming.
Davis said students teach the program instead of faculty because “it doesn’t feel as real or as relevant unless it’s your peers saying [discrimination] is something they’ve experienced on campus.”
Any students with a passion for cultural humility can contact Davis, Obasanya or Flemming to train to become a peer facilitator for “Leave Your Mark.”
“We have amazing students on our campus who are so passionate about this issue, so I really want to give a chance to let their leadership shine,” Davis said. “That passion is something we want students to see in their fellow students.”
The Bias Response Team (BRT), formerly called the Bias-Motivated Incident Support Team (BMIST), is an additional resource to mitigate microaggressions. The BRT is co-chaired by Dr. Leslie Hahner, associate professor of communication, and Dr. Kim Kellison, associate dean for humanities and social sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences.
The faculty-driven committee operates under the President’s office to work with students who have encountered incidents of bias. Kellison said the BRT works its hardest to protect the privacy of the student because students should not be afraid to report an incident.
Reports can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The situation will be navigated by either the committee itself or a referral to the appropriate office on campus.
“Even when we point them to a specific office, we’re happy to go with them. In a lot of ways we function just to walk with that student,” Kellison said.
Kellison said in cases where it is not possible to identify the person who committed a microaggression, reporting is still significant for documentation purposes. She said documentation pinpoints endemic problems that Baylor authorities need to address.
“I’m real excited, because I’ve been here for 37 years and this is the most we’ve really talked as an institution about diversity and really accepting each other and wanting to have a welcoming climate for everybody, which means understanding everybody. And as a Christian institution, that is our charge — to love and to serve everyone —but you can’t do that until you understand yourself and your own biases,” Palacios said.
Palacios said “Leave Your Mark” is one of many ways Baylor seeks to guide students in the midst of an increasingly polarized political and cultural climate nationwide.
“When we were having a lot of incidents — it was all over the country with the protests and the things going on in higher education — we were wondering how we were going to help our students,” Palacios said. “Instead of trying to hide it or not face it, we wanted to deal with it through … education and dialogue and change on campus to make sure that from our students, faculty staff, we’re all on the same page.”