By Andrea Lindsey | Contributor
While Baylor’s core values have remained virtually consistent throughout the duration of its existence, one thing that has changed is the dynamic of the student population. As Baylor has increased in its amount of minority students, their need for representation increases as well, and Dr. Elizabeth Palacios hopes to give students across campus a voice.
Palacios is Baylor’s dean of student development and has been a part of the Baylor community for 38 years, along with being the longest standing Latina administrator at the university. She was an undergraduate at Baylor as well, and said she experienced a lot of the struggles that minority students face today.
During her studies at Baylor, Palacios was informed through a textbook that the high school she attended was the second poorest in the state of Texas. It had high dropout rates, high pregnancy rates and the students were deemed at risk.
“It was really difficult to see myself at Baylor, which was very notably higher income and predominantly white, so it was just a culture shock. It was very difficult,” Palacios said. “I kept telling God, ‘You must have made a mistake bringing me here.’”
Palacios said she had never imagined that she would be at Baylor for 38 years, especially not doing what she does today.
“I was a business major; I had graduated with a business degree and so I had never intended on working in higher education,” Palacios said. “God has a sense of humor because I fell in love with students, I fell in love with working in higher ed and I had been an undergrad at Baylor, so I knew the culture.”
Palacios said her main goals are to give a voice to students who don’t have one, to help students of color navigate through Baylor and to be able to celebrate and be aware of how different God made each student. She also said she believes that as a university, Baylor can’t stop at just having a diverse campus.
“The numbers itself are just called diversity; it’s nothing but numbers and statistics. Diversity is happening with or without our help. Inclusivity and student success are going to depend on what we do with our numbers,” Palacios said.
Macarena Hernández, a Baylor professor and former mentee of Palacios, said she believes that every student of color deserves to have someone like Palacios on campus.
“This is like a ministry for her,” Hernández said. “She’s really doing God’s work helping bridge these racial gaps on campus. Baylor is incredibly lucky and blessed to have her. We all are.”
Some examples of Palacios’ efforts include a program known as “This Matters,” which has been out of session recently but is expected to make a reboot soon.
“I started ‘This Matters’ and it was more of having some difficult conversations when things happen,” Palacios said. “We have to have a forum where we can talk about these things and really have some hard conversations about what we want to do on our campus and how we want to present this.”
Palacios said she has noticed an increase of diversity around campus, but feels that there is still more work to do.
“If I could change one thing, it would be that we would already be more diverse in our administration and our faculty because our students are way ahead of us, and they’re cutting way ahead of us prepared for understanding each other and trying to make sense of the world in a Christian context,” Palacios said.
Growing up as a “preacher’s kid”, Palacios said she has always felt mission-minded, and that doing this work is something she could take pride in.
“Teaching is something I’ve always loved. I feel like I was put here at Baylor to be able to connect with the students to make a difference. That’s the biggest thing— leaving wherever I go better than I found it,” Palacios said.
Houston senior Gabriela Fierro said she believes that Palacios has more than achieved her goals and that she can’t imagine Baylor without her.
“Without Dr. Palacios, Baylor would miss one of the ‘glues’ of the multicultural community. As one of the few voices in the Baylor administration directly involved with various student groups, countless members of the student body would find it difficult to see Baylor as home,” Fierro said. “When my peers and I reflect on the mentors that have been vital for our Baylor journey, Dr. Palacios is always one of the first to be mentioned.”