Baylor minority professors stress importance of academic representation

Hired in 1966, Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes was the first African-American professor to teach at Baylor. She was a full-time mathematics professor until her retirement in 1984. Lariat File Photo

By Jessika Harkay | Reporter

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, black males and females, along with Hispanic males, accounted for 2% percent of full-time professors around the country.

At Baylor, Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes opened the door for professors of color, being the first black professor to teach at the university in 1966, after being denied as a student due to her race five years prior.

Today, black professors now account for 4% of faculty and staff — double the national average. Though the number is still low, Lakia Scott, assistant professor of urban and multicultural education and literacy, said that having faculty of color is beneficial to everyone.

“There’s an added emphasis of knowing that there is going to be value and some type of shared equity that is presented in a classroom because of the fact that there is a diverse voice or diverse perspective as a facilitator of the educational experience,” Scott said. “All students benefit from having a faculty that presents a diverse perspective, and that really is one of the overarching aims in providing a transformational educational experience to our school.”

As for black students, representation plays an important role in feeling understood and inspired. New Orleans sophomore Derrick Lewis said after changing to a black academic advisor, he felt a sense of comfort that someone understood what it’s like to be a person of color at a predominantly Caucasian university.

“Instead of her going down a checklist, we had an actual conversation. I could tell she wanted the best for me and she even told me how she’s trying to help me,” Lewis said. “She gave me options that aren’t just off the sheet, but unorthodox things to make the system work in my favor. I feel, in general, you can feel like certain situations and what not are built against you.”

To graduate student and health teacher Brianna Walker, representation doesn’t just mean someone will understand your background, but embodies the success a minority can hold.

“Being a master student, it was different. I did start to notice more so how isolating it can feel just being a minority,” Walker said. “When you see someone who looks like you doing something, it kind of gives you more hope that like you could also do it. I think having better representation of black people at Baylor would one be encouraging and inspiring. And also, I think reduce that isolation that black students feel to the greater Baylor area.”

Scott also agreed. With a first generation college student background, seeing models of black professors, especially women of color was “a surreal experience,” the professor said.

“It solidifies this notion that that young girl who may have aspirations of becoming a professor at a Baylor University could actually do it. Representation matters and is so critical and thinking about self esteem and thinking about self concept and identity,” Scott said. “I’m happy if I, along the way of reaching all the goals that I have in my life personally and professionally, I’m happy if I’m able to motivate another person just by representing something that they may see less of.”

Scott said being inspired didn’t just stop at being a student, but continued into her professional career as she said some of the women of color at Baylor continue to represent success.

“I’m inspired by people like Macarena Hernandez who’s actually at Baylor University and she’s speaking truth in her writing, and helping to continue integrity amongst media platforms,” Scott said. “I’m inspired by Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez who’s also in our Baylor universe as the first African American woman who is a department chair. I’m inspired by my department chair Brooke Blevins, who’s also been phenomenal in helping to create the maternity leave policy at Baylor University. So these are just some of the women that inspire me very deeply.”

To these professors, they aren’t defined as being solely black successful women, but instead using their background to shape the classroom into a deeper experience, and that begins with empowering students.

“If I’m in a place where I can have those connections with people as a teacher, I feel like whatever I do, I’m going I’m gonna like encourage those gifts,” Walker said. “So I guess that in essence is a way that I can inspire others.”

The next step for shaping a deeper experience in the classroom through professors of color, is instilling the importance of empathy.

“The biggest thing that I would hope my students learn in my classrooms, is that equity is all important. When we think about the different layers in which we become distinctive markers in our society, we are divided by so many things,” Scott said. “It’s important that we understand each other’s perspective. And it’s important that we treat each other with inclusion, equity and safety.”