Baylor introduces diversity education amid national racial strife

Student watches the Diversity Training Video. Christina Cannady | Photographer

By Meredith Pratt | Staff Writer

On Nov. 11, President Linda Livingstone announced Baylor had released its diversity education video entitled “Loving our Neighbors.” The video is 40 minutes long and features several members of the Baylor community.

Diversity training is part of an institutional initiative to provide greater racial and cultural understanding that emerged earlier this year. Students, faculty and staff must watch the video by the end of the fall semester in order to receive credit.

Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications and member of the President’s Council, said Livingstone wanted to develop actions the Baylor community could take to respond to the events that took place this summer.

“The diversity education initiative is in response to the President’s communication in June, which was right on the heels of the George Floyd incident that happened,” Cook said. “At that time, Dr. Livingstone pledged to not simply issue a statement like a lot of universities around the country but to actually take some tangible steps.”

Before developing the video, Cook said the university interviewed students, faculty, staff and members of the Board of Regents to ensure they included common themes on Baylor’s campus that needed to be addressed.

“We interviewed between 40 and 50 people to get some background and context and some of the key issues that needed to be covered,” Cook said. “We looked at a lot of the personal stories that were being shared via @DearBaylor Instagram account as well.”

Some of the individual stories in the video come directly from the “Dear Baylor” account that was created this summer. The account was an anonymous space where students shared their experiences with discrimination and prejudice on campus.

A large portion of the video is comprised of a conversation between Livingstone and Malcolm Foley, special advisor to the president for equity and campus engagement and director of black church studies at George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

“He has a significant role to play in diversity-related conversations on our campus,” Cook said.

In the middle of the video, Dr. Michael Evens, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, steps in to give a devotional. Evans is a member of the Baylor Board of Regents and serves as the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Dr. Laura Johnson, associate vice president for equity, ends the video by providing a list of resources available to the Baylor community.

Cook said going forward, diversity training will be required annually for all students, faculty and staff.

“I think the president’s made a commitment that this will be an ongoing process and part of continued discussions that we will have on our campus,” Cook said.

Faith Morris, a Master of Social Work candidate from Vicksburg, Mich., said she thinks that the university is taking steps in the right direction to bring about awareness of racial injustices.

“I am grateful that the university is addressing the division that is so present in the country right now,” Morris said. “After years of living through the growing racial tensions and divide within the nation, I believe that diversity education is a good step toward starting conversations within the Baylor community on racial injustices.”

Morris did, however, acknowledge that there is “much more work to be done.”

“As a person of color, I wish that Baylor had done more earlier,” Morris said. “I believe that there needs to be meaningful dialogue between students and faculty on the dynamics of power and privilege within society. The Baylor community is full of individuals with unique experiences and backgrounds. All student experiences should be celebrated, but that will never seem genuine if there are no honest conversations.”

Morris said she worried that many students will not take the training seriously, and that, while the university’s desire for unity in the Baylor community is “admirable,” she feels the video came across as more of an obligation.

“I watched the entire video, but with the way the requirement is set up, a person could simply play the video without engaging in the content,” Morris said. “A meaningful change could be to require the ‘Human Diversity and Leadership’ course for all students.”

As a social work major, Morris was required to take a course on diversity as a degree requirement for her undergraduate degree at Baylor. The course examines several marginalized populations, explores the historical oppression of minority groups and fosters dialogue aimed at building unity.

Morris said she believes it is “extremely important” for all Baylor students to become educated on topics such as diversity and racial injustice.

“Looking back as a graduate student, the Human Diversity and Leadership course has continued to fuel my self-awareness of my own privilege and different layers of identity,” Morris said.