Baylor diversity video misses the mark

Screenshot Baylor University's "Loving Our Neighbors: The Commitment of the Baylor Family" diversity training video.

A 40-minute video. That’s all Baylor has put out to train students, faculty and staff concerning the nuances of race in this country? The Baylor community deserves a better effort from this administration on such a sensitive topic.

This editorial board wrote in September about how Baylor needed to step up and push for a course requirement covering racial history in America and bias training. Instead, the university took over five months since its announcement in June to produce a video that doesn’t begin to effectively educate people on those subjects and hasn’t announced any intention to produce more in-depth training material.

The first issue is the content of the video. It doesn’t address the major issues plaguing our campus.

Michael A. Evans, Sr., a member of the Board of Regents, made an appearance at the beginning serving up a “Love thy neighbor” sermon so drowned out in theology that most people of other faiths or no faith might have difficulty getting to the point.

Malcolm Foley, special advisor to the president for equity and campus engagement, then interviewed President Linda Livingstone — never mind the fact he works for her and the university — about Baylor’s response to the growing racial and ideological divide in this country.

As a Black man at Baylor, Foley’s own perspective and experiences would have been a welcome addition. Instead, the bulk of the time is devoted to Livingstone; a voice Baylor students are already very familiar with. Foley is primarily an interviewer, and his role in the video gives off the appearance of tokenism as a result.

Instead of Foley asking Livingstone softball questions to be answered in platitudes of loving thy neighbor and listening with empathy, the interview should have been flipped. It should have focused on Foley’s views and experiences as a Black man at Baylor. Livingstone, as the figurehead of this university, could have delivered something of an apology on behalf of the institution given its handling of race in the past. And Livingstone yielding her time to an underrepresented minority voice would have displayed much more humility and a much greater commitment to real change.

Though as it stands, a Black moderator for white speculation on racism does not create space for genuine representation.

Testimonials by Baylor students and faculty about their experiences being discriminated against were then shared in the third segment. Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications and member of the President’s Council, said over 40 people were interviewed for this portion and the @DearBaylor instagram page was consulted as well.

But there was no mention of how these events were investigated or what Baylor would do about situations like that going forward. There was little mention of how Baylor would do better. Other than a tweaked Civil Rights Policy and combined Equity and Title IX offices, there was little mention of anything that would help minority students other than the same programs that have been available in the past.

There was also no substantive representation of Black community members explaining their lived experiences at Baylor. The only time we supposedly hear from Black voices within the video is when people are reading accounts voiced-over shots of Baylor’s campus.

It is unacceptable that the only time we see Black people in this video, it is not for the purpose of having them share their experiences but instead to interview or share a vague sermon. Using voice-overs during the segment in which the statements are read, the video makes the people who hold these voices invisible. That is an ill-considered choice from a university claiming it is actually listening to Black experiences and making those stories more visible.

Additionally, the statements read aloud do not exactly focus themselves around racism against Black people. We hear from people speaking on their experiences as a member of the LGBTQ at Baylor. We hear from women on sexism and misogyny within the community. We hear from Hispanic voices on anti-immigrant and racism from people within the Baylor community.

The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers over the summer was what kickstarted the recent racial reckoning around the country and is what prompted Baylor to take action. If Baylor wants to tackle racism, particularly against Black people, its diversity training should commit to it. If Baylor wants to focus on diversity and discrimination to include other communities, including against differing sexual orientations and religions, the university needs to devote the time and resources to reflect that. This video does neither. It is a conversation about starting a conversation.

Racism and prejudice are leveraged against different people groups in different ways. To group every minority community together though does a disservice to everyone.

Actually having conversations about all of those issues is important, and there should be ongoing conversations about how to address each of these inequities. But dumping all minority groups into the same bucket and presenting them as a collective isn’t helpful for addressing the deep sins America and Baylor have committed against each of these groups.

The video ended with brief statements by Livingstone and Dr. Laura Johnson, associate vice president for equity and Title IX coordinator, outlining the commitment Baylor has to its community and the resources available to students such as the equity office and counseling.

“I hope you will take advantage of the many resources on campus for training, education, counseling and support as we continue this journey and future conversations together,” Livingstone said.

Those were some of the parting words our president had to say. A message of misplaced hope for a community that found a noose — supposedly a rope swing — on campus after the first black president was voted into office and hears the “n” word in Stacey Riddle Forum.

So students can watch this video and get informed about what Baylor expects out of them, or they can simply turn on the video and go do whatever other errands on their daily task list they deem fit. Not to mention, there is no mention of the consequences if students do not complete the video.

Meanwhile, other trainings that make their way to Canvas have status checks throughout the process and quizzes that check comprehension. There is even fire escape training used on campus featuring periodic bubbles that pop up on screen randomly to make sure the user is engaged with the content.

Race is not a simple issue. Race itself isn’t actually even one of the issues. Hatred is an issue. Deep-seated, systemic racism is an issue. The American education system not approaching the country’s history through an honest and complete lens is an issue.

The video doesn’t even approach those problems. It wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole.

Then, think about how minority students might feel watching such a mismanaged message. Think about the trauma they are put through as they hear experiences similar to their own and the chances it may trigger them. The point of this “training” is to put the racially and ethnically diverse students and faculty at the forefront of the university’s mission, and it doesn’t feel like they made them the priority by the time they were finished.

The first step to solving the rift among America’s constituents can come from something like a simple video, yes, but that being the only required step for everyone involved on campus is blatantly underwhelming. There should be an interactive training video, a faculty workshop, a required course taught by qualified professors and other measures. These steps and more may truly require everyone on Baylor’s campus to confront how Americans have treated ethnic and racial minorities as well as the thoughts and biases buried deep in their hearts.

This video that took five months to produce which is shorter than a three-day-a-week class is unacceptable. So what’s next?