Students react to release of Baylor’s historic commission report

Kristen DeHaven | Photo Editor

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

With the release of the Commission on Historic Campus Representations report on Tuesday afternoon, members of the Baylor family have expressed mixed responses, particularly regarding the recommendations for Burleson Quadrangle.

The report, which can be read in full here, made a series of recommendations to the university on changes that would address Baylor’s complete history more fully.

Some of these recommendations include removing the statue of Rufus C. Burleson from Burleson Quad and moving it to a less prominent location, changing the text that describes Judge R.E.B. Baylor on the statue of the university’s founder which resides on Founders Mall, and creating a new set of statues honoring Rev. Robert Gilbert and Barbara Walker, Baylor’s first Black graduates. The report contains several other recommendations, in addition to these.

The Commission’s work wrapped up in December when they sent the completed report to the Board of Regents and Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone. Since then, the Board of Regents have approved the report and have delegated the next steps to Livingstone and her administration.

“We will look at how best to consider their implementation in a way that will have an impact on our university, not just now, but as we look to the future,” Livingstone said. “We’ll be very thoughtful about that, we’ll be very thorough about that and we will certainly work diligently to keep with the spirit and intent of the work that the Commission did, and certainly to look at the specific recommendations, but also to consider them in a holistic way.”

Kansas City, Mo., sophomore Victoria Bingaman, one of the organizers of the demonstration at Moody Memorial Library earlier this semester, said she was pleased with the recommendations made by the Commission.

“I think one of the things I was most impressed about was the education at Line Camp, because … that’s where we learn to love Baylor, and they teach us all about all these awesome things at Baylor,” Bingaman said. “Institutions are like people, we have really great sides, and we have really negative sides, but all of that has to be shown in order for people to get an accurate representation of who we are. So for them being willing to do that and taking that step forward makes me happy.”

Fort Worth senior Zachary Miller, chair of the Bull Moose Society, said he thought it was great for Baylor to commission statues of Gilbert and Walker. However, he said he did not agree with the recommendation to relocate the statue of Rufus C. Burleson or rename Burleson Quadrangle.

Miller said he thinks the Commission used Burleson as a scapegoat because moving the Judge Baylor statue would be much more controversial and would lead to conversations about renaming the university.

“Baylor’s not renaming themselves because … it’s not in their financial interest to do so,” Miller said. “Obviously, there are some questions: How committed is Baylor to really doing what they say they’re doing here, or is this more public relations, trying to get on the good side of the political winds that we think are blowing?”

Aurora, Colo., junior Sam Onilenla, who organized the Judge Baylor statue demonstrations earlier this semester, said he was disappointed it was not recommended to relocate the Judge Baylor statue, but he was intrigued by the history shared in the report.

“The history is actually pretty eye-opening to me,” Onilenla said. “I did not know that this many people on campus that have monuments or statues had slaves. I saw the Trustees Board, 11 out of the 15 men had slaves. It was a lot. I’m really overwhelmed because I really thought just Baylor and Burleson were the only prominent names, but there’s so much more.”

Bingaman said she hopes Baylor will follow through on addressing the recommendations and continuing to work on racial equity.

“All I can do is hope and pray that this university that’s founded on Christian beliefs continues to exemplify those Christian beliefs, which is a home for all,” Bingaman said. “A place where all lights can shine bright, a place where everyone can feel comfortable. We’re all supposed to feel comfortable in the bosom of Jesus Christ, and so if that’s what they want to project, and then those suggestions were unanimously put forward by the Commission, I hope that they’re taken.”

Onilenla said he doesn’t think Baylor will start with any of the controversial recommendations but will build up slowly.

“Personally, I don’t think they’re going to go big,” Onilenla said. “I definitely don’t see that. I don’t see them making any big change, but you’ve got to learn to understand small successes have to happen before big successes.”

Miller said he thinks Baylor’s timeline of following through on the recommendations will be a long, drawn out process to offend the least amount of people.

“They’re trying to maintain Baylor alumni donors, the sort of more traditional Baylor people who are the overwhelming majority, but they’re also trying to kind of appease the secular world and the political moment,” Miller said.

Chair of the Board of Regents Mark Rountree said any decisions made about the recommendations will be guided by Baylor’s Christian mission.

“It will be anchored as the Commission’s recommendations and observations were in the Gospel’s approach to redemption and reconciliation,” Rountree said. “Finally, any decisions that we will make will ultimately be focused on ensuring that our Christian mission is inextricably linked to racial equity on our campus, and that we will do things that will make our campus a more welcoming place for our students, faculty, staff and friends of color that are part of the vital family.”