“Moving Forward as the Baylor Family” signage demonstrates work of the Commission and Campus Experience Project Team

Baylor puts informative signage around campus concerning past racial injustice. Photo courtesy of Brittany Tankersley.

By Mariah Bennett | Staff Writer

Following the research and recommendations by the Commission on Historic Campus Representations, temporary signage titled “Moving Forward as the Baylor Family” has been placed on Founder’s Mall and Burleson Quadrangle. This signage includes QR codes that link to information on seven statues, monuments and buildings around campus.

These markers include the Centennial Time Capsule monument, Baylor’s First Board of Trustees monument, Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor monument, William Milton Tryon and James Huckins monuments, the bells from Independence and Waco University, Folmar Pavilion plaques and the Rufus C. Burleson monument.

This informative signage uses the research done by the Commission on Historic Campus Representations to examine elements of Baylor’s history, early leaders and iconic campus markers, delving into its racially unjust chapters — including that of slavery.

According to Malcolm Foley, special advisor to the president for Equity and Campus Engagement, the goal is to more comprehensively narrate Baylor’s history. Foley said educating readers on Baylor’s history with facts — such as how all of Baylor’s founders and most of the members of the university’s first Board of Trustees were slaveholders — is necessary in order to complete the goal of this project.

Foley is also a co-chair of the Campus Experience Project Team, which was behind the implementation of this recent project.

“We wanted to indicate to the campus community that change was coming,” Foley said.

The Campus Experience Project Team’s purpose is to take the works and research of the Commission on Historic Campus Representations and implement its recommendations. This team is co-chaired by Foley and Jason Cook, vice president for Marketing and Communications and chief marketing officer.

The other members include Jeffry Archer, dean of Libraries; Elizabeth D. Palacios, dean of Student Development; Toby Barnett, associate vice president and campaign director of Campaign and Donor Stewardship; and Julie Helton, facilities space planner.

“There is a commitment at every level of the administration to make those kinds of changes,” Foley said.

This commitment was also seen in one of the highest levels of administration: a presidential perspective that stated the signage was “an important step forward” in dealing with the Commission’s recommendations and Baylor’s history.

Also included in the project and in historical master-planning overall, according to one sign near the Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor monument, was the assistance by design firm Sasaki. Foley said the firm is creating a comprehensive plan for physical representations on campus.

This physical representation, however, is interim. The interim aspect of the project was decided upon mainly due to how dynamic history is.

“Our understanding of history is constantly shifting, so we want to make sure these actions have the flexibility to be able to shift and morph as we find out more and as we seek to continue to build a just and equitable culture on this campus,” Foley said.

Foley said the digital measures of this project were also due to this constant shift, and a large factor was opportunity, specifically for those interacting with the signage.

“You can see and learn about [the history], whether you’re on campus or off of campus,” Foley said.

The project’s unique aspects of technology and non-permanency were seen positively by the experience of the co-chair of the now-disbanded Commission on Historic Campus Representations: Dr. Gary Mortenson, dean of the School of Music.

“[The research] is fully susceptible to improvement along the way,” Mortenson said. “Nothing is absolutely permanent.”

After experiencing the signage himself at Founder’s Mall and Burleson Quadrangle, Mortenson said he was especially pleased with the depth of detail on the Burleson statue and the balance between a comprehensive amount of information and an overload of information.

“[They] made them available for people, so as they’re walking across campus, they can just simply … click on it and read the pertinent things, while they’re looking directly at that historical representation,” Mortenson said.

Mortenson also appreciated that the project collated very important information from the report.

“It all speaks well for the hard work that we did and the way it’s been accepted by the president and by the Board of Regents, along with the thoughtful way it is beginning to show up on our campus,” Mortenson said.

Foley said he thinks if those walking past the historical monuments took a moment to look at the signage, we would be able to take a step forward together.

“I would hope that those seeing particularly the interim signage would approach it with grace, understanding that this is meant to be a signal to the campus that changes are coming,” Foley said.