Students, faculty push for greater diversity on campus

Diversity among Baylor students, faculty and staff continues to rise. Photo courtesy of Baylor University

By Tatum Mitchell | Staff Writer

Through different efforts and activism, Baylor’s community has demanded action from the university to be more diverse and inclusive. This request has been met with a strive from Baylor’s administration to have better representation in the student body as well as in its faculty and staff.

According to reports from Institutional Research and Testing (IRT) from 2002 and 2021, full-time faculty has gone from a 92.4% white demographic to an 80.8% white demographic. Additionally, there is currently a 38.4% minority student population on campus.

Dr. Malcolm Foley, special adviser to the president for equity and campus engagement, said diversity work on campus flows out of Baylor’s Christian mission. Foley said there is intentional work with recruitment and retention of faculty happening in the Office of the Provost.

“Over the course of the last few months especially, we’ve seen some great hires in religion and history, in the seminary and other places as well,” Foley said. “It takes intentionality when we look at diversity, equity and inclusion. What we’re talking about is making sure that our policies, process, practices and people exude that culture of inclusivity.”

Cuevas Peacock, associate director of community relations, works to engage the university as an institution with the Waco community. Peacock said from an observer’s perspective, he has seen a lack of faculty and staff of color.

“While there have been great strides to help staff and faculty of color become acclimated to Baylor, more needs to be done to embrace the culture of these individuals in order to increase inclusivity and a sense of belonging,” Peacock said. “The numbers don’t lie. They highlight the need for more work to be done in this area.”

Dr. Mito Diaz-Espinoza is a case coordinator in the Office of Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX at Baylor. He said as a former student and current staff member, he does not believe there is adequate representation in Baylor’s faculty and staff.

“I was what they call an underrepresented student when I went to undergrad and graduate school,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “It’s just a different experience when you can talk to somebody who has a similar background to you and there are things that you don’t have to explain.”

Foley said the goal is to have the faculty reflect the student body, especially underrepresented groups. He said HR encourages faculty and staff to start groups on campus. There is the Black Faculty and Staff Association, and a Latino Faculty and Staff Association is in the process of forming, Diaz-Espinoza said.

“It’s a matter of having grassroots efforts that you are supporting, as well as initiatives from the top to make sure that everyone throughout the institution is committed to this work,” Foley said.

Diaz-Espinoza is on a committee called the Latino Students Success Initiatives (LSSI). He said LSSI is working on preparing Baylor to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and looking at ways to serve students in their experience.

HSI is a federal designation when a university or college has at least a 25% Hispanic or Latino enrollment. Diaz-Espinoza said Baylor is in the category of an emerging HSI because 16% of undergraduate students are Hispanic or Latino.

“We have programming ways that we can support students or ways that we can change and things that we can implement to try to help the experience with students,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “It’s a great committee. We talk about a lot of things, but there haven’t been a lot of initiatives actually implemented.”

Houston senior Nicole Ma is the Student Foundation co-president and Asian Ministry InterVarsity (AMIV) co-president. Ma said her opinions are not on behalf of the Student Foundation or AMIV.

In her time at Baylor, Ma said she learned a lot about student perspective and resources in the community. An increase in faculty from different backgrounds and opportunities to provide students with support is something Ma said she would like to see.

“Diversity is really important; I cannot stress that enough,” Ma said. “There’s not one life or not a single story that everybody’s narrative lives off of. Diversity isn’t just about the color of your skin or the language you have or whatever background you have and classify as. It speaks a lot of those systemic things.”

There is a leadership forum where students can go to voice concerns to administration. Ma said administration is doing a better job at trying to see what students need, but there needs to be action taken to follow up.

“I definitely think that’s important because it connects the higher education side of those who are involved with being professors, faculty or staff, to the current life that we live as students,” Ma said.

Peacock said representation promotes the overall success of an institution and keeps the university up to date with the progress being made elsewhere.

“I will always come back to this quote: ‘My diversity is my gift,’” Peacock said.

Ma said resources for students to seek help are the 24/7 telehealth service and the Counseling Center. She said she has a lot of love for Baylor, and her hope is that the university continues to be intentional with its efforts to create spaces for students, faculty and staff to succeed.

“I would encourage people to keep having their voice heard,” Ma said. “Never stop mobilizing and fighting for what you think the university needs and what you think you need, because this is your education. You’re providing it, so the last thing I would say is just power to the students.”