By Caitlyn Meisner | Staff Writer
An ethnic studies minor will be available to students in fall 2024, according to Dr. Coretta Pittman, associate professor of English and professional writing and rhetoric.
Pittman said she has led the charge for the new program alongside Dr. Kimberly Kellison, associate dean of humanities and social sciences, since initial talks in 2016, which were bolstered amid student conversations regarding the Dear Baylor Instagram account in summer 2020.
Dear Baylor — an Instagram account started in June 2020 after the George Floyd murder — was created for people to post anonymous letters to Baylor about their experiences of discrimination and belonging.
“We would sort of imagine, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?’ and then we would go off and do our own things,” Pittman said. “It was clear reading those [Dear Baylor] responses there was perhaps a need to bring students together to understand, historically, why they may have been feeling out of place.”
Pittman said the time was right in summer and fall 2020 because the university established the Commission on Historic Campus Representations, through which it was “wrestling with its own history.” She, along with 25 other members, served on the commission.
Kellison said via email that the College of Arts & Sciences anticipates the program to be popular among students.
“The College of Arts & Sciences is excited about the development of the Ethnic Studies minor, which draws on the expertise of multiple faculty members across A&S and the larger university,” Kellison said. “Student interest in the program is strong. We anticipate that the minor will appeal to students from many different majors.”
Dr. Scott Varda, associate professor of communications, said he got involved in the effort alongside Pittman and the other members early on once he heard about it.
“[Pittman] was very, very generous in letting me participate and be part of this fantastic community of scholars across the college,” Varda said.
Varda said he, Pittman, Kellison and the other faculty members — Dr. Victor Hinojosa, Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, Dr. Ryan Sharp, Dr. Ronald A. Johnson, Dr. Jerry Park, Dr. Jonathan Tran, Dr. Moises Park and Dr. Paul Martens — worked together over the semesters and summers to research similar programs to use as models for the minor at Baylor.
“Half of us worked on figuring out all the ethnic studies programs that happened elsewhere in the U.S. — where they were located and the demographic background of those universities,” Varda said. “The other half of us worked on going through syllabi, as well as [figuring out] if it was a standalone certificate [and] the major readings so we could justify the program.”
Varda also said the team looked at other Big 12 and Texas schools that had similar programs, as well as peer institutions like Wake Forest University, the University of Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University.
Varda said the team met dozens of times to strategize and plan what the Baylor version of an ethnic studies program would look like within the existing means.
“It’s probably an easier sell to the university when we can describe our already existing classes as being sufficient to begin the program as opposed to, ‘We would like to start this new program; please give us 20 new professors,'” Varda said.
With about 20 classes already existing at Baylor, only one new class needs to be created for the program, Varda said. Some of the existing classes that will count toward the minor are the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity; Gender, Race and Media; Race, Racism and Religion in America; Cross-Cultural Communication; and History of Black Americans.
Varda said they considered making the ethnic studies program a certificate and a minor. However, with the amount of work being done, he said it could be justified as a minor.
Pittman said transitioning the minor into a major will take a few years. She said they would need to recruit professors, analyze popularity of the courses and see if other institutions have similar majors.
Pittman said she sees the ethnic studies minor as mission-driven due to Baylor’s Christian commitment.
“We want to prepare students to think about the work they do in the classroom as a mission to go out and be good citizens, be good people [and] address some of the inequities that they see in their communities,” Pittman said. “I see that the minor can [raise] questions about what to do and a mission-centered approach — this idea that what we learn here, we need to go out and teach to the world.”
Johnson, associate professor and the Ralph and Bessie Mae Lynn chair of history, said Baylor has an opportunity to lead in the area of ethnic studies.
“Our Christian mission is about loving all of God’s people, and it is loving them as we love ourselves,” Johnson said. “In an ethnic studies program, we learn to love and appreciate other people because we’re learning more about them and ourselves at the same time. When an ethnic studies program is done correctly, we come to see the other person valuable as their own selves and not in comparison to who we are.”
Johnson said Jesus Christ is always the model, and a good ethnic studies program will emulate this.
“In the eyes of God, we are all created in the image of God, even though there are many physical differences between us,” Johnson said.
Pittman said she wants the program to attract anybody and everybody, regardless of their majors or career aspirations.
“We want students who are in STEM who might go out in underserved communities to take our class, and I would love for somebody in political science who’s invested in policy concerns to take courses,” Pittman said.
Pittman said the minor is open for anyone who is interested in how U.S. history, culture and language collide, whether it be in positive or negative ways.
The proposal for the minor has been approved by the College of Arts & Sciences curriculum committee, according to Pittman. On Dec. 8, the proposal will go to the council of chairs, followed by the university curriculum committee and the provost.
Pittman said she hopes the new program will be a real service to students. She said she went to a predominantly white institution and felt isolated until she found similar students in a Black studies program.
“I would hope students who are really looking for a close-knit community of faculty will feel a sense of belonging on a campus they may not feel that sense of belonging,” Pittman said. “I hope we can provide that both in practice and theoretically.”