Graduate Student Association hosts inaugural gala celebrating diversity in R1 research

Multiple graduate students and administrators including Dr. Stephen Reid, vice provost for faculty diversity and belonging, attended the inaugural Graduate Student Association gala to celebrate diverse research. Katy Mae Turner | Photographer

By Raylee Foster | Staff Writer

Baylor’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) hosted its Inaugural Diversity Gala Wednesday evening to encourage and congratulate Baylor’s success as an R1 institution and the advances in the university’s diverse research topics.

Dr. Karynecia Conner, GSA’s diversity chair, said she organized the gala with the intention to shine a light on what Baylor is able to do for diversity in its research. In her speech, she said researchers should seek research topics as a means of ministry.

The GSA gala is designed to support diversity of research, diversity in research and diversity of researchers.

Conner said the priority of research is to help the helpless and the hopeless.

“Your theoretical framework that you engage your research from will be from a place of vocation instead of operation,” Conner said. “That this be a part of your ministry, that you search out problems and search out the big questions of life.”

Conner also said Baylor’s standing as an R1 institution would not have been possible without the work of minorities. The growth, she said, cannot stop with receiving the title, but must continue through increasing diversity into the university’s atmosphere.

“Initially, the emphasis of doing this was to recognize that without the works of people of color, Baylor’s achievement of R1 status would not have happened,” Conner said. “It’s by increasing that diversity that we were able to achieve that status.”

The event, which was named “The Sweetness of Diversity,” concluded with keynote speaker Dr. Stephen Reid, vice provost for faculty diversity and belonging. He said the title of the event represents what Baylor is, a “sweet, Christian, R1 institution.”

“Here in the south, sweet means being courteous, it means being generous, it is an epitome of Christian hospitality,” Reid said. “Sweet can be more than that, it can be a modifier for excellence.”

Reid connected what researchers work toward at such a university like Baylor with the book of Ruth. He said both the challenges and grand accomplishments that can be brought with such opportunity equate the research’s knowledge with Ruth’s promise.

“This is really the challenge of being a graduate student in a sweet, Christian, R1 university; [Ruth] becomes a carrier of tradition,” Reid said. “Part of what you are doing when you do research and when you publish research and when you teach is you are being a pipeline of information and research just as Ruth was a pipeline of the promise.”

The event included five researchers who presented their recent work, including Monica Weedman, a doctoral candidate, who serves as the graduate student representative for GSA. Her work revolved around white prejudices and defense mechanisms, and said it showed the diverse groups of people R1 institution research can benefit.

“When they were putting together this gala, they really wanted to highlight diversity not only in who’s coming to the gala and celebrating diversity, but also in how it can show up in different ways such as who’s doing the research and what the research is about,” Weedman said.

In addressing diversity in a variety of ways, Conner said not only is research important, but the researcher’s stories as well. She said her hope for the event was to serve as an encouragement to current researchers or undergraduate students at Baylor.

In addition to this, Conner also said the university should choose students to participate in R1 research at Baylor based on passion and not a resume.

“It’s more than just having a resume or a history of achieving or winning grants and awards, but to choose people that are actually passionate about their work,” Conner said. “The goal is that we would showcase the stories that are a part of diversity, and I think that is what’s most beautiful about it. So get engaged, come, be willing to share your story with other folks and allow that. Have courage and confidence that your story and your research needs to be heard.”