Ad Unitatem: Toward Unity

December 1, 2021
Ad Unitatem: Toward Unity

Message from the Special Advisor to the President for Equity and Campus Engagement, Malcolm B. Foley

November called us to observe Native American Heritage Month, which ought to drive us to deep reflection. As we draw attention to the contributions of our Indigenous brothers, sisters and neighbors, we cannot forget that the land on which we stand was acquired by force and without regard for its original inhabitants. It is cause for lament that a nation built on assertions of liberty and justice was economically built on the back of racialized enslavement and, with respect to land, built upon the attempted erasure and assimilation of Native peoples. The operative word, however, is “attempted”; thankfully, these unjust efforts were not entirely successful.

I would encourage each of us to consider both the debt we owe to our Native brothers and sisters as well as the ways in which we can continue to learn from one another about what it truly means to be human. As a Christian university, we ought to be continually going through the cycle of reckoning, repentance and reconciliation, and our love and recognition of our Native neighbors, brothers and sisters must be part of that work.

In addition, if any students, faculty or staff encounters incidents of bias, discrimination or disrespect from students or employees of the University, I encourage you to report it to Ethicspoint. The best way for us to build a culture of accountability, justice and equity is to have this data from which we can make wise institutional decisions to protect and educate you.

Q&A with Mariah Humphries, Assistant Director of Campaign and Development Communications

To help guide us in our consideration of how to recognize the Native members of our community, we are spending some time with Mariah Humphries and exploring what unites us as a diverse community.

Q: First, who are you and what do you do here at Baylor?

Hesci, my friend — which is hello in Mvskoke. I am a biracial Mvskoke citizen, known more commonly as Muscogee (Creek)! I am part of the campaign communications team for Baylor Advancement, which encompasses both development and Baylor Alumni. This means I take the story of Baylor’s students, faculty and initiatives and create the visual aspect for both solicitations and stewardship. I also hold positions on several councils, committees and teams at Baylor. I have a master’s in theology from Truett Seminary, and two of my three children are current Baylor Bears. Good times!

Q: For many of us, a deep connection with land, something that is profoundly human, is often something we lack. Is there anything that the experiences and history of our Indigenous brothers and sisters can tell us about the fruit of that connection?

Really great question. It does seem like much of our Christian community is anemic in our ability to reimagine our heritage when it comes to land. For the Indigenous population, land is part of our relationship with God. It has always been this way. It has been a connection to a location and also a broader view of creation.

Genesis, our initial encounter with Creator, spends two chapters portraying the power of both the breath and voice of God, Creator. Here is God, breathing life and forming features and variances. The creation story is this intentional documentation of the foundation of what should develop into this relationship of gratitude and reciprocity. Yet land has become a victim of the desire of ownership rather than viewed as relational. What has been dismissed is something so brilliant in its complexity and yet intimate in its harmony and dependence on one another - creation itself and humanity’s connectedness to creation.

We tend to limit our connection to land to our senses — the moment before the sun hits the horizon, the ripple of a simple leaf falling on still waters, the smell of rain before it touches and replenishes every lifeform, or the way the moon glides across the sky. In our faith spaces, we use creation to describe our monumental moments — mountaintops, valleys, green pastures and still waters. These are intimate moments, but we do miss a beautiful aspect of God when we flatten God’s creation to just moments rather than acknowledging the role of creation and how that connectedness leads us to loving God and, subsequently, leads us to acts of loving neighbor as self.

The overarching Indigenous community has a foundational way of viewing land. This relationship demands selflessness. We too often live centered on self, and that limits creation to a scene to be taken in - a moment to enjoy rather an aspect of God to nourish and protect.

Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee and theologian, beautifully states that "as people of faith, we should view every drop of oil, every diamond, every lump of coal, and every source of water with a theological eye. We should try seeing our world through the eyes of the One who created it. All the earth is sacred."

Q: What about Baylor encourages you and where do you still see opportunities for growth?

As a member of the Native American population on campus, I am currently most encouraged by those within Baylor who have searched out our voice and invited us to have a seat at the table. For the first time since coming here, this moment feels like the Native voice is being heard at Baylor, refreshingly. And perhaps for the first time in our history as a University, the lived experience of the marginalized is being listened to. That is encouraging. This also gives us the opportunity to grow in our awareness and realize that diversity beyond performative actions brings wholeness and that true diversity is necessary as we step forward in recognition of our past and present, lament, reconciliation and into healing as one Baylor Family.

Q: How can a Christian university be an agent of healing in a nation founded on claims of justice and contradictory practices of injustice?

There is this claim of justice in our foundation, and the reality is we have either never been justice focused for all humanity or we have severely veered off track from the supposed Christian foundation. To me it is clear that both orthodoxy and orthopraxy were not focused on God, but rather on self. All is not well in our country, so whichever stance you take on our foundation we have to acknowledge that we have work to do. I have a hard time grasping a foundation based on justice when orthodoxy revealed the Indigenous and Black brothers and sisters were deemed a savage or three-fifths of a human from its beginning and when orthopraxy believed genocide and slavery were the godly choices to make. That mindset is a gross rejection of scripture in favor of a self-determined and supposed rightful dominance.

Individually, we can range in our stances and opinions, but for Baylor we have made the declaration that we are unambiguously Christian, and that has to take into consideration that we are called to be more than the chaos of our society and our past. We are called to not only educate the next generation, but also to lay the groundwork for the next several decades of leaders. It is a great honor and a heavy responsibility. I believe Baylor is up for this task and the University has the opportunity and ability to embody what it is to have a unified community within a racialized society because we have scripture to guide our steps. When we take these steps, healing happens and we become a stronger Baylor.

Continuous Improvement

Baylor University continues to implement a variety of initiatives designed to create a more equitable and compassionate campus. It’s a demonstration of the University’s commitment to making continuous improvements in all areas of Baylor’s operations and institutional programming as we seek to become the preeminent Christian research university.

  • During Homecoming week, the Baylor Family celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the National Pan-Hellenic Council Garden adjacent to Fountain Mall. Students, alumni, faculty and staff gathered at 5 p.m. on October 15 and joined current members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) to honor the heritage and recognize NPHC organizations for their service to the greater Waco community and the University. The Baylor National Pan-Hellenic Garden has sections for the seven current NPHC organizations on Baylor’s campus, with granite stones showcasing each chapter’s crest, national and local founding date, national founders and local charter members. During the Homecoming reunion, University staff and students were able to showcase the garden’s proposed renovations, including the installation of two monuments that would complete the garden’s representation of all Divine Nine organizations. Guests at the celebration gathered around their organization’s plots taking pictures and sharing experiences of their involvement.
  • October marked Baylor’s recognition of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, which is traditionally celebrated in May throughout the United States. From Oct. 16 to Nov. 15, we celebrated with events planned by our multicultural organizations during a time when more students would be on campus to join the festivities. The events included AsianFest, KSA’s annual Running Bear event and ISSA’s Charity Gala. Baylor is blessed to have such a diverse campus community, and we are so thankful for every one of our Asian and Pacific American students.
  • Know Your Neighbor Week recently offered a wealth of activities intended to shine a light on the many unique populations that make up the Baylor community and to help students better understand one another. Beginning Nov. 8, the events included the Baylor Free Farmers Market, National First Generation College Student Celebration day and Veterans’ Day observation, as well as a number of speakers and discussions. The “Know Your Neighbor Panel Discussion” on Nov. 10 focused on learning more about the experiences of your neighbors, how they enrich the Baylor community and how you might be a good neighbor. Featured panelists were Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media Department Chair & Professor; Dr. Nathan Alleman, Associate Professor of Higher Education; Briana Fowler, School of Social Work Graduate Student; and Katie Dawson, Event Coordinator for Institutional Events. In addition, during the week, members of the Baylor Family were encouraged to provide support to a number of programs and departments designed to support students wherever they are on their Baylor journey, including giving to the Baylor Family Food Security Endowment created by the Faculty Senate and Staff Council to ensure food insecurity is minimized for future students at Baylor.
  • Diversity Abroad, an organization dedicated to the success of students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, recently honored Baylor’s Center for Global Engagement’s First Abroad Fellows Program with an Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion in International Education award during Global Inclusion 2021, the ninth annual Diversity Abroad conference. The award recognizes institutions and individuals who have developed innovative practices, conducted original research and championed inclusive excellence with the goal of preparing diverse students for academic and career success through equitable access to global education.