To feel at home. To tell one’s story. To have fun. To challenge perceptions. To educate. To celebrate. To learn. These are how Baylor students describe the university’s remarkable cultural exchange that takes place on campus and in Waco.
“Our different cultural events are an important way for students to drop their guards and see each other,” says Danielle Sogbesan, president of the Black Student Union (BSU), and a member of Baylor’s NAACP chapter.
Danielle has taken part in Baylor’s Greek “Homecoming Stroll Off” and has helped organize a range of other events, including a mentorship program for freshmen.
“Some people have never had the opportunity to witness another culture,” she says. “Multicultural programming gives those people a chance to engage.”
“We hope to get people to try new things,” says Tiffany Le, president of Baylor’s Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), which hosts the university’s annual Autumn Moon festival in October.
The event is known for its brightly-colored lanterns and twinkly lights, food, and dance performances. Sweet and savory mooncakes, fried rice, dumplings, and bubble tea are featured on the menu. A small part of the festival is one of Le’s favorites: a fashion show of traditional Vietnamese clothing, including embroidered “ao dai” garments, which are split tunics worn over silk trousers.
“I love sharing our culture,” Le says. “For me, personally, having the cultural student associations really opened my mind. I come from a small farming town in California. There wasn’t much Asian culture there. Everyone here is so welcoming; you meet new people and see diverse populations that you might be cut off from otherwise.”
Jordan Camacho, president of the Hispanic Student’s Association (HSA) at Baylor agrees.
“Leaving home and leaving culture and family is really difficult,” says Jordan. “Baylor’s student associations not only expose students to other cultures but give students the feeling of having a place, a home away from home.”
Reverend Malcolm B. Foley, Special Advisor to the president for Equity and Campus Engagement, says the university’s spotlight on diversity is intended to do just that, give all students a sense of belonging.
“We want to make sure that every Baylor student feels like Baylor is not just where they are invited to assimilate, but where their cultures can be celebrated — something that adds to the tapestry of what it means to be a Baylor Bear,” he said.
In recent years, Baylor has made a commitment to grappling with its ties to slavery and its history of not allowing Black students enrollment until the 1960s. In 2020, the Board of Regents established a commission to review the university’s connections to slavery and the Confederacy. Though the university did not own enslaved people, as many institutions did at that time, its three founders, including namesake Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, were slaveholders, and, as with all other Southern institutions, the university’s foundational wealth was created by an economy based on slavery. In its report, the commission recommended relocating statues and renaming buildings that honor slaveowners and adding monuments to honor the “unknown enslaved,” who “were instrumental in constructing the original campus.” This year, Baylor unveiled statues of the university’s first Black graduates, Robert Gilbert and Barbara Walker, who graduated in 1967.
“At Baylor, it’s not just an issue of bringing people together who look different to have different experiences,” says Rev. Foley. “It’s also about our commitment to peace and our commitment to economic equality and our commitment to solidarity and our commitment to us building a community where people do actually love and care for one another.”
In terms of event programming, Baylor’s Department of Multicultural Affairs (MA) is often the conductor, overseeing more than a dozen student-run associations representing different countries or cultures, heritages, and traditions, all of whom offer multiple events on campus open to the public. The MA office also reaches out to women and minority-owned businesses in Waco to diversify the food trucks and other vendors on campus, which support local businesses and expose students to a wider range of options. And the MA office offers its own slate of events celebrating diversity, including several banquets and a “Mosaic Mixer” at the beginning of each semester, where student associations are invited to have tables and do performances. It’s BSU’s Sogbasan’s favorite MA event.
“I get to see all the groups I normally might not come across,” she says. “It’s really cool to see all the different offerings and performances.”
Multicultural exchange is big in Greek life, too. Sororities and fraternities for students of color host several events. And students in some majors, including healthcare, science, journalism, and law, have created cultural organizations.
The Multicultural Association of Prehealth Students (MAPS) offers students a chance to work in Waco to be exposed to different socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, and religious traditions in order to develop the “cultural humility” required to serve and work in diverse populations.
The LatinX Association for Science and Health (LASH), which is open to all students, “strives to increase cultural competency and to inspire diversity and inclusivity” among students in the same health and science majors. In recent years, a group of Baylor law students celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by holding a childrens’ and teens’ book drive to benefit LatinX students in Waco and surrounding areas.
“The Multicultural Affairs office does a great job engaging with all of the cultural groups,” Jordan said. “Whether it’s students with Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaskan, Indian, Asian, African American heritage, or all the diversity within the Hispanic community, which this year included students who have roots in Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Spain.”
In April, the HSA sponsors its largest event of the year, called Fiesta, a celebration of Latin culture that includes a walk-through gallery representing information about several Hispanic cultures, food, live music, and performances from members of the Latin Dance Society, which features salsa, merengue, bachata, and Folklorico dance styles.
This year the Filipino Student Association (FSA) called its program “Pamayanan,” which means “community” in Tagalog, featuring a showcase of workshops and performances meant to bring people together.
The Indian Subcontinent Student Association (ISSA) offered eight Indian dance groups at Waco Hall, including Rice Riyaaz, Houston Jannat, Tamu Akh Mastani, Tech Kahaani, and Hook’Em Bhangra. And the Asian Student Association put on one of the most popular events on campus: the Lunar New Year celebration, featuring game booths, performances, food, and a traditional lion dance.
For the full breadth of cultural offerings and to get announcements of times, dates, and places, here are a few main Instagram accounts to follow:
For the Multicultural Affairs Department, go to @baylorma1845; for Global Baylor, go to @global_baylor; for the Baylor Activities Council go to @baylorbac.
To follow multicultural student associations on Instagram, go to:
@baylorhsa – Hispanic Student Association. HSA
@latinxcoaltionbu – LatinX Student Association LSA
@vsabaylor – Vietnamese Student Association VSA
@baylorksa – Korean Student Association KSA
@thebaylorbsu – Black Student Union BSU
@baylorksa – Korean Student Association KSA
@baylorfsa – Filipino Student Association FSA
@issabaylor – Indian Subcontinent Student Association ISSA
@baylor_asa – African Student Association
@baylorasian_sa – Asian Student Association
For more diversity:
@baylornaacp – Baylor NAACP
@prismatbaylor – Prism, Baylor’s first LGBTQ+ charter, was founded a year ago to “provide a space for the LGBTQ+ community to come together to engage, participate, and celebrate their individual identities and identity as a group.” The group’s aim is also to help students gain a deeper understanding of their own and others’ complex and intersectional identities, including gender and sexuality, and spirituality.
CALENDAR OF BAYLOR MULTICULTURAL’S EVENTS
September 15 kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua celebrate independence on this date, while Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18, respectively.
Mosaic Mixer, sponsored by the Multicultural Affairs Department, during which all the multicultural student associations offer information about their groups and performances.
Hispanic Heritage Month continues until October 15; various events are to be sponsored by the Hispanic Student Association and LatinX Student Association, and the Multicultural Affairs department, including a Hispanic Heritage Celebration Luncheon and Dinner.
Autumn Moon Festival, sponsored by the Vietnamese Student Association, is a celebration of gratitude and family to honor the first full moon in October, featuring Vietnamese food, dance performances, a photo booth, and games.
Korean Culture Festival, sponsored by the Korean Student Association, in celebration of Korean Language (Hangul) Day, which commemorates the creation of the Korean alphabet. A national holiday in Korea, the festival at Baylor will feature Korean music, dancing, and a traditional Korean clothing fashion show.
Native American Heritage Month, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.
Diwali, The Festival of Lights, sponsored by the Indian Subcontinent Student Association (ISSA) represents, in the Hindu tradition, good over evil, light over darkness, and wisdom over ignorance. There will be dancing, entertainment, and food.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Luncheon, sponsored by the Multicultural Affairs department.
Black History Month, established in 1976 to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of Black people, also recognizes the brutal history of and sacrifices made by African Americans. The Black Student Union, NAACP, and Multicultural Affairs Department sponsor several events this month, including a Black Heritage Banquet.
Lunar New Year, to honor the year of the dragon in 2024, sponsored by the Asian Students Association. This popular annual festival features Chinese food, games, dances, music, and other entertainment.
Women’s History Month. It took seven years of lobbying to get “Women’s History Week” changed from a week to a month, which finally happened in 1987. In the last 35 years, this celebration of women has almost become mainstream. The Multicultural Affairs department offers a number of events that highlight the contributions of women in history and contemporary society, including lectures, film screenings, and a symposium.
Gateway to India, sponsored by the Indian Subcontinent Student Association (ISSA), features performances, Bollywood dance, traditional Indian music, food, and Indian fashion.
Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, sponsored by the Indian Subcontinent Student Association, celebrates the love and goodness of the two Indian deities, Radha and Krishna, and calls for us to release what’s old and negative in order to be renewed.
FIESTA, sponsored by the Hispanic and LatinX Student Associations, will include a gallery walk-through featuring the cultures of Hispanic countries, live music, performances from the Latin Dance Society, Ollimpaxqui Ballet, and Mariachi Oso, as well as free food and drink.
Pamayanan, sponsored by the Filipino Students Association, will feature workshops and performances.
Hanin Gala, sponsored by the Korean Students Association, features musical and dance performances.
Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, created in 1990. To celebrate and honor the significant accomplishments of Asian Americans, Pacific Islander Americans, and Native Hawaiians, the office of Multicultural Affairs will host a luncheon and banquet.