Baylor University’s quest for increased diversity continued last week when President Ken Starr created a position to carry the effort forward.

Starr appointed Elizabeth Palacios as special assistant to the president on diversity. She will continue in her role as dean for student development in the Division of Student Life.

The announcement of the new position comes as the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity continues to collect input from the community and conduct research on diversity. Palacios will work with the council and communicate with Starr.

Advisory council Chairwoman Lori Baker has said she thinks Baylor will hire multiple people to coordinate diversity initiatives, and Palacios agrees.

“The committee is there to really start exploring and seeing what opportunities we have,” Palacios said. “If it’s more staff, whatever its structure comes out to be, it will be the best way that Baylor can deliver our services, enhance our understanding and enrich our cultural literacy, and just build our community, making sure that whatever gaps we have, we’re able to address those needs.”

In addition to increasing funding for culturally based programs and pursuing an exchange program with historically black colleges and universities, Palacios said she is excited to help attract speakers and performers with multicultural backgrounds to Baylor.

Bringing history alive

“It’s a joy because when you talk to these people that are very passionate about their culture, about their journey in life or about their challenges, you find a lot of them are very anxious to be able to tell, especially young people, about their journeys,” Palacios said. “Sometimes we forget that history is history, but when you’re able to bring it alive and bring people who lived it, our young people are just amazed.”

Palacios said the Division of Student Life also is working to organize programs on the Baylor website. She hopes faculty research focused on diversity and cultural competency will be highlighted there.

“We’re excited about that piece,” Palacios said. “We need to pull it together. It needs to be accessible and easy to find and, most importantly, needs to be relevant.”

Baylor’s board of regents also became involved with the Regents Task Force on Diversity. Composed of four former members, the group will meet with administrators on how to increase diversity around campus. They will present findings to the board at a July retreat.

“The board of regents is incredibly grateful to these former regents for their willingness to commit their time to better understanding the campus conversations about diversity and inclusiveness,” board Chairman Richard Willis said.

The advisory council last week announced a timeline for its work and will spend the summer analyzing data and identifying main themes of its findings. In August, the council will release a preview of its ideas and conduct a campus climate survey of students, faculty and staff.

Through February 2017, the council will continue analyzing data and research before making recommendations to Starr and the executive council.

In fall 2015, more than 35 percent of Baylor undergraduates were minorities, and 13 percent of full-time faculty were minorities. Starr noted in a November letter that 17 percent of full-time staff were minorities.

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