A Curriculum of Caring

Baylor’s new ethnic studies minor aims to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion

October 22, 2023

In an increasingly diverse and interconnected society, knowledge of experiences across ethnicities and cultures is key to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. The College of Arts & Sciences is creating a minor in ethnic studies that brings together courses from across disciplines to help students develop a deeper understanding of the human experience and enhance their degree program.

The impetus to bring an ethnic studies program to Baylor began a few years ago when Dr. Coretta Pittman, associate professor of English, and Dr. Kimberly Kellison, associate dean for humanities and social sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences, began discussing topics related to diversity experiences on campus.

“A few years ago, George Floyd’s murder activated our students, like many across the country, to share their own experiences of racism,” said Pittman. “I read those social media posts, and I encouraged my colleagues to read them. We started talking about how we can help these students feel more comfortable in the classroom and on campus. How can we understand and impact the success of students as they graduate? How can what we learn together at Baylor impact academia more broadly and our society for the better?”

Kellison began to pursue the idea of creating an ethnic studies minor with Dr. Lee Nordt, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

“We recognize the role of the humanities in cultivating skills related to critical thinking, ethical judgement and interpersonal communication. The new ethnic studies program will contribute toward this pursuit,” Kellison said. “Since the minor will be available to students across the University, it’s an opportunity for the College to lead out in this work across disciplines.”

Abstract illustration featuring diverse faculty

Developing the Curriculum

To develop a curriculum, Kellison encouraged Pittman to bring together a group of faculty who were already teaching classes that might fit into the minor.

Pittman enlisted the help of an interdisciplinary group of faculty, which included:
Dr. Ryan Sharp (English); Dr. Jerry Park (sociology); Dr. Scott Varda (communication); Dr. Moises Park (Spanish); Dr. Ron Johnson (history); Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez (journalism, public relations and new media); Dr. Victor Hinojosa, who teaches political science in the Honors Program; Dr. Jonathan Tran (religion and Great Texts); and Dr. Paul Martens (religion), director of interdisciplinary programs in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“With this group, we could push each other to think and to disagree and still be friends at the end,” Pittman said. “One of the things we want to do is remind folks that this is not about benevolence. The academic work we do around ethnic studies is real scholarship that is important to the academy.”

Finding classes that would fall under the umbrella of ethnic studies was one of the challenges. With the help of Dr. Christina Chan-Park, associate librarian and STEM coordinator in the University Libraries, a robust group of courses was identified and evaluated by the ethnic studies minor working group.

“Once we found the courses, I would email professors to ask them about the curriculum and if they would be willing to add the course to the minor,” Pittman said. “Faculty were eager to participate.”

One of the course offerings in the new minor will be Scott Varda’s Rhetorics of Race.

“I cover the cultural, economic and historical construction of race and ethnicity as made real through rhetoric,” Varda said. “We will discuss everything from literature to newspapers, movies, television and social media.”

In the English department, Ryan Sharp used a College of Arts & Sciences Teaching Innovation Award in the summer of 2022 to develop the minor’s foundational course that he piloted in 2021. He also frequently teaches the English department’s African American literature course, which also will count toward the minor.


Pittman, who now serves as the associate dean for diversity and belonging in the College of Arts & Sciences, said offering the ethnic studies minor will provide Baylor students with multiple benefits.

“Our students — white, Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indiginous — are interested in a deeper understanding of identity,” she said. “So, the question was — how can we pull together scholars and teachers who do research and work around issues related to race and ethnicity, and then invite students into those conversations?”

Sharp said that the ethnic studies minor will help Baylor meet the call put forth through Illuminate, particularly in fostering transformational learning and leaders.

“The minor is part of how we hope to integrate academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community as laid out in the University’s mission,” he said. “As such, the minor is important to our efforts toward these goals as well as to Baylor’s ongoing development of inclusivity and belonging on campus and within our curriculums. These are constituent parts of building a caring community.”