WBU Heritage Chapel focuses on diversity

January 22, 2014

PLAINVIEW – During Wayland Baptist University’s annual heritage chapel on Wednesday, University Historian and Dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences Dr. Estelle Owens turned the pages of history, telling students stories of Wayland’s diverse past.

Dr. Owens said it is diversity that makes up the whole picture that is Wayland. Not unlike a tapestry with many colored threads, each an important part of the whole. She said throughout history, Wayland has proven to be diverse not just in issues of race, but also ethnicity, age, gender and physical disabilities.

Libby Cleveland“Several of our first presidents were ahead of most Baptist, most Texans, most Southerners and most Americans in their views on race – and that certainly made them different,” Owens said.

Wayland’s second president Dr. O.L. Hailey advocated a seminary for African-American students as early as 1914, and served on the faculty for that seminary when it opened in Nashville a decade later. Wayland’s fourth president, Dr. E.B. Atwood, believed that to thrive in West Texas, one must embrace its Hispanic and Native American heritage. Dr. George W. McDonald, Wayland’s fifth president, welcomed Latino students in the 1930s, and Dr. Bill Marshall was responsible for the influx of international students and integration long before it was widely accepted.

With the acceptance of international students, Wayland’s diversity continued to grow. Students and faculty from around the world have influenced the university throughout the years. By 1950, Wayland had a higher percentage of international students than any college or university in the United States. Today, 46% of Wayland’s student body is comprised of students of different race and ethnic backgrounds.

“Diversity, however, is much more than race or ethnicity, birthplace, accent and food choices,” Owens said. “From the beginning, Wayland celebrated students, faculty and staff of widely different ages.”

When Wayland opened, it operated an academy for children as well as a junior college, and since World War II, the number of non-traditional, or older, students has grown significantly. Many of those students serve as members of the armed forces. Wayland currently graduates more than 10% of all active duty military personnel who earn a college degree.

Dr. Owens said Wayland also excelled in issues of diversity among gender and physical disabilities. Long before Title IX required schools to provide as many athletic opportunities for women as men, Wayland already had a national champion women’s basketball team. In the 1940s, Wayland was teaching women how to fly airplanes, and the university currently has a female vice president and chief financial officer.

Wayland also has never shied away from physical disabilities as several presidents suffered from various challenges. Beginning in the 1940s, wheelchair-bound students were given the same educational opportunities as others.

Dr. Owens closed by quoting 1 Corinthians 12: 14-20 in which the Apostle Paul speaks of the body being made up of many parts, all playing an important role.

“At Wayland, we are diverse, but unified; we are many, but we are one,” Owens said. “There’s room for everybody to study, learn, grown and make a contribution to the greater good.

“Ultimately, at the foot of the cross, everyone is equal.”