By Randy Fiedler
Five Baylor University faculty members are recipients of the 2022-2023 Core Curriculum Virtues Recognition Award from the College of Arts & Sciences. The Awards, presented for the first time in the spring of 2022, are given annually to faculty members who have inspired moral, intellectual and/or spiritual virtues through the process of teaching a course in Baylor’s Unified Core Curriculum during the previous academic year. The Core Vision identified 14 virtues –– humility, courage, rigor, integrity, respect, justice, empathy, compassion, responsibility, patience, wisdom, faith, hope and love.
Each recipient of the Core Curriculum Virtues Recognition Award is nominated by faculty members in their respective departments. The five recipients, all from the College of Arts & Sciences and recognized for their contributions during the 2022-2023 academic year at Baylor, include Dr. Jerry Park, associate professor of sociology, cited for the core virtue of courage, and four faculty members cited for the core virtue of empathy: Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience; Dr. Karenna Malavanti, senior lecturer in psychology and neuroscience; Dr. Meredith Palm, lecturer in psychology and neuroscience; and Dr. Hugh Riley, senior lecturer in psychology and neuroscience.
Dr. Blake Burleson, associate dean for undergraduate studies strategic and enrollment initiatives in the College of Arts & Sciences, who played a major role in the creation of the current core curriculum, said he is grateful for colleagues such as the Award winners who “examine, express, demonstrate and measure virtues in their classrooms.”
“The Unified Core Curriculum provides a shared foundation of knowledge drawn from the rich and diverse liberal arts tradition, develops various skills necessary for the completion of an academic degree, but also essential for personal and professional life beyond Baylor,” Burleson said. “It also inspires moral, intellectual and spiritual virtues. All three of these general education requirements –– knowledge, skills and virtues –– are of equal importance in our pedagogical efforts to transform students.”
Dr. Jerry Park was nominated for the core virtue of courage by Dr. Christopher Pieper, undergraduate program director and senior lecturer in sociology.
“Consider the assignments Dr. Park has chosen for the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity course, particularly the Review and Reflection essays,” Pieper said. “Several of these require students to grapple with some of the most challenging and divisive topics in American society: ‘What does Whiteness and White privilege mean sociologically? Explain Critical Race Theory (what do scholars mean?) What do sociologists mean by ‘systemic racism’?’ Many of our students have never been required to ponder these questions in their lives, all the more reason that this course be part of the Core Curriculum. It also requires significant bravery to be the first professor to place them in the consciousness of our students, to address the inevitable discomfort that they may feel, to hear the stories of racial trauma from students of color, and to manage the heated conversations that may ensue between them.”
Speaking about the virtue of courage in light of his experiences teaching the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity course, Park said, “Some students confront social realities that may conflict with the narratives they internalized from a young age, one that imagines society and its institutions as having little bearing on group inequalities. They will need courage to consider that what they have known is problematic and incongruent with the views of vulnerable persons and groups. For others, courage may come in the form of discovering vocabulary that explains pain and trauma from the context of social discrimination and systemic race-based inequalities. Courage for them entails reflection and revisiting difficult experiences with new concepts and frames for thinking about how they faced hardship and discrimination.”
The four award winners from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience –– Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang, Dr. Karenna Malavanti, Dr. Meredith Palm and Dr. Hugh Riley –– were nominated for the core virtue of empathy by Dr. Brad Keele, interim chair and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.
Reflecting on the faculty he nominated for the core virtue of empathy, Keele said, “The ability to value cross-cultural effects on human behavior is grounded in empathy. These instructors discuss culture and empathy specifically in chapters such as The Story of Psychology, Research Methods/Thinking Critically with Psychological Science, Memory, Thinking/Language, Consciousness, Development, Motivations, Emotions, Social Psychology, Disorders, Treatment/Therapies, and Stress/Health.”
In a joint statement, Award winners Tsang, Malavanti, Palm and Riley reflected on the importance of empathy in the classroom.
“As instructors called to educate people for worldwide leadership and service, it is paramount that we model and instruct students in empathy and perspective-taking,” they said. “We take many opportunities to model empathy in the classroom that extend beyond the content of psychological science, such as responding with empathy to students facing challenges in the course, and encouraging students to share their specific experiences relevant to course concepts so that students are exposed to a diversity of perspectives.
Additionally, many concepts in psychological science are relevant to empathy both interpersonally and with different populations and cultures. For example, for our language chapter we teach about milestones for language development for both spoken and signed language, and discuss how signed language meets all the criteria for language. We discuss the human experience as not only an individual process, but also one that is in community with others. The ability to value cross-cultural effects on human behavior is grounded in empathy.
For example, in our social psychology chapter we hear about perspectives of members of different minoritized groups, and in class students discuss experiences with stereotypes on campus, in Waco, and in our country as a whole. Empathy is essential to Christ-centered leadership that considers the diverse needs of all people and communities, both locally and internationally. We feel blessed to have regular opportunities to nurture empathy in these students in their educational journey.”