Asian Student Access at Baylor in the 1950s
The twentieth century was a tumultuous time for Asians in America. Up until 1943, the United States passed specific laws to curtail Chinese immigrants entering the United States (Desai & Joshi, 2013). The events during World War II, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, and the mass incarceration of Japanese in the US, left a hostile relationship between the US and Japan; Japanese Americans were thought of as “dangerous,” “insidious,” and “up to no good” (Lee, 2015). The Vietnam and Korean Wars during the 1950s led to more problems for Asians in America; many Americans saw communism as “yellow-faced” and were suspicious of those of Asian descent (Lee, 2015). Many Asians had “deep-rooted” sense of insecurity and a “psychology of fear” because many Asians did not feel accepted and were under constant “conditions of exclusion and race prejudice” (Lee, 2015, p. 87).
Surprisingly, Asian student access increased dramatically during this period even though racial tensions were high. For Baylor University specifically, the 1950s ushered in an era when Asian student access reached new heights. How did this happen? What were the influences that increased Asian student access? The purpose of this paper is to trace the various factors that increased Asian student access at Baylor University in the 1950s. Particularly, it will look at how Asian student access was influenced by Baylor’s religious and political beliefs and how the critical partnership between Baylor and Hong Kong Baptist University created pathways for Asian student access in the 1950s. Finally, this paper will also examine the unintended consequences of Asian student access at Baylor, especially the perpetuation of the model minority stereotype.
Setting the Context: Minority Student Access During This Era
The story of minority student access at Baylor in the 1950s is best understood as a paradox between inclusion and exclusion. For certain populations, particularly Asian students, access to Baylor grew tremendously during this decade. In fact, this decade became one of the most critical periods in Baylor’s history, laying down a strong foundation for Asian student access for years to come. Yet for other minorities, especially African and African American students, access was completely denied. Even though Supreme Court officially outlawed segregation in 1954 providing access for African and African American students to higher education institutions, it wouldn’t be until 1964 when the first African American would officially step into a classroom as a Baylor student (Merchant, 2005).
Records show that although Black students wanted to gain access during this era, their attempts to go to Baylor was denied. In 1955, President White received a letter from Jim Dunnington regarding a female African American student who needed a scholarship and dormitory space to attend Baylor (White, W. R., 1955, June 1, Letter to Jim Dunnington). Mr. Dunnington cordially asked President White if Baylor would accommodate and accept the student believing that she would be a good fit for the institution, religiously and academically. Instead of granting access to the female student, President White simply stated that there was “no room” and recommended a “good Negro College in Waco, Paul Quinn College” (White, W. R., 1955, June 1, Letter to Jim Dunnington). Records show that there were no students African American or African students during this whole decade (Report of the Registrar, 1960).
Unlike Black students, Asian students were met with open arms. Asian students were not only accepted and welcomed, there is evidence that they were offered scholarship packages to help with their tuition, fees, and room and board (White, W. R. 1952, December 18, Letter to David Chu). Baylor and various agencies like the Foreign Mission Board would help finance the tuition of Asian students studying at Baylor. President White even used his own personal monies to help out a David Chu, a student from China (Mathis, R. L. 1952, January 17, Letter to David Chu).
University records show that there were sixteen students from Asia in 1950 (Report of the Registrar, 1950). From 1950-1962, this number fluctuated between sixteen and forty. Compared to the general school population which fluctuated between four thousand and seven thousand students, the aggregate Asian student population is not significant (Report of the Registrar, 1959). The significance is not in the pure number of Asian students, but in the number of countries from which these students came. In 1950, Asian students came from only two countries: China and Japan. By 1955, students from Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, and India were added to the mix (Report of the Registrar, 1955). By 1959, students came from numerous Asian countries, including the Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Burma (Report of the Registrar 1959). In a span of nine years, Asian students became the majority foreign student population. This decade would be the first time in Baylor history when Asian students were not only from East Asia but Southeast Asia as well. Baylor’s Asian student body became a diverse representation of Asian ethnic groups across the continent.
Pathways for Access
The growth of the Asian student population at Baylor did not happen in a vacuum. Various political and religious factors alongside Baylor’s critical partnership with Hong Kong Baptist University opened pathways for Asian student access.
Fight Against Communism
America’s fight against communism created pathways for Asian student access at Baylor during the 1950s. Although Baylor as an institution could not fight communism with guns and steel, the institution fought it—in a small but substantial way—by granting access for students who escaped communism from Asia. This allowed Baylor to educate Asian students in the ideals of American democracy as well as Christianity, both ideologies antithetical to communism. This became Baylor’s way of combating communism one Asian student at a time, making sure that “Communism [did not] engulf the world” (Baylor University News, 1960, October 10).
During the early 1950s, the fear of communism reached a hysterical pitch at Baylor, amongst both students and the administration. The Lariat reflected this sentiment and published various articles on this topic. There were two common types of articles published by the Lariat in regards to Asian students and communism: (1) a traditional news article which simply stated the facts, and (2) personal narratives of Asian students who suffered under communist regimes. The former informed and the latter garnered sympathy. The former recounted current American involvement with the Korean or Vietnam War: “Marines and infantry slug deep into Seoul, hoping to capture the South Korean capital three months from day Red invasion started” (The Baylor Lariat, 1950 September 26, p. 2). The latter included narratives such as that of Joan Chao, titled “Student Escapes Invaded China Before Entering Baylor Classes” (The Baylor Lariat, 1953 November 3, p. 2). This article helped students understand the real consequences of communism as well as garner sympathy from the Baylor community. Communism did not just affect students across the Pacific, the negative consequences were tangibility felt with members of their own student body. The article ended with Chao’s statement that after receiving her education at Baylor, she would go back to her country and “help in any way possible to get the Communist out of her native land” (The Baylor Lariat, 1953 November 3, p. 2). Another article in the Lariat told the story of Geroge T’seng, a Baylor student whose family personally experienced the brutality of communism. The article highlighted the fact that his family barely managed to escape after the communist uprising in China and were now refugees searching for a place to call home (The Baylor Lariat, 1955 November 3, p. 2)
That was not all. Many in the Baylor student body saw the need for collective action against communism. In addition to informing or attempting to garner sympathy from Baylor students, the Lariat called Baylor students into action. For example, an article in the Lariat in 1952 asked Baylor students to help Chinese refugee families who escaped communism (The Baylor Lariat, 1952 October 30, p. 3). Student productions such as “Nightmare in Red” (Baylor University News, 1960, March 23) and “Darkness at Noon” (Baylor University News, 1956 November 5) all portrayed the horrific effects of communism and its failed delivery on its idealistic promises. All of these student voices most likely created a twofold effect on Baylor students. On the one hand, it allowed Baylor students to put their individual identity and collective institutional identity into perspective: they needed to look beyond the isolated Waco community and focus on the role in which Baylor could play globally. On the other hand, it cultivated a disdain for an ideology which inflicted so much harm on humanity.
The student body was not alone in feelings and beliefs about communism; their anti-communist sentiments were shared by the administration as well. Baylor President W. R. White composed an essay titled “Here Stands Baylor,” which demonstrated his growing awareness and concern of communism. President White described Baylor as a “bitter foe of both Communism and Fascism” (Baylor University News, 1952, December 23). He stated that communism was “the antithesis of all freedom, whether intellectual or social” and that communism will “not be tolerated at Baylor” (Baylor University News, 1952, December 23). According to White, democracy valued the worth of the individual while communism “violate[d] the freedom and initiative of the individual” (Baylor University News, 1952, December 23). Since the “roots of democracy” needed to be planted firmly at Baylor, White warned that no Baylor faculty would be allowed to teach if they abided to any communist doctrines (Baylor University News, 1952, December 23).
As communism became one of the most central issues under President White’s leadership, Baylor as an institution took action and fought communism from all angles. Orchestrated by Dr. Paul Green, who wanted to educate students “for more effective activity in world affairs,” Baylor added a course to the curriculum outlining the conflict between Christianity and communism (Baylor University News, 1958, May 8). The class included various guest lecturers, from Colonel Dean Hess who fought in the Korean War (Baylor University News, 1958, April 10) to Leonard R. Sussman, the Executive Director of the American Counsel for Judaism, were invited to speak (Baylor University News 1958, Oct 23). Both the 1956 and 1958 commencement addresses directly spoke on the topic of communism and Baylor’s role in fighting it. During the 1958 address, Dr. Theodore Adams, the president of the World Baptist Alliance, called Baylor students to be “constructive Christian[s],” and understand the prevailing war of beliefs, “between Christianity and democracy, on the one hand, and Communism and totalitarianism, on the other” (Baylor University News, 1958, May 2).
Guest speakers were invited from across the world not only to rally anti-communist support but, more specifically, to highlight Baylor’s specific role in fighting communism. Professor Mau, a visiting professor from Hong Kong, stated in one of his addresses, “The communists are ‘helping’ the Chinese farmers– and the farmers are starving; they are ‘helping’ the Chinese students–and the students are in ignorance; they are ‘helping’ Women–and Chinese women are going back into slavery” (Baylor University News, 1960, September 21). Professor Mau framed his addresses to appeal to the American values of freedom, democracy, and equality—all values antithetical to communism. Franklin Liu, the Dean of students Hong Kong Baptist college, also spoke to Baylor’s students and faculty and highlighted Baylor’s specific role in the fight against communism. Liu stated, “Christian Education [Baylor] is vital to the peace and progress of this world” (Baylor University News, 1958, March 18). Throughout his address, Liu implied that if American Christian individuals and institutions with great amount of resources and privilege did not take leadership in educating Asian students seriously, the communist government would gladly take on the role to fill the void.
A few months after Liu’s address, President White visited various parts of Asia to see firsthand the consequences of communism. Shortly after, he wrote an essay titled, “Trends in the Orient” which outlined his concerns of the trajectory of communism and proposed a framework to combat it (White, W. R., 1958, Trends in the Orient). White’s defiance and hatred of communism was largely driven by his belief that the principles of communism were mutually exclusive with the principles of Christianity. Communism did not just encroach upon American values; it was a full-on assault on the fundamentals of the Christian religion. He believed that the “liberat[ing] truth” of the Christian religion would be the only method to effectively root out this deleterious ideology (White, W. R., 1958, Trends in the Orient).
A major tenant of White’s “liberating truth” was the foundation of Christian anthropology, arguably one the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity: the doctrine of the image of God. White wrote on the power of this doctrine and its effect on the hearts of communist, “Christian conception of the dignity of human personality and the inalienable rights of each individual is gaining many disciples” (White, W. R., 1958, Trends in the Orient). The implications of this Christian doctrine were fundamentally different from how communism viewed humanity. Since the state determined the worth of the individual by their production or simply by state command, a person’s value to society was fickle and shifting; there was no inherent value to an individual. According to White, however, the doctrine of the image of God, the basis of Christianity gave all mankind, endowed and inherent value and worth given by the Creator. The truths of Christianity, like the doctrine of the image of God, became an effective weapon of choice in combating the toxic spread of communism. White ended the essay by reaffirming Baylor’s commitment to American as well as Christian values, “Baylor’s political creed is to be found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, particularly as defined in the Bill of Rights. Her religious and moral creed is found in the Holy Bible, particularly as set forth in the New Testament”(White, W. R., 1958, Trends in the Orient). President White called Baylor to prepare for battle, with the Constitution on one hand and Scripture in the other. According to White, Baylor had a critical role in dismantling the “communist zeal and fraudulent utopia” (White, W. R., 1958, Trends in the Orient).
Asian student access at Baylor in the 1950s became a logical sequence in fight against communism. Baylor needed to become an active and aggressive member in the fight against communism. The fears of communism were rampant at Baylor, and it would be against the institution’s anti-communist mission to deny access to students who wanted to be educated in the ideals of American democracy and freedom as well as the teachings of Christ. Increasing Asian student access, especially Asian students who were coming to Baylor to escape communism, became a unique way to combat communism within the Baylor community. Opening access would allow Baylor to play a role in educating those who would hopefully fight alongside America in the battle against communism. In the minds of Baylor leaders, this was not only their American duty but their Christian duty as well.
Missionaries also played a critical role in opening pathways for Asian student access. Particularly, missionaries helped promote Baylor as an institution of great academic excellence with a Christian mission (Scales & Clarkson, 2011). Throughout the early twentieth century, Baylor, through its partnership with the Foreign Mission Board, sent numerous missionaries to various parts of Asia. Missionary work overseas became a popular way to do the work of the Great Commission laid out in Matthew 28, making disciples from all nations, races, and tongues. Although the primary work of missionaries was to be apostles of the gospel, in some sense they also became apostles of Baylor. Many of these missionaries had direct or indirect affect in recruiting, connecting, and even providing financial support for various Asian students to attend Baylor. The Lariat specifically shows record of this. It notes that Harold Chen and others decided to attend Baylor due to a missionary insistent on a distinctively Christian education: “The American missionaries told me [Baylor] was a good Christian school and a good school for study” (The Baylor Lariat, 1951 November 09, p. 1). Students like David Chu were able to attend Baylor due to recommendations provided by Rev. Fielders, a missionary to China. The Lariat implies that Anna and Frank Liu’s ties to Baylor came through two different missionaries in China (The Baylor Lariat, 1950 December 15, p. 4). The Round Up also highlights the remarkable missionary work of Blanche Groves, a Baylor graduate who spent most of her life in China. It is not unreasonable to think that her influence in China could have possibly influenced connecting students to Baylor University (King, 1956).
Blanche Groves Photo, Courtesy of the Texas Collection Archives, Baylor University
A Vital Relationship with Hong Kong Baptist University
Critical partnerships, especially Baylor’s relationship with Hong Kong Baptist University, made a positive impact for increasing Asian student access. In 1955, President White appointed Dr. W. J. Wimpee to serve as the executive assistant to the president (Baylor University, 2002). Wimpee’s job was to increase Baylor’s role overseas, especially expanding international exchange programs and making strategic partnerships. Along with Dr. Wimpee, Dr. Paul Green, the executive vice president at Baylor, and President White would provide strategic leadership to build a bridge across the Pacific.
In 1957, Dr. Paul Green, the executive vice president at Baylor stated that the relationship between the two universities should be thought of as Baylor’s spiritual sister institution (Baylor University News, 1957, May 16). Green believed that this partnership benefited both intuitions. It was Baylor’s way of extending a helping hand to a sister institution as well as to promote better understanding between different cultures and “peoples.” This partnership established a “two way” avenue of mutual understanding (Baylor University News, 1957, May 16). This relationship allowed Baylor to carry out President White’s vision: to “influence culture and society with [Baylor’s] great distinctive principles.” This became Baylor’s way to be a leader in the free world by “enrich[ing] and enforc[ing] the kingdom of God through Christian education” because “the world needs the impact of our principles.” (Baker, 1987, p. 223). Practically, the relationship would create a pipeline of students from Hong Kong that would directly feed into Baylor’s system. Hong Kong Baptist was delighted to create this critical partnership with Baylor. After all, Baylor was a reputable Christian institution while Hong Kong Baptist was still in its infancy. The school was desperate not only for “physical facilities and equipment” but “help in every way” including building partnerships to create pathways for access for students from Hong Kong (Baylor University News, 1958, March 12).
Under the leadership of Green, Wimpee, and White, the first step in solidifying the partnership was to create an exchange program for professors between both universities. This was a strategic move since it allowed both universities to exchange scholarship as well as culture. Hong Kong Baptist, most notably sent, Dr. James Mau, a distinguished professor in Chinese Philosophy and Chinese Literature (Baylor University News, 1960, September 21). Mau (1960) agreed with the Baylor administration and supported the partnership between Baylor and Hong Kong Baptist; he believed that “culture exchange” was a “profound” way to further understanding between different countries (p. 1). Baylor’s administration, professors, and students adored Mau. His classes were filled, and he was known around campus by faculty and students as a deeply “warm and profound” human being (Baylor University News, 1960, September 21).
Baylor also sent various professors and administrators to Hong Kong Baptist. Dr. Christine Fall, an English professor at Baylor University spent a year as a member of the faculty of Hong Kong Baptist College. She wrote about her positive experience serving and teaching in Hong Kong. She sent a letter to Baylor which was published in the Lariat and praised her experience at Hong Kong Baptist (The Baylor Lariat, 1957, Oct 30). A couple years later, Dr. Wimpee himself went to Hong Kong with his family to serve as an adviser to Hong Kong Baptist administration (Baylor University News, 1960, August 28). In the summer of 1960, President White made an official trip to Hong Kong Baptist and delivered a commencement address (Baylor University News, 1960, June 22). His visit was extremely symbolic in that it was Baylor’s way of solidifying their commitment to an institution across the Pacific.
This critical partnership directly impacted Asian student access, particularly access for students from Hong Kong. In 1958, shortly after the partnership was formed, Baylor admitted three new students from Hong Kong (Report of the Registrar, 1959). Within a short twelve month span, the number of students from Hong Kong tripled. By 1960, students from Hong Kong would be one of the biggest minority groups on campus, making up nearly 10% of the foreign student population (Report of the Registrar, 1960).
Effect of Asian Students on Campus
Although increasing Asian student access had many benefits, they also produced unintended consequences at Baylor. One of these unintended consequences was the perpetuation of the model minority stereotype: Asians were thought of as a homogenous group of minorities (Asians) who all attain unparalleled academic and professional success through hard work (Museus, 2014).
On numerous occasions, the Lariat described Asian students as industrious, productive, determined, and studious, and because of these traits, they were thought of as a racial group who achieved great success in a foreign land. When the Lariat described the journey of Harold Chen, a Chinese student who escaped communism, specifically highlighted that he received “two scholarships” and that he “hope[d] to earn a doctorate” (The Baylor Lariat, 1951 November 09, p. 1). The Lariat also went on to promote the story of George T’Seng, another Chinese student at Baylor, who through “the basis of his political science grades and activities” secured a grant to attend the 55th Annual American Political Science Convention (The Baylor Lariat, 1959 September 17, p. 5). Interestingly enough, articles that had nothing to do with scholarship often highlighted academic achievements. A Lariat article titled, “Hong Kong Coed Says Dating More Complicated in Far East,” described the difference between Asian and American dating practices, yet concluded by stating that the Asian interviewee had siblings who are “in school on scholarships received for scholastic achievement,” a detail that was completely irrelevant to the subject of the article.” (The Baylor Lariat, 1958 January 10, p. 2).
An article published in 1960, titled, “Students Ride Bicycles to Jobs Across Town” stands out as a perfect example which drove the narrative of Asian students as model minorities (The Baylor Lariat, 1960, June 24, p. 1). The article described two Asian students, who value the dignity of labor, working long hours to “make a living and to cover the expense of going to college” (The Baylor Lariat, 1960, June 24, p. 1). The article highlighted the two students who would “ride their bikes across town” and “work full-time” amid managing their studies at the same time (The Baylor Lariat, 1960, June 24, p. 1). Specifically, the article pinpointed the industrious and hardworking nature of one Korean student, “After going to classes in the mornings, working full-time, into the night, Kwon works in the chemistry lab. He spends from 18-36 hours a week in the lab; sometimes he stays overnight waiting on an experiment (The Baylor Lariat, 1960, June 24, p. 1). Whenever Asian students were portrayed in the Lariat, almost without fail, the article highlighted their hard work, academic achievement, and success.
Portraying Asian students as model minorities had two effects. First, it reassured the Baylor administration, faculty, and students, that Asian students were assimilating well to American culture. These students did not ask for help, nor did they cause trouble in the Baylor and Waco community. In fact, these students looked like upstanding American citizens, wholeheartedly embodying the dignity of work, a central principle of Christianity and capitalism. These articles implied that Baylor made the right choice in strategically expanding their access to Asian students. Asian students were good co-workers, neighbors, and classmates who bought into the values which made American great. Second, and more importantly, the model minority became the normative framework to understand Asian students at Baylor. In the consciousness of many Baylor students, Asian students were thought of in a particular manner: they were a group of minorities who either achieved success or on their way to success due to their diligent work ethic. The problem with this mindset was that it reduced the diversity, inequality, and complexity of the Asian student experience, an issue that continues to modern day. Most likely, a number of Asian students would not have identified themselves as being a model minority for various reasons. Some could have struggled with their academics and others might have struggled to assimilated into American culture. Yet, because of the model minority stereotype, the variety of experiences of Asian students were silence, and a single—and incomplete—story of the Asian student experience became the norm.
During the 1950s, Asian student access increased to new heights at Baylor. Baylor opened pathways to access for a variety of reasons. Yet, creating pathways for access did not guarantee that students of Asian descent would be whole heartedly accepted as complete members of Baylor’s community. Despite all the problems and benefits of Asian student access, one thing was certain: opening access to Asian students in the 1950s and embarking on the foundation to build institutional structures to support Asian students served Baylor well in the coming years. In 1965, after the passing of the Immigration Act, millions of Asian immigrants would enter the country. Many of them would apply to be students at Baylor. Baylor’s ability to open up access in the 1950s allowed Asian students who transition into Baylor’s culture more smoothly.
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