Student access to the Baylor in the 1950s increased for certain groups and decreased for others, making this a fascinating and contradictory decade in many ways. When W.R. White stepped into his presidency at Baylor in 1948 his plans for expansion included access for different types of students and strengthening academic reputation and rigor. In order to grow Baylor as a Christian institution while also making it a more respected academic university, he implemented admissions tests and created more specialized avenues for certain students to succeed, such as Baylor’s Honor College. Although Baylor wished to improve both access and academics, by making admission and academics more challenging, White ended up closing access to different types of students.
While White’s policies closed pathways for access for some, pathways opened for Asian students to attend Baylor in the 1950s, laying down a strong foundation for years to come. At least three factors helped open doors to Asian students: (1) America’s fight against communism, (2) missionaries’ promoting Baylor as a great academic institution, and (3) Baylor’s critical relationship with Hong Kong Baptist University. Asian student access, however, created unintended consequences within the student body, especially the perpetuation of the model minority stereotype.
Additionally, although Baylor was home to several students of Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern origin during the 1950s, the University excluded students of African descent until Baylor regents voted to desegregate in 1963. In the early 1950s, the courts began forcing public institutions of higher education to accept black students, but Baylor, as a private university, chose to maintain the status quo, with Baylor constituents disagreeing sharply over the merits of integration and President White attempting to play the role of an impartial mediator. Nevertheless, through various connections to the black community, Baylor saw the seeds of friendship take root, even if the weeds of a racially exclusionary policy disrupted the flowering of these relationships.
Finally, recreation and physical education at Baylor during the 1950s were important foundations to granting female students access to leadership experiences and other opportunities for development. Olga Fallen and Kay Mitchell were two key players in advocating for women, using the Physical Education major, intramurals, and extramurals as platforms for female students’ personal and professional development. At a time when women were excluded from participation in certain student organizations, these opportunities within the realm of recreation catered to the needs to female students.
Overall, student access at Baylor University has a checkered past. Access during the 1950s is best summarized as a paradox between exclusion and inclusion. For certain groups, access was broadened, but for others it was limited or completely denied.