Three Arts & Sciences Faculty Members are Honored for Teaching Virtues in their Core Courses

April 19, 2024

By Randy Fiedler, Director of Marketing and Communications, Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences

WACO, Texas (April 19, 2024) – Three Baylor University faculty members are recipients of the 2023-2024 Core Curriculum Virtues Recognition Award from the College of Arts & Sciences. The Awards, which were presented for the first time in the spring of 2022, are given annually to faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching moral, intellectual and/or spiritual virtues in 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 three recipients, all from the College of Arts & Sciences and recognized for their contributions during the 2023-2024 academic year at Baylor, include Dr. Ericka S. Dunbar, assistant professor of religion; Dr. Rebecca Flavin, senior lecturer in political science and director of engaged learning curriculum in the Office of Engaged Learning in the College of Arts & Sciences; and Dr. Jennifer L. Hargrave, assistant professor of English.

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.”

Ericka Dunbar

Dr. Ericka S. Dunbar was nominated for the core virtue of empathy by Dr. Derek Dodson, senior lecturer and undergraduate program director in religion.

"As the Arts & Sciences core documents state, 'Empathy is the virtue of being able to understand and imagine what another might be thinking, feeling, or doing. Following after justice and respect, empathy not only acknowledges the other and one’s legal obligations to the other but also begins to appreciate the full humanity of the other, to identify with the other, to begin to understand and feel what it is like to live as another,'" Dodson said. "Dr. Dunbar is intentional about cultivating the virtue of empathy among her students in her REL 1310 Christian Scriptures course. She accomplishes this cultivation of empathy by reading and activities that focus on minoritized and marginalized persons in the text, and then also how these texts are read by diverse contemporary communities. For example, Dr. Dunbar requires a review and reflection essay on articles (students choose one) from a Womanist perspective, which often gives attention to minoritized persons in the text, as well as an interpretation from a minoritized/marginalized person."

Speaking about the Christian Scriptures course she teaches, Dunbar said the class "not only exposes students to oppression and violence perpetuated against vulnerable and often minoritized and marginalized individuals and groups in the Bible, but also to contemporary individuals and groups who lived through similar experiences. The students are taught how to critically and asked to carefully read, listen to, and learn from these stories, and to develop empathy for those affected across time and space."

Rebecca Flavin

Dr. Rebecca Flavin was nominated for the core virtue of responsibility by Dr. David Clinton, chair and professor of political science, for her work teaching PSC 1387 (The Constitution, Its Interpretation, and the American Political Experience).

"Many professors in the political science department include civic engagement assignments in their syllabus. Dr. Flavin was the first to do so, and she has repeatedly encouraged do so," Clinton said. "A number of [these professors] have adopted many of the assignments that Dr. Flavin has assigned. One favorite might be the simplest –– students have to look up and report on how to register to vote in their home state. Because so many students are unregistered, they learn how to do so. Moreover, they learn how easy it is. I have little doubt that a number of them, upon learning how to register, become certified voters. It is likely not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Flavin has added hundreds of voters to the tallies of U.S. elections, thereby allowing these young citizens to fulfill their voting responsibilities."

Clinton said that in her role as the director of engaged learning curriculum, Flavin "has spearheaded the addition of a civic engagement requirement to the Core Curriculum. Partnering with numerous departments, and dozens of faculty, she has found ways in which every student under the Core can learn the virtue of responsibility through coursework. This is a significant, and lasting, achievement for the College of Arts & Sciences."

Jennifer Hargrave

Dr. Jennifer L. Hargrave was nominated for the core virtue of empathy by Dr. Ginger Hanchey, senior lecturer and undergraduate program director for literature and creative writing in the Department of English, and Dr. Kevin Gardner, chair and professor of English, for Hargrave's work teaching ENG 2301: British Literature.

"We believe Dr. Hargrave teaches the virtue of empathy in her British Literature class in several ways," Hanchey said. "First and importantly, she works hard to diversify her readings for the course at the outset, including 10 women writers and eight writers of color. This is difficult in a British literature course going back 1,400 years; the canon has for so long been almost entirely white and male. In addition, she provides engaging activities that allow students to imagine being another person. The activity...asks students to choose a character from a text and extend that character’s story. Students must understand a character’s voice, motivation, and cultural context and constraints. In her ENG 2301 survey class, students also extensively study abolitionist literature and discuss the importance of language in shaping a more empathetic society."