As part of a national movement to engage in candid conversations about race and social justice issues, the student-hosted podcast, Learning Boldly, seeks to educate, inspire, and empower all Bulldogs. A nod to the university’s official tagline, “Learn Boldly. Live to Inspire,” the podcast is hosted by TLU Black Student Union members Brandon Chaney, Vitti Johnson, Rashad Tolbert, recent graduate Reyana Custodio '20, and produced by alumnus Nick Hayes ’08.
The team has produced 10 episodes, offering a collection of perspectives from current students, alumni, university leadership, and even community leaders such as Seguin Police Chief Terry Nichols, about social and racial justice issues in and around the TLU community.
Hayes, who’s an English professor in South Korea, has been vocal about the importance of making sure Black students have a voice and feel supported.
After the violent death of George Floyd in May 2020, and the subsequent protests across the nation, TLU president Dr. Debbie Cottrell and ELCA Bishop Sue Briner came together to record a video message expressing their deep sadness for the needless deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. They saw an opportunity to use their voices and their platform to take a stand against police brutality and systemic racism.
Hayes felt the initial message in early June fell flat, however; and he wanted TLU’s leadership team to be more direct in the fight for racial justice. “I sent an email to Dr. Cottrell voicing my concerns and, to my surprise, she agreed and was passionate about wanting to make it right.”
“I’ve learned that the divisiveness, pain, and complexity of our times require a willingness to listen, reflect, and figure out what each of us can do to be part of a positive trajectory,” said President Debbie Cottrell. “I’ve learned that easy answers and empty words don’t help much. I’ve been reminded that there are definite links to history in terms of the present-day, even though many historians, like myself, might not have anticipated the full array of challenges that one year could bring.”
In her first year as a college president, Dr. Cottrell has dealt with more historic and life-altering events than some presidents experience in more than 20 years of leadership. From racial and political unrest to the impact of COVID-19 on students, faculty, staff, and the university’s financial future, Dr. Cottrell has handled each monumental challenge with a commitment to listen, learn, and act.
For his part, Hayes wanted Black alumni to support current Black students and ensure their voices are heard. “I wanted to do something to help but wasn’t sure of the best approach since I live 7,000 miles away,” said Hayes.
Fellow TLU alumnus Adam Sweeney suggested that Hayes start a podcast to amplify Black voices in the TLU community and connect people from all over. Along with Communication Studies Professor and Black Student Union (BSU) Advisor Chris Bollinger and the four student hosts, they began brainstorming ideas and soon came up with the idea for Learning Boldly.
TLU senior Rashad Tolbert ’21 is a Learning Boldly podcast host and the current president of BSU. The Business Management and Marketing double major says the support they’ve received has been positive, despite initial trepidation the podcast might be met with some opposition and misunderstanding. From representation and allyship to discussions about the disproportionate negative impact of our nation’s criminal justice system on Black communities, the show delves into topics that often make people who are unfamiliar with the Black experience uncomfortable.
“It can be really exhausting when a group of people feel a certain way and have no one who looks like them talking about it at a high level,” he said. “It makes you feel like you don’t matter; like you’re voiceless. With the podcast, we’ve been able to show people they do have a voice and the hosts really do understand. Being able to do this, especially in our own way, shows them we are listening and that we want TLU to continue improving.”
Recent graduate Reyana Custodio '20 says the podcast also serves as an important platform for women of color.
"Women of color are often overlooked when it comes to conversations about racism and sexism even though we experience both of these things," she said. "I feel it's extremely important to make sure a woman of color has a voice because it allows brings our experiences to light. No one is going to be able to describe the life experiences of a woman of color better than a woman of color."
Being part of Learning Boldly was very special for Custodio and she sees it as a way for current African American students and black alumni can connect and share things specific to their TLU experiences.
"Learning Boldly gives me a hope for making a difference and creating future change for the black community," she said. "These conversations help empower people and develop a plan for success moving forward."
In their most recent episode, the hosts were joined by President Cottrell for a candid discussion about TLU’s commitment to racial justice. Tolbert says having the president of TLU as a guest was really important for the entire series and demonstrated the university’s willingness to address difficult and complex issues.
Dr. Cottrell and members of the President’s Cabinet are committed to leaning into the opportunities TLU has as a diverse, faith-based institution in South Central Texas. The President’s Action Plan For Racial Justice and the recent appointment of a Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are important steps toward that goal. TLU’s Board also recently approved the university’s Strategic Plan for 2020-2025. University leadership has identified five main strategic goals which include a goal to “Embrace and celebrate a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
“I want to see us mature as a diverse institution and provide the appropriate support that is required to serve all of our students well,” Dr. Cottrell said. “I’m hopeful we can be attentive to diversity in multiple ways and that we can all learn how to listen better through courageous engagement.”