BYU recently published the findings of its committee on racism. Their findings are in a 63 page report containing 26 recommendations. Their report is thorough and pulls no punches in gathering the experiences of BIPOC faculty and students, although it also manages to feel optimistic and has increased my respect for Pres. Worthen (who requested the formation of this committee in June 2020).
“they have provided an example of how these important conversations can transform both institutions and individuals. The university will be a better place going forward because of their efforts. We owe a debt of gratitude to every member of CoREB.”https://news.byu.edu/announcements/report-race-equity-belonging
Never, since BYU announced that gay students would no longer be targeted for public displays of affection that did not violate the honor code have I been so proud of my alma mater.
I know what you’re thinking. Sixty-three pages? What is this, the Mueller Report? Well, fret no more. I have read it, and will summarize some salient findings for you.
First, my own perspective. I attended BYU from 1986, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1992 (including a mission hiatus from 1989-1990). During my tenure, I did not have any BIPOC teachers, and I knew only a handful of BIPOC students. I had a roommate who was from Hawaii, of Japanese descent, who experienced weird racism at the testing center. Mind you, she was also an anchor for KBYU news. She was taking a math test, and the proctor got down next to her and slowly explained that if she needed any help she could raise her hand. She was confused. Was this a trap? Was he hitting on her, offering to give her the answers to her test? She made sure nobody was listening and asked sheepishly if he knew a lot about math. He said no, that he meant if she was confused by the English, he could explain the words to her. She was livid, especially given that she was probably smarter and more articulate than he was , so she put on her best Jerry Lewis yellowface voice and, bowing, said, “Oh! I so stupid! Thank you, honorable white man.” She was the only BIPOC roommate I had.
There was an incident in February 2020 for Black History Month in which students were invited to submit anonymous questions to a panel, and a lot of the students’ questions were boldly racist. They were racist by the standards of 1986, let alone 2020. Here’s a sample:
- Why do we celebrate Black history? Why not Mexican history? Or white history?
- Why do we act like black people don’t get treated well? There are also white, Mexican, Chinese, and other races not getting treated well.
- Why do African Americans hate the police? If they would obey the law and do what they say we wouldn’t have this problem.
- What is the percentage of African Americans on food stamps?
- Why don’t we have any white people on stage? (meaning as a part of the panel on Black History Month)
- Why don’t we have a white history month?
It would seem that this event was a catalyst at forming the committee whose report has just been published. The recommendations center around a few key problem areas:
Student recruiting and admissions. I was not surprised to find that BYU does not rank well for diversity. The LDS Church also has issues with this, due to the racist priesthood and temple ban and the racist teachings in the Book of Mormon. The lack of diversity at BYU was one of the main reasons I was secretly thrilled when my daughter didn’t get accepted and instead enrolled at ASU, a campus with a long history of inclusion and a student body that reflects those values. BYU ranks 328th out of 360 similar sized schools for diversity of student body. (p.33) That’s really low. Just as a quick point of comparison, BYU is 81% white while ASU is only 47% white.
BYU’s student body is inadequately diverse. This lack of diversity not only deprives the university as a whole of the diversity of gifts, experiences, and viewpoints brought by students from various cultures and backgrounds, it also results in isolation for BIPOC and other minority population students. We have identified this lack of diversity at BYU to be among the primary barriers for BIPOC students to feel they belong at BYUp. 33
The usual “reason” schools or companies will give for the lack of diversity is that they aren’t getting enough diverse applicants. As outlined in the report, this excuse is insufficient to explain the lack of diversity. In fact, a lower percentage of BIPOC applicants are accepted than white applicants. Over the last 3 years, between 64 and 69% of white applicants were admitted while only 59-60% of BIPOC applicants were admitted.
As a committee, we met with representatives from BYU Enrollment Services, who described their recently updated holistic approach to application scoring and their race-blind approach to recruitment and admissions. It appears that many in key roles for recruitment and admissions believe that the university’s official position is that recruitment and admissions must be race-blind/race-neutral.p. 35
There are problems with a “race-blind” approach when the enrollment process is as subjective as BYU’s. Clearly, based on the results, they are admitting BIPOC students at a lower rate. This is similar to when companies are given an affirmative action mandate but hide behind the screen of hiring the “most qualified” applicants or diverse candidates being unavailable or unqualified for the job postings. The reality is that those making these decisions are usually unaware of their biases, and that subjective evaluation processes often include unseen penalties for BIPOC applicants.
For example, the study found that very few BIPOC applicants were awarded the Presidential Scholarship between 2016 and 2020 (p. 36). Instead, these were mostly awarded to white students. The process to obtain scholarships was difficult to navigate, far more than other schools with a diversity-inclusion mandate. Additionally, the criteria for admissions was opaque, making it difficult for applicants to successfully apply, particularly those with no prior ties to BYU or less of a support network in the process.
our committee recommends that the university develop and implement targeted programs for enhancing the diversity of BYU’s applicant pool; this will require creative strategies and a commitment of resources. We are unaware of any legal prohibition against programs or strategies to recruit underrepresented BIPOC groups for admission, so long as they do not confer a benefit that is not generally available to all prospective applicants or represent a burden to that group.p. 33
The committee urged BYU to change from a “race-blind” approach to a “race-conscious” approach to both recruitment and admissions, as have other universities (p. 36).
Faculty recruiting and retention. The report found that the representation of BIPOC faculty was even lower than BIPOC students: 94% of faculty are white (74% are while males, 20% are white females).
If students have not seen BIPOC faculty as leading teachers and scholars, their perceptions of BIPOC potential may be limited in artificial ways. The average number of BIPOC faculty members on CFS-track at BYU, currently 6 percent, falls far below the national average.p. 42
Compounding this problem is the fact that BYU has a hard time retaining BIPOC faculty (p. 47), and that a contributing factor is particularly alarming:
Substantial academic research indicates that faculty of color are evaluated less positively than White faculty in end of semester teaching reviews.We do not have specific data to assess how this evaluation bias may have impacted BIPOC faculty at BYU; however, we learned anecdotally through our initial interviews that numerous faculty of color have experienced discrimination and racism in their student evaluations.p. 47
While the lack of BIPOC representation among faculty will depress BIPOC student recruitment and retention, it also fosters a lack of respect for BIPOC faculty among white students. These attitudes affect both BIPOC faculty and students in myriad ways. As the study describes it:
a lack of cross-cultural competency among the student body and faculty has contributed to the alienation and isolation of many BIPOC students.p. 26
This isn’t a matter of hurt feelings. Student evaluations are essential to a professor’s success, promotions and ability to be selected for committees. Poor student evaluations impact faculty retention.
BIPOC faculty report experiencing racism and discrimination in student evaluations that potentially endanger BIPOC faculty retention.p. 14
The study also outlines the lack of mentoring and support for BIPOC students due to the lack of faculty representation. While the ratio of white faculty to white students is 1:20, the ratio for BIPOC students and faculty is far worse. There are 50 black students for every black member of faculty, and 59 hispanic students for every hispanic member of faculty. When race-related issues arise, usually from the white student body and often allowed to happen by white faculty members, BIPOC students try to reach out to BIPOC faculty as a valuable resource to understand these dynamics; however, they have a hard time finding access to these resouces due to scarcity, putting a tax borne by all BIPOC students and faculty.
The time spent by these Black students in navigating university administration to find support was clearly detrimental to them and their sense of belonging. Having no accessible resource for addressing such issues pulled these students from their schoolwork, social outlets, or other fruitful activities. Such a lack of administrative support has been a hardship not only for students experiencing these difficulties, but also for student leaders. In many instances, the BSU has effectively functioned as a de facto student services resource for Black students, having been enlisted on a case-by-case basis to help students respond to racist incidents. In addition, members and leaders of BSU are frequently called upon to assist in educating the students and faculty involved in these incidents. As a committee, we are deeply concerned about the burdens borne by the leaders of BSU in this regard and we urge the university to coordinate a process and identify resources to relieve these students of these administrative burdens.p. 39
Addressing racist treatment of individuals. There was a specific callout regarding black students being reported to the Honor Code Office or barred from taking tests due to “extreme hairstyles” that are just normal black hairstyles (pp. 40-41). Additionally, they noted:
a number of students reported that they have been overwhelmed and bewildered by the Honor Code enforcement process, which has felt unnecessarily adversarial to them.p. 41
I didn’t face racial discrimination, but I can attest that being sent to the Honor Code office felt bewildering and adversarial, which appear to be the main feature of the system rather than a bug. BIPOC students also expressed that they didn’t feel safe when students and even faculty openly made racially insensitive comments that went unchecked.
A common theme emerging from our listening forums was the harm to BIPOC students in some general education and religion classes. In these settings students expressed feeling unsafe because of racially insensitive statements, prejudicial attitudes, and discriminatory behaviors.p. 22
The Religion department got several call-outs for the lack of sensitivity in addressing race-related topics.
Many students reported that some of the most hurtful experiences they have had occurred in religion courses, where sensitive gospel topics such as the priesthood and temple ban and skin color in the Book of Mormon can be misunderstood or insensitively presented.p.25
While the study noted that several departments were ahead of the curve in taking effective steps to train faculty on how to improve diversity and belonging for BIPOC students, one department that was repeatedly mentioned as problematic was the Religion department, which has recently announced its plan to favor candidates from within the ranks of CES rather than considering higher qualified candidates with appropriate academic credentials.
Addressing racist symbols on campus. Ziff recently posted a review of Joanna Brooks’ book on White Supremacy that included many call-outs of buildings and monuments at BYU that are named for racist and even slave-holding individuals. These symbols were specifically named repeatedly in the report as creating distress for BIPOC students and faculty.
A consistent thread that emerged from the communications we received about this issue, especially from our Black BYU community, is the sense of exclusion and pain that has come from having buildings on campus named for individuals who espoused racist beliefs and even enslaved Black people. One prominent proposal that garnered great support recommended that BYU remove all names from buildings.p. 51
While many of the buildings are named for racist leaders from Mormon history, one in particular was called out as the individual was a slave-owner.
A number of students and alumni have expressed deep concern about the impact of current building names. (We discuss this issue in depth in the historical note on p. 51.) a. Many of these concerns are related to the name of the Abraham Smoot Building, noting Abraham Smoot’s history as an owner of enslaved Black people.p. 15
My first thought upon reading that finding was that the Church would never rename buildings since it can’t even admit the priesthood ban was not from God or that polygamy is misogyny incarnate, so good luck with that one. I was surprised at the very common sense solution that was supposedly (according to the report) under consideration: renaming buildings based on function and not for long-dead leaders. This is a straightforward solution that would immediately eliminate the school’s implied support of the problematic views of these former Church leaders.
Reorienting leadership. In placing this one last, I’m actually reversing the order of the report which leads with this. As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head. This issue falls into three categories. First, there is even less BIPOC representation in administration.
We are aware of only one BIPOC administrator among the university’s various vice presidents and directors (see Recommendation 26, p. 48). BYU can and must do better.p. 24
Second, among those in leadership, diversity is not a high priority.
Commitment to creating an enriched environment at BYU, though supported by the Office of the President, does not appear to permeate the highest levels of leadership, particularly as it relates to creating and valuing a racially diverse student body, administration, and staff.p. 15
Lastly, BYU has too many cooks in the kitchen, and there is no oversight or organizational structure to support an overarching diversity focus.
some universities place their compliance offices under the auspices of a central office for diversity and inclusion. At BYU these offices would include the Equal Opportunity Office, the Title IX Office, and the University Accessibility Center. The housing of these compliance offices under a central office for diversity and inclusion may result from their obligations under federal civil rights laws.p. 19
The recommendation is to follow the lead of more diverse universities in changing structures, training (even certification) and oversight to improve diversity and create an environment of belonging and inclusion for all students.
The study quotes Pres. Worthen as saying: “God is the author of diversity and the source of unity.” Wise words.
- Do any of these findings surprise you? 
- Do you think BYU can overcome these issues with racism or are they too baked into Mormonism (through the priesthood ban past and the Book of Mormon’s comments on racism)?
- Was there anything in the report that you expected to see but didn’t? 
- Do you think these findings have relevance to Church culture at large or just to BYU? If so, how should the Church improve in these areas within congregations?
 Unfortunately, the school rescinded its “blind eye” policy toward gay students, stating that same-sex romantic (yet chaste) relationships were not compatible with the honor code. Once again, Lucy pulled the football out just as I approached. https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2020/03/04/after-byu-honor-code/
 She was a freaking news anchor.
 How many BIPOC seminary teachers do you think there are?
 I was surprised by two things: 1) the obvious impact of Joanna Brooks’ book, and 2) the open and justified criticism of the Religion Department. I mean, if you had asked me which of all the departments would be the worst at this, for sure I would have guessed the Rel Ed Dept. But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to criticize them even though they are literally the worst. It’s like your boss showing you her baby photos and you stating that her baby is the ugliest baby you’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something because you’ve seen a lot of ugly babies.
 I would have expected to see something about miscegenation and the isolation of BIPOC students in the dating and social scene at BYU. I don’t know that it’s a thing, but if it were, it would not surprise me. Basically, it’s become pretty clear that racism is alive and well among even the young LDS people, particularly when the environment is like BYU, with the current trend of outspoken alt-right thinking. In a school where the objective seems to get everyone married, I wouldn’t be shocked to find that some students are ostracized from the dating pool by some students based on race.