Brigham Young University committee has 26 ideas to address race issues on campus: NPR

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The Brigham Young University Race Committee released a study assessing race issues on campus. Michalyn Steele, committee member and professor of law at BYU, breaks down their findings and recommendations.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Isolated and dangerous. That’s how students of color often say they feel on the predominantly white campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. A new report from a faculty committee there cites challenges ranging from daily racist comments to the lack of teachers of color to uneven enforcement of dress and grooming standards set out in the school’s honor code. The report calls for a long list of changes at BYU, which is a private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Michalyn Steele, a law professor at BYU, is on that committee that produced the report, and she’s joining us now.

Welcome.

MICHALYN STEELE: Thank you.

KELLY: So I want to understand how this report came about, and I wonder if you could give us an idea of ​​the situation.

STEELE: I think there’s been an outpouring of grief at BYU, just like there was across the country in June 2020, in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We started hearing stories from students of color, especially our black students at BYU, that this racial reckoning that was happening across the country had to happen at BYU. And being underrepresented, they in many ways felt like outsiders on campus. And one of our shared values ​​in our community is the injunction of Ephesians that there are no more strangers but that we are fellow citizens in a house of God.

KELLY: So your committee is making 26 recommendations on how to improve things, how to support students there, how to support faculty and staff of color as well. One recommendation is to create an office of diversity and belonging. What would you imagine this office to actually look like? What would that do?

STEELE: I think this office would provide an important signal that the university is committed to tackling these issues head-on to centralize the response but also to capture the good efforts that are being made on campus. So I see this as a clearing house function to spread best practices in the community and to ensure that we hold ourselves accountable.

KELLY: The report also raises questions about whether the buildings should be renamed. I collect several with the names of the slavers. And I stopped and thought, if you’re talking about renaming things, do you need to look at the name of the university itself? Church leader Brigham Young. He opposes interracial marriage. He started the church ban, which has since been lifted, but on black members holding the priesthood.

STEELE: Well, I think the church, like the nation, has a complicated history. President Nelson…

KELLY: Russell Nelson, the president of the church.

STEELE: Yes – released the statement with senior NAACP leadership. He said both institutions have learned from the past. That said, I think we have many ways to contextualize and grapple with the complicated histories and legacies of those who came before us. I teach constitutional law. And I understand that the history of the founders of our nation is infected in some important ways by their attitudes toward race and slavery. And just as the nation grapples with these questions, I think our community needs to grapple with these kinds of questions as well.

KELLY: So how optimistic are you that change will happen and will happen quickly?

STEELE: I’m optimistic that change will happen. I know it won’t be quick. I know this is going to take a sustained effort. The work of reconciliation, of bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice takes time. And I am optimistic because I sense a broad commitment to this sustained effort and enthusiasm from the vast majority of our students. It is not the work of a committee. That’s not the college president’s job. It is the job of every member of the BYU community to remedy these issues.

KELLY: Professor Michalyn Steele of Brigham Young University talks about the new report. She was on the committee.

Thanks for talking to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

STEELE: With pleasure. Thank you for hosting me.

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