I wrote some of this in 2013, but it has additional relevance today, so I have brought it up again and revised it. Not much revision.
I retired from BYU two years ago. I don’t know if there’s an African American Studies major, though I know African Studies exists. I would love more information.
In 1965 when Darius Gray came to BYU, he was called in to the Dean of Students’ office. “We’ve had complaints,” the dean said. “We’ve had parents call us concerned that you’re talking to their daughters. You need to stay away from the white girls.” Darius did as he was told. Thirty-five years later, when he and I were speaking to an alumni association, the dean who had given this mandate was present. He approached Darius. “I don’t suppose you remember me,” he said. Darius assured him that he did indeed remember. The man’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry,” he said. As I recall, they embraced.
These are just a couple of the notes I’ve gotten from African American students at BYU:
“I just want to be myself and not represent all black people. I’m tired of being the poster child for blacks. I wish I could be me without everyone staring at me.”
“My fiance’s mother forbade him to marry me because, she said, our children would have ‘cursed blood.’”
I am hopeful that BYU will become a university with diverse faculty and a fully realized vision of service.
So, here’s my BYU wish list:
1) Drop half of the required religion classes (fourteen credit hours–six classes–are required) and substitute those hours with “true religion and undefiled.” In other words, give service wherever it’s needed. Semesters abroad for service opportunities would cover these hours, as would mentoring in inner-city schools or even in local schools.
2) Take one tenth of the budget for athletics and give it to the multi-cultural center. With this, we would re-instate programs which were recently cut, notably:
“Foundations” (a program to prepare multicultural HS students for BYU). Foothold” for the multicultural freshman–to prepare them for BYU life and to introduce them to others who will face similar challenges.
Eagle’s Eye magazine, which gave students an opportunity to practice journalism and to address multicultural issues.
3) Black History Month would be taken seriously, with programs to match what other Utah universities do–including bringing well-regarded Black speakers and Civil Rights activists, some of whom could well be LDS. Plays and films discussing racial issues would be showcased, and a forum headed by a significant leader would discuss why race still matters and how we can build needed bridges to heal our past.
4) There would be a major in African American or Black studies, and faculty hired to support it–at least fifty African American faculty members and a few more African nationals.
As we prepare more African American and African students to come to BYU, we must dramatically increase the number of Black students.
I know that if we marshal the good forces which energize the BYU campus and let our students discover issues greater than their LSAT scores or the perpetual “how do I get an A in this class?” question, their hearts can swell beyond the reaches of this little paradise and set some lights beyond our indulgent skylines.