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Students’ protest at BYU is about more than Rodin

SHARE Students’ protest at BYU is about more than Rodin

For some Brigham Young University students, the debate about four Auguste Rodin statues being excluded from an exhibit at the Museum of Art involves more than just nudity.

A large group of students assembled in front of the Abraham Smoot Administration Building Thursday to protest the museum's decision not to show pieces that are part of "The Hands of Rodin, a Tribute to B. Gerald Cantor" exhibit. Most students disagreed with the decision, ultimately made by administrators including President Merrill J. Bateman, not to show four of the 56 works."I think the administrators should allow us to see the classics of art," said freshman Collin Bradford. "Nobody has ever been offended by a piece by Rodin, that I know of."

As a student at the Art Institute of Cincinnati, Bradford regularly worked with nude models. He struggled with the idea at first but finally decided that artistic nudity is not pornography. Many students at Thursday's protest agreed.

Students carried signs that said "We Can Protect Ourselves" and "Would We Have to Put Shorts on (Michelangelo's) David?" They marched around Mahonri Young's statue of Brigham Young south of the Smoot Building and periodically chanted, "Don't ban Rodin."

Administrators handed out flyers explaining they had offered to discuss concerns with the protest's organizers, Justin and Megan Jones, but the students declined. Protesters vigorously debated during the hour-long rally with students who supported the museum's decision. But police standing by weren't called into action, even though students protesters had failed to acquire a permit necessary to stage the demonstration.

One anti-protester with a megaphone drew heavy criticism from a large crowd when he interrupted the rally. "Protesters, wake up and smell the hot chocolate," shouted Steve Stamps. "You go to a private school. It's not an act of censorship. If you want to see nudity, go to the (movie)."

The sentiments of Stamps and a handful of other students who opposed the protest were drowned out by the number of students who said "The Kiss," "Saint John the Baptist Preaching," "The Prodigal Son" and "Monument to Balzac" should be shown at the Museum of Art.

Although those pieces will be kept in boxes until the entire exhibit is returned to the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation next year, books on sale at the museum include pictures of the 19th century works. Museum director Campbell Gray said earlier this week the decision to exclude the pieces was made because of a lack of dignity, not because of nudity.

"You have to acknowledge that this museum serves a much broader community than just the university," said Academic Vice President Alan Wilkins. "We take into account these multiple values and what fits the larger community."

Surprisingly, many students who spoke up didn't talk about whether or not they should be able to see nude statues. Several students said they regularly see the same works on slides in humanities classes anyway.

Instead, what seemed to concern some students most was lack of communication between them and administrators and the negative message BYU sends by virtue of the museum's decision.

"I think student voices count at the university," said Justin Jones, who believes administrators should have consulted the Student Advisory Council before their decision. "Had students been included in the decision . . . we wouldn't have this protest."

Several students said negative publicity over the Rodin statues and the recent perception that administrators are cracking down on professors' academic freedom will hurt their chances to get accepted at the country's top graduate schools. Those negative images being sent across the nation aren't truly representative of BYU or students' experience there, said senior Nathan Furr.

"There have been a number of controversies here at BYU that have diminished the (school's) reputation for liberal arts students," Furr said. "I think by having someone omit those statues before we have had a chance to express our opinion, we send a message we don't want to send."

Wilkins promised that students would soon have the opportunity to air their concerns before administrators in a meeting large enough to accommodate all who desire to attend.