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Committee report: BYU must root out racism without delay, proposes 26 recommendations

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An aerial image of the BYU campus in Provo on Sept. 6, 2013.

Jaren Wilkey, BYU

The official BYU Committee on Race, Equity & Belonging issued 26 recommendations on Friday in an effort to root out racism and bring “historic, transformative change” to the Provo, Utah, campus.

The committee’s 63-page report found that “the BYU community has not been immune to the detrimental effects of racism. In ways that have been both individual and systemic, intentional and unintentional, we have seen evidence that the painful sting of racism has diminished the experience and the sense of safety and belonging of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color) communities at BYU.”

“To date, there has been inadequate accountability and coordination in the university’s efforts to address these needs,” the report’s executive summary continued. “The BYU community must work expeditiously and without delay to lead out in identifying and rooting out racism at Brigham Young University.”

The recommendations, all of which are included below, include recruiting and retaining more minority students and faculty, and add a vice president of diversity and an office of diversity of inclusion. The committee suggested the university also change its curriculum in general education and religion courses to educate all students on race, unity and diversity.

The most pressing concern, the committee added, “is that BIPOC students often feel isolated and unsafe at BYU due to racism” at a school that is 81% white. Fewer than 1% of students are Black.

Some 16% of BYU students and employees experienced discrimination or harassment in the past year on campus, in an off-campus residence or at a BYU-affiliated off-campus program or event, according to a new survey completed by nearly 20,000 students and employees. The survey results were also released Friday.

Derogatory remarks were the most common form of discrimination or harassment.

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About 16% of BYU students and employees said they experienced discrimination or harassment in the past year. This graphic shows the forms of discrimination or harassment they experienced, according to a survey taken by nearly 20,000 people in the BYU community.

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BYU President Kevin Worthen established the committee in June 2020, motivated in part by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others. Worthen said then that the campus had work to do to address injustice and that he was committed to it.

The other chief driver for the committee’s creation and mission stemmed from the school’s role as the flagship university of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church President Russell M. Nelson, who is also chairman of BYU’s board of trustees, has regularly appealed in recent years for members and others to develop a “passionate desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation.”

Worthen announced the committee a week after President Nelson issued a joint charge with NAACP leadership for educational leaders “to review processes, laws and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.”

“BYU is not immune from, and I think President Nelson’s point was that no institution is immune from the scourge of racism, but we can be more conscientious about rooting it out,” said Michalyn Steele, a law professor who served on the committee.

The committee broke down the 26 recommendations, all of which are included at the bottom of this story, into three categories:

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Part of the cover of the 63-page report issued by BYU’s Committee on Race, Equity, and Belonging on Friday, Feb. 26, 2020. The committee made 26 recommendations to help root out racism on campus.

BYU

  • Institutional and organizational reforms.
  • Student belonging and equity reforms.
  • Faculty reforms.

“All of the recommendations are extremely helpful,” Worthen said in Friday’s news release. “Some of them, such as making curricular changes to general education, religion and elective courses that educate students on race, unity and diversity, as well as establishing college-wide statements on race and belonging, are already in process.”

Steele and another member of the committee, sociology professor Ryan Gabriel, told the Deseret News that the goals of the recommendations are to:

  • Bring about a more diverse student body, faculty and administration.
  • A greater sense of cross-cultural competency among all individuals within BYU.
  • And a greater sense of belonging for minority students and employees.

“These are practical next steps,” Steele said. “It now becomes the work of everyone across campus to improve the atmosphere. Everyone needs to be engaged and respond to the invitation from President Nelson in their own way and do the work of getting educated and do the work of contributing to a more welcoming environment.”

Steele is a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Gabriel’s father is Black.

While some recommendations are in the works, Worthen said implementing others will take time and that some require additional consideration.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told the Deseret News that Worthen and his Cabinet, the President’s Council, are taking the report and recommendations seriously. She said they agree completely with the committee’s stated objectives to “seek strategies for historic, transformative change at BYU in order to more fully realize the unity, love, equity and belonging that should characterize our campus culture and permeate our interactions as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Worthen will give the President’s Council significant responsibility for addressing the findings and recommendations, according to the news release. He said the report and recommendations will help BYU nurture and retain minority students and employees.

“There is hard work ahead, but the committee has outlined some important steps we need to take and provided a model for how this can be done,” he said in the release.

The committee met via Zoom twice a week from June to September and then weekly until completing its report.

Gabriel said the recommendations are an invitation to everyone in the BYU community to develop a passionate desire to build bridges.

“The recommendations give the president and President’s Council an opportunity to think through how some structural changes might be adjusted to facilitate the growth of that passion amongst individuals, but I think my plea and our plea as the committee is for individuals to desire that,” he said.

Steele said BYU needs to lift the burden of educating others from the shoulders of minorities and.

“Part of what the recommendations seek to do is take to the university the responsibility, a greater, more organized effort, to foster that diverse climate and respond where inappropriate things happen, and also to ensure that the students who come to BYU leave BYU equipped to travel in in a multicultural world,” she said.

Steele said the effort had scriptural underpinnings.

“I have had on my mind today the injunction that we should be no more strangers, but fellow citizens and believers,” Steele said. “I think one of the things we found is that too many students have felt like strangers on campus at BYU, and we want to do better.”

The survey results were compiled after Worthen invited the BYU community to take, voluntarily, the national Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey, and 19,628 students and employees responded.

The survey revealed a gap between the experiences of white students and employees and people from other, various racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Overall, 80% reported satisfaction with the BYU campus climate and 9% expressed dissatisfaction. Students of color and employees reported 71% satisfaction and 13% dissatisfaction, which the committee said indicated a need for improvement.

Only 37% of undergraduate students said they knew who to contact if they experienced or observed an act of discrimination or harassment.

The full survey results are available online at data.byu.edu.

The report provided the university with greater and better understanding of people of racial minorities at BYU, he added.

“With the committee’s recommendations we now have specific actions to address the issues and concerns the study found,” Worthen said. “We also have a model of how counseling together can have remarkable results.”

The committee’s executive summary noted that the BYU community has made strides over the eight months between the committee’s formation and report.

“We note that since the call to action from President Nelson and President Worthen, the BYU community is already moving forward to help heal racial divisions and enhance equity on campus in many respects,” the committee said in the report’s executive summary. “A number of colleges have organized diversity and inclusion committees and have undertaken the effort to articulate guiding principles and allocate resources to improve the experience of BIPOC students and faculty. We have been pleased to note that several colleges and organizations on campus have led out in prioritizing difficult discussions around race, equity, and belonging within their fields of expertise. We note also that the university has taken important steps to increase the diversity of those invited to speak at devotionals and forums. ...

“In addition, students have been creative in organizing clubs and interest groups dedicated to improving campus equity.”

Here is the complete list of recommendations:

Institutional and Organizational Reforms

1. Create a central Office of Diversity and Belonging at the university charged with strategic planning and implementation of initiatives to assist students and employees with issues related to race, equity and belonging. 2. Create a new position of vice president for diversity and belonging who reports directly to the president, is a member of the President’s Council and who oversees the Office of Diversity and Belonging. 3. Implement clear lines of accountability to empower the Office of Diversity and Belonging to coordinate, focus and leverage the efforts of Multicultural Student Services, International Student and Scholar Services and the Office of Student Success and Inclusion. These offices might efficiently report to the Office of Diversity and Belonging which will allow for focused efforts to serve BIPOC students academically and to enhance their sense of well-being and belonging. 4. Develop and implement extensive diversity and inclusion training programs and resources for students, faculty, staff and administrators. This training would be facilitated by the Office of Diversity and Belonging. 5. Commit to curricular changes to general education, religion and elective courses that educate students on race, unity and diversity 6. Consider additions to the Aims of a BYU Education that reflect current statements from prophets and apostles about the need to demonstrate civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect. Promote current language in BYU’s mission statement that calls for loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor and for a broad education that helps students understand important ideas in their own cultural tradition as well as that of others. 7. Promote and implement the Fostering an Enriched Environment Policy throughout the university. 8. Encourage colleges and departments to adopt statements on race, equity and belonging that can be used in college and department operations and communications. 9. Establish a standing university committee dedicated to advancing racial understanding, enhancing equity and promoting belonging for BIPOC communities at BYU. In order to more expeditiously accomplish this recommendation, a proposed charter is included...

Student Belonging and Equity Reforms

10. Establish a new position of vice president or associate vice president of enrollment management and student success that is empowered to create strategic initiatives for recruitment, admission, scholarship, financial aid, retention and student success for all students and that is particularly charged with leading initiatives associated with attracting, admitting, retaining and supporting the academic success of BIPOC students. 11. Form a Recruitment, Admissions, and Student Success Committee with a charge to assist the vice president or associate vice president of enrollment management and student success to optimize attracting, admitting, retaining and supporting the academic success of BIPOC and other students. This committee should be composed of faculty members and university administrators committed to fostering an enriched environment. 12. Develop a strategic plan to increase graduation rates for BIPOC students. This plan should include collaboration between services and offices that are intended to assist BIPOC students to succeed academically. 13. Design and implement a race-conscious recruitment strategy to attract more BIPOC student applicants to BYU. 14. Perform an independent validation study on all current admissions policies, particularly the weighting systems, to evaluate whether they have a disparate impact on BIPOC applicants. Ensure that the admissions process is holistic in its application and reflects the values promoted in BYU’s Fostering an Enriched Environment Policy. 15. Invite the Office of the General Counsel to evaluate the legal parameters of a race-conscious admissions model for BYU, in the interest of pursuing an enriched environment for the student body. 16. Select prestigious scholarship recipients with greater emphasis on a holistic review of the entire applicant file, with criteria to include commitment to excellence, leadership potential, socioeconomic profile, adverse life circumstances, etc. We recommend a scrutiny of policies for determining scholarship criteria and their impact on BIPOC applicants. 17. Create Enriched Environment Scholarships honoring early BIPOC members of the church, such as Jane Manning James, Elijah Abel and others, to be made available to students who have demonstrated a commitment to the values contained in the Fostering an Enriched Environment Policy. 18. Create socioeconomic disadvantage scholarships, in addition to existing need-based scholarships, for students who demonstrate that they come from socioeconomically disadvantaged circumstances, who have faced adversities attendant to such circumstances and who demonstrate the need for financial support in order to obtain a BYU education. 19. Create a process that allows students to report instances of racial discrimination on campus. Through this process, such claims could be investigated and redressed, as appropriate. 20. Establish a dedicated, visible space on campus for underrepresented students and those who serve this population; such a space will foster community and promote belonging. 21. Take steps to ensure that the BYU Honor Code and Dress and Grooming Standards are applied with cultural competence and sensitivity.

Faculty Reforms

22. Design a best practices model for college and department faculty search committees to identify qualified BIPOC candidates for BYU faculty positions. Such a model could be based on three intertwined aims: commitment to the mission of the university and its sponsoring institution (mission fit), excellence in academic discipline (including teaching and scholarship), and diversity (in its many forms: racial and intellectual). 23. Assist and incentivize colleges and departments in developing a strategic plan to identify and mentor BIPOC students who are interested in pursuing careers in academia. This will also serve as a potential pipeline for future hires at BYU. 24. Create an Emerging Scholars Program that allows the university to track, identify and invite BIPOC Ph.D. students to present their scholarship at BYU. 25. Design a strategic plan that will assist with mentoring, training, supporting, recognizing, connecting and developing BIPOC faculty at BYU, while consciously planning to alleviate the cultural taxation burdens carried by BIPOC faculty at BYU. 26. Provide BIPOC faculty with opportunities to serve in senior university leadership positions.