Kissing is just cuddling with your lips. -Krishna
Question #92978 posted on 03/25/2020 4:47 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

This Sunday, I was listening to President M. Russell Ballard's BYU devotional from March 3rd. See here:

Towards the end, Elder Ballard emphatically reiterated his primary topic, that we are each children of a loving God, and that this is important. (His related sub-topic appears to be that we should act with dignity and love towards ourselves, God, and others). It seems that after feeling sure of his topic, Elder Ballard became [more?] aware of some controversy at BYU, and he saw in retrospect how reminding students of BYU of their individual divine heritage might serve as some sort of counterweight to some overly aggressive tone the controversy might otherwise end up taking.

I am paraphrasing very, very loosely, partly because to paraphrase, I have to reconstruct the argument.

So my question:
Are there any resources/summaries I can look at to have a brief overview of the controversy? (And would it do me, an alumni, any good, any way?)

I am asking that you be ginger. I want true or at least honest sources, and I want to avoid anything that could reasonably be construed as (unreasonably) dangerous to my faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or to my faith in humanity.

I don't especially want to maximize length; I don't necessarily want to read much about controversies right now.

-Although your discretion can't be of use, if I am too easily offended.


Dear friend, 

Which controversy do you mean? I felt that he talked most specifically about race in his devotional, much more than addressing LGTBQ+ folks on campus. This seems to be what most people around me heard as well. So, here is essentially what I know about the race controversy on campus. 

As a sociology student, talked directly to two of the panelists and the professor that organized and moderated the event. So I know pretty much from the source what happened. If you would like to understand the official report of what happened, please refer to this tweet thread by BYU and this article from the SL Trib. If you'd rather avoid that, I promise I won't throw in a lot of opinions and my information is solid and good. 

As part of Black History Month, a group of people including a Sociology professor and the student president of the Black Student Union on campus planned a panel event to be held on campus called "Black and Immigrant." Four Black female panelists were selected, all of them from different backgrounds. The panel decided to use a program/app called Slido which allowed students in attendance to anonymously submit questions to be reviewed by the moderator and then asked to the panelists. The anonymous questions were visible to all people at the event using the app, allowing people to vote for their 'favorite' questions, which is designed to show the moderator which questions are something that a lot of people are thinking about and address the most important ones first. 

From one of the organizers, I was told that a couple minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, a group of three young white men approached the desk and asked for the code to submit questions to the panel. Out of good faith, the organizers provided them with the code and thanked them for showing up. Then, the boys left quickly and didn't stay for the panel. There were a handful of explicitly racist questions that were asked before the rest of the questions started coming in, so it was clear those boys were the ones that asked them before they hurried off. This would make it pretty obvious the questions they were asking weren't honest or asked out of curiosity and wanting to learn, they were intentionally asked to start a controversy. 

Having those racist questions visible to other students at the panel seemed to change the tone of what was acceptable in terms of asking questions. More problematic questions flowed in, of course interspersed with genuine and good questions that were discussed by the panelists. However, everyone saw what was said. The panelists, the moderator, the attendees. At an event that was designed to be a place to have a good discussion and promote understanding, people were left feeling alienated, hurt, and confused. 

BYU, in the quoted tweet thread, emphasized that this is not acceptable behavior and the university does not stand for or condone racist behavior. The problem is, the questions were anonymous and the boys never provided their names, so it is unlikely they'll receive any rebuke. Aside from the short tweet thread, BYU didn't add much else. 

Racism is a problem on BYU campus. I've witnessed a plethora of instances in classes and passing people as I walk around during the day. I've heard stories from my friends about the Honor Code office and Testing Center, as well as in general in their classes and with peers. You can read some stories on the Stop Your Silence BYU Instagram Page

Though you can report interpersonal disrespect to the Honor Code office, there are rarely consequences for individual racist actions and behaviors. Additionally, there are structural occurrences across campus that probably need to be addressed, like profiling people for hair and clothing that doesn't conform to a white standard. 

This issue highlighted the lack of institutional-level action against racism on campus, and further made minority students on campus feel alienated, unseen, and disrespected. Their feelings are important and valid and worth listening to, not dismissing. 

What happened next (and kind of where it wrapped up) was with Hanna Seariac's opinion article posted by the SL Trib, which claimed that BYU wasn't responsible to handle the racist actions of the few individuals who chose to make bad decisions at that panel. Why would their actions have anything to do with BYU as an institution? In a response article by Franchesca Lopez, she addresses why Hanna's op-ed is fallacious and falls prey to a willful blindness toward the struggles of her minority siblings in Christ. 

Those two articles kind of represent a large majority of opinions around the issue, but the point was that it made people feel unsafe and unwanted, like they didn't belong here. 

President Ballard's devotional as far as I can tell was intended to address that feeling of alienation and remind us that discussions about issues like racism on campus are necessary and important, but that ultimately we must remember that we are all children of God and need to treat each other with respect because that is our most important identity. 

Hope that helps. You can always ask a new question if you have some things you'd like me to clarify. Or shoot me an email.