Sarah Jane Weaver: The lessons BYU–Hawaii teaches about diversity — and unity

In a world defined by political polarization, racial tensions and cultural divides, the gospel of Jesus Christ can foster unity

LAIE, HAWAII — As the day broke recently on a beach near the BYU–Hawaii campus, I watched students representing numerous country-based clubs on campus practice the traditional cultural dances of their nations. They all wore clothing that represented their heritage.

They were there to create a video promoting the upcoming BYU–Hawaii Culture Night.

Focusing on the cultural diversity in front of me, I began to count the countries I saw represented — Samoa, Fiji, India, Korea, Philippines, Tonga and Thailand. Even a young man boasting a cowboy hat was there to represent the mainland United States.

And the list did not end there. I listened as students spoke about Japan, Mongolia, Kiribati and the countries of Latin America.

I turned to a student, Wilford Wu, sitting on the beach nearby and began sharing the details of my awe.

Wu agreed that the representation and diversity were both impressive, but then articulated his favorite part of the unique gathering.

“We all believe the same thing,” he said.

He spoke of coming to Hawaii for an education and meeting friends from all over the world. “I can see in Laie the gospel joy of everyone together,” he said.

Wu quoted President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency speaking of oneness.

My mind immediately rushed to a time just one year ago when I also heard President Oaks speak of the power of oneness while offering historic remarks in Chicago, Ill.

“What a different world it would be if brotherly and sisterly love and unselfish assistance would transcend all boundaries of nation, creed and color,” said President Oaks on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. “Such love would not erase all differences of opinion and action, but it would encourage each of us to focus our opposition on actions rather than actors.”

Addressing members of 14 stakes in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin as part of a weekend ministry assignment, President Oaks asked Latter-day Saints to press forward, having “a love of God and of all men” (2 Nephi 31:20).

“This teaching — to follow our Savior’s command to love one another as He loves us — is one of our greatest challenges,” said President Oaks. “It requires us to live together with mutual respect for one another’s differences in today’s world. However, this living with differences is what the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us we must do.”

President Russell M. Nelson has also asked all of us to foster fundamental respect for the human dignity of every human soul.

“We need to work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation. I plead with us to work together for peace, for mutual respect and for an outpouring of love for all of God’s children.”

No where does the gospel net feel more expansive than on the campus of BYU–Hawaii.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner of Church education, has called BYU–Hawaii the Church Educational System’s Asia/Pacific capstone. Roughly 60 countries are represented in the university’s student body.

The university is fulfilling the potential and promises shared by President David O. McKay some 70 years ago.

Standing in a Sugarcane field in Laie, Hawaii, on Feb. 12, 1955, President McKay founded the Church College of Hawaii.

On that day he spoke of a vision he saw 34 years earlier when he witnessed a group of international school children participating in a flag ceremony at the Church school in Laie. President McKay recounted that he had seen in those children the ability of the gospel of Jesus Christ to unite all people.

Then he spoke of the influence of the new school — which would later become Brigham Young University–Hawaii. “From this school, I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good toward the establishment of peace internationally,” he said.

As my mind returned to the beach in front of me, I watched as students helped one another navigate sharp, steep rocks to the location they would be filming. Another student stood above them performing the Samoan fire knife dance for the cameras. A few minutes later they all stood together.

Just before Wu and his friend jumped up and ran to be part of the photographs, he spoke of his education and his plans to return to his own country to share what he has learned.

In a world defined by political polarization, racial tensions and cultural divides, Wu understands that the gospel of Jesus Christ — as well as the educational institutions its sponsors — can foster unity.

“Because of the gospel,” he said, “all these countries come together as one.”

— Sarah Jane Weaver is executive editor of the Church News.

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