Brigham Young University formed its Committee on Race, Equity & Belonging last summer as part of a broad effort to root out racism, heal wounds and build bridges of understanding across the vast campus community.
That effort, according to the committee, “begins with understanding and living the two greatest commandments given to us by the Master Healer, Jesus Christ: to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves” (Matthew 22:35–39).
On Friday, BYU released key findings from its national diversity and equity campus climate survey that included data from nearly 20,000 respondents.
“As a committee, we felt fortunate and honored to hear individuals from the BYU community recount their experiences of racism. Their honesty and courage will help BYU become a greater place of belonging,” said Ryan Gabriel, an assistant professor of sociology and a committee member, in the BYU release.
“We witnessed an outpouring of support and saw how many at BYU were actively working to improve the campus climate by meeting the call from the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, to build bridges of understanding. It was inspiring.”
Committee members include school administrators, professors and an athletic team coach.
BYU law professor and committee member Michalyn Steele added she is “encouraged and hopeful” for meaningful change to improve the experience of Black, Indigenous and other people of color at BYU.
“I am gratified by the widespread commitment in the BYU community to lead out in realizing a more inclusive future where the diverse gifts of each individual are welcomed,” she said. “The committee’s work is an important first step in building that future together; it is the work of every member of the BYU family to be part of the positive change to come.”
The national Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium campus climate survey can be found at data.byu.edu. In addition to the consortium’s findings, more information about student academic success, including graduation rates, can be found at this data.byu.edu link.
The findings from the survey, noted Friday’s announcement, emphasize the need to create a sense of belonging for every BYU student and employee.
Key survey findings include:
- Overall, the majority of students and employees (80%) reported satisfaction with the overall BYU campus climate, with 9% reporting they were dissatisfied.
- While a majority of non-white students and employees (71%) also expressed satisfaction with the campus climate, the difference between the two groups, as well as the fact that 13% of the non-white students and employees were dissatisfied with the overall climate, indicates that there is need for more work if all students and employees are to feel fully welcomed in the BYU community.
- BYU has official discrimination complaint procedures, yet only 37% of all undergraduate students said they knew who to contact if they experienced or observed an act of discrimination or harassment.
- The survey also found that 16% of respondents said they had experienced discrimination or harassment on the BYU campus, at an off-campus residence or in a BYU-affiliated off-campus program or event. Of the 16%, the most common form experienced in the last year was derogatory remarks.
Worthen said the committee and its initial study were prompted by the call from Church leaders and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that educational institutions review processes, policies and organizational attitudes regarding racism — and root them out.
The Committee on Race, Equality & Belonging, added Worthen, has worked tirelessly to accomplish that goal.
“They did not always agree on the issues they discussed, but it was clear in my meeting with them that they have grown to respect and love one another despite their differences,” he said in the BYU release.
“In addition to the specific recommendations they have produced, they have provided an example of how these important conversations can transform both institutions and individuals. The university will be a better place going forward because of their efforts. We owe a debt of gratitude to every member of (the committee).”
The committee’s report, along with the Higher Education Data Sharing findings, has given the university a greater and better understanding of the experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of color at BYU, said Worthen.
“With the committee’s recommendations we now have specific actions to address the issues and concerns the study found. We also have a model of how counseling together can have remarkable results.”
In its report, the committee acknowledges its work to identify the sources and effects of racism at BYU is ongoing. The committee’s knowledge, expertise and experience will be helpful to the President’s Council, which will have significant responsibilities for addressing the findings and recommendations, the news release noted.
“All of the recommendations are extremely helpful,” said Worthen. “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 collegewide statements on race and belonging, are already in process,” said Worthen.
“Others will take more time; some will require additional consideration. The committee’s full report and the recommendations will help us better nurture and retain our (Black, Indigenous and people of color) 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.”
Though most students and employees reported satisfaction with the overall climate, BYU’s assistant to the president for assessment and planning, Rosemary Thackeray, said the survey does help point out where improvements can and need to be made.
“These findings reiterate President Worthen’s counsel that he gave us this summer,” said Thackeray in Friday’s news release. “He encouraged us to ‘come together, to address injustice and to truly love one another.’
“The work of (the committee) and the campus climate survey is part of the sustained effort the president asked of us to make things better on campus for everyone.”
In its initial statement last summer, the committee outlined its plans to “enhance belonging at BYU” by:
- “Listening to our beloved Black BYU community to understand how racism has frustrated and continues to frustrate their experiences at BYU.
- “Inviting the input of all of our beloved Black, Indigenous and people of color at BYU as well as those committed to ridding BYU of racism through the establishment of racial equity and belonging.
- “Conducting a thorough quantitative and qualitative review of how processes, policies, practices, procedures, operations and attitudes impact our (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities at BYU.
- “Identifying the issues that negatively impact the prosperity of (those) communities at BYU.
- “Drawing on the expertise of individual faculty and administrators within BYU to understand both the subtle and overt ways that racism may impact individual thought and interactions, organizational units, processes, policies, practices, procedures and operations.
- “Creating, prioritizing and presenting a comprehensive set of recommendations that will assist BYU to advance racial understanding, enhance equity and promote belonging, and that will have a significant and enduring positive impact on the prosperity of our (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities at BYU.”