Commentary: Does Brigham Young University value ethnic diversity?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Graduates find loved ones in the audience as Brigham Young University in Provo holds its 2018 commencement Thursday, April 26, at the Marriott Center. This is one of the largest classes ever to graduate from BYU due to the number of female students who temporarily left campus around 2013-14 to serve missions.

“It’s like being a drop of soy sauce in a bowl of white rice,” said one minority student at Brigham Young University.

Ethnic diversity is one of the greatest things an organization such as a university can achieve. Many future college students take ethnic diversity into consideration when choosing a place of study, including my younger sister, who chose not to apply to BYU due to its lack of ethnic diversity.

BYU claims to value this type of diversity, but are they really doing enough to promote it? I’m here to say that from my experience, BYU has not valued ethnic diversity enough to make a difference.

As a BYU student with an Hispanic background who lived all his life in Provo, the, “drop of soy sauce in a bowl of white rice,” metaphor seems very applicable.

Some may say, “OK. But this doesn’t apply to me so why does it matter?”

Having had the experience to travel and live in different parts of the world, I have seen the value of cultural awareness and the impact it has on an individual. When a student learns in a culturally diverse setting, they become much more aware of the world around them and of the different peoples and cultures. In experiencing these things first-hand, an individual may be able to recognize that there are more beliefs, thoughts and ways of life than the ones in which they live. An ethnically diverse place of learning allows for more opportunities to learn from the experiences and perspectives of others, which expands the learning of all students in the class.

Now looking a little closer at BYU, one might say, “How can BYU not be ethnically diverse? Have you not seen the defensive line on their football team?”

To that I say, yes, I have noticed the 6-feet-plus Polynesians defending our Cougar pride. But to know how ethnically diverse the university really is, we must look beyond simply the athletic fields.

According to BYU’s own published statistics, 82 percent of its student body is Caucasian. That is very much the opposite of diverse and, when one begins to walk around campus, the numbers stand out.

Despite the fact that the BYU student body may not be very ethnically diverse, it’s true that many of the students have had the opportunity to be exposed to other cultures through LDS mission service. The problem is that when these missionaries return to attend school here in Provo, that cultural exposure disappears in the flow of normal life, despite the one cultural awareness class requirement. The fact that a student may get away with only taking one class in their entire college career to expand their cultural awareness shows the disvalue of ethnic diversity.

BYU has a somewhat lower acceptance rate for applicants and has very high academic standards for applicants to be admitted. Even for someone such as myself, who has benefited from a good education all his life, it is a very rigorous and challenging process to apply to BYU. Due to this, BYU has inadvertently made it difficult for minorities to be accepted into the university. Minorities tend to be from a lower socioeconomic background, with less access to educational resources. If this continues, ethnic diversity within BYU will fail to grow.

Respectfully, BYU has made its attempts to increase cultural awareness and increase ethnic diversity. May BYU and surrounding universities recognize a greater need for our minority students. Our community’s future depends on it.

Nathan Winward

Nathan Winward is a first-year undergraduate student at Brigham Young University.