Brigham Young University made national headlines when anonymous audience members submitted offensive statements at a discussion where panelists related their experiences at persons of color at the university. This event kick-started Black History Month.
“Why don’t we have any white people on stage?”
“How is it to be black? I don’t see color.”
“Why do we celebrate black history? Why not Mexican history? Or white history?”
“Why do we act like all black people don’t get treated well? There are also white, Mexican, Chinese, and other races not getting treated well.”
BYU Officials condemned these statements and tweets regarding this matter circulated around the University. These statements reveal personal racism of individuals, but do not point towards systematic racism. However, the response on campus would suggest otherwise.
A petition has circulated around campus that says that they “were disheartened … by the lack of formal apology to the speakers.” Also, it requests that BYU require a multicultural general education course, sponsor more panels, events and discussions and hire more diverse faculty members.
BYU should not have to apologize because individuals submitted racist statements to a panel. The institution did not make these racist statements and to suggest that it should issue a formal apology indicates a fundamental misunderstanding between institutional and personal racism.
The condemnation of these statements suffices because BYU cannot and should not take responsibility for racist individuals who may or may not be associated with the institution in the first place. The petition assumes that the individual racism of anonymous trolls equates to an institutional problem when BYU has no racial discrimination policies.
I do not deny that the Honor Code proposes certain behavioral standards, but BYU has the right to do this as a private institution. No racist policies exist within the university framework.
The students who created this petition use this discrete example of personal racism to create the perception that it stems from a systematic problem that BYU has a responsibility to rectify. Each of the demands reveals this agenda.
This petition neglects that the university already has a multicultural general education course known as “Global and Cultural Awareness,” one of two requirements under the section entitled “The Individual and Society.” Courses that may fulfill this requirement include: “Social/Cultural Anthropology,” “Global Leadership,” “European Expansion,” “Slavery in Africa & Atlantic,” etc.
BYU has already taken measures to integrate global education into a bachelor’s degree, a fact which the petition neglects. Furthermore, the petition does not consider that university-sponsored organizations — not the university itself — puts on the vast majority of events on campus.
Instead of working with several of the organizations that promote diversity on campus to organize more panels, the petition calls for BYU to take responsibility for a problem that it is not responsible for creating. The students behind this petition could have taken initiative to organize an event in response, but they choose to sound off and encourage others to take responsibility.
Lastly, the call for more diversity faculty reveals another concerning problem. These students care more about diversity than they do about the qualifications of the person. If a job opens and the most qualified candidate is white, hire the white person. If a black person is more qualified, hire the black person.
Consequentially, while the questions asked at the event show insensitivity and racism, the response to it conflate the racism of individuals with the institution. They use an unfortunate incident as a vehicle for pushing their own agenda without considering the action that they themselves could take.
Hanna Seariac is an undergraduate in classical studies at Brigham Young University.