Franchesca Lopez: Students of color face racial abuse at BYU

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University Graduates make their way to the Marriott Center for the 144th BYU Commencement, Thursday, April 25, 2019.

Students of color face daily racial abuse at Brigham Young University, and BYU is responsible.

As a freshman in a career explorations class, I heard a white, male student joke that I ate rice and beans every day. Despite making these comments in front of several other students and a professor, he was not held accountable.

My friend is an international student from Ecuador who had a professor tell her and another student that they wouldn’t learn English if they continued to speak Spanish before asking them to stop.

These examples exemplify how BYU has failed to train its professors to identify and dismantle their internalized racism and to intervene when their students make racist comments. Just last year, I had a professor who would refuse to call on the one black female student or myself if there were white students who had questions.

My friends’ experiences and mine are not unique. The argument expressed in The Salt Lake Tribune Feb. 18 by BYU student Hanna Seariac argument is a slap in the face for us who deserve so much more than an apology from BYU and have received so much less.

The most egregious error Hanna makes in her article is falling for three of the five fallacies of racism, specifically the individualistic, legalistic and tokenistic fallacies.

Individualistic fallacies are when people argue racism exists in attitudes made on an individual level, ignoring institutionalized racism.

Hanna argues, “The institution did not make these racist statements,” and therefore has no responsibility to apologize for it. This ignores institutional and structural racism. Despite Hanna’s claim that BYU has “no racist policies,” BYU’s policies discriminate against students of color. This ranges from the Honor Code enforcement of “natural hair colors” to the statistic that black students at BYU are expelled at a rate nine times higher than white students.

Legalistic fallacies are when people argue that racism doesn’t exist because laws have been put in place to prevent it. This fails to account for the discrepancy between law and lived experience.

Hanna’s assertion that the students behind a recent petition are simply reflecting an agenda is a part of the legalistic fallacy. Hanna’s argument purports that because BYU has no racist policies, it doesn’t contribute to environments enabling racist comments. This is blatantly inaccurate and ignores the multiple experiences of students of color, not just what occurred at the Black & Immigrant panel.

Tokenistic fallacies declare that racism doesn’t exist because exceptional examples were privileged enough to overcome the barriers of institutionalized racism. Though Hanna doesn’t express tokenistic fallacies through a person, she does express it through her belief that the petition asking for a multicultural general education course is unneeded as there is already a “Global and Cultural Awareness” course, equating this course with the solution of racism on campus.

If this Global and Cultural Awareness course were enough to teach the antiracist coursework that BYU students and faculty desperately need, by Hanna’s logic, we should have seen a decline in racially motivated incidents on campus. Whether or not the racist commenters at the Black & Immigrant panel were students, the fact remains they felt comfortable enough to spew racist hatred on campus.

We cannot say that crimes committed in our home are not under our jurisdiction, simply because we are not covered in blood.

Along with the three fallacies, Hanna makes a racist remark in her article when she asserts that, “These students care more about diversity than they do about the qualifications of the person.” This is an internalized racist assumption that scholars of color don’t naturally measure up to white scholars.

What Hanna saw as an overreaction to a single racist incident was a symptom of a much more complex problem. We all have internalized racism, and it is each of our responsibility to unlearn it. It is hard and takes course correction.

I hope that Hanna, along with other BYU students and faculty, recognize this op-ed not as an attack but as a sincere course-correction from a hurt, albeit hopeful, student of color.

Franchesca Lopez

Franchesca Lopez, Provo, is an undergraduate at Brigham Young University majoring in sociology.