Ryan Wallentine: When BYU fails to confront racism on its campus, blame BYU

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pictures of the Brigham Young University (BYU).

On Feb. 6, a panel at Brigham Young University shared the experience of being black and an immigrant in America. The panel itself was executed incredibly well, and the panelists provided enriching perspectives.

However, under the cloak of anonymity provided by the app used to submit questions, some audience members seized this opportunity to display ignorance and racism.

This made national headlines and prompted condemnation of BYU for this racism. BYU responded by condemning racism yet provided no apology or tangible response.

A recent opinion piece in The Salt Lake Tribune attempted to exonerate BYU of its responsibility in the matter. It claimed those pushing for change were using a “discrete example of personal racism to create the perception that it stems from a systematic problem that BYU has responsibility to rectify.” It purported that these antiracist advocates were pushing some kind of “agenda” and implicitly accused them of shifting responsibility.

There are two main problems with these conclusions. First, the piece ignores all other incidents of racism at BYU to push its own misunderstanding that there is no problem. Second, the piece misplaces responsibility by attempting to shift the blame from BYU onto the people negatively affected by these incidents.

First, this is not an isolated incident. Last year, an event celebrating black pioneers in America was concluded with a man who began spouting historical justifications of slavery. Last November, white-supremacist posters and stickers were scattered across campus. Even a charity event in Martin Luther King Jr.’s name had almost no mention of Martin Luther King Jr., his fight against racism or anything connected to this legacy. Not to mention the everyday racism students of color experience from their peers.

One source of these issues is ignorance of and an inability to speak about issues of race. These issues can be partially combated by education, and who better to educate people about these issues than the university?

When these problems persist, when the university has power and resources to do something about it, and when the university continually does nothing more than condemn the incidents, the university is responsible for the problem’s continuation.

Second, the opinion piece erroneously places the onus to act on affected students rather than the administration with power to do fix it. Furthermore, it pretends that the anti-racist advocates’ actions amount to nothing more than shifting responsibility.

But the antiracist advocates are organizing events. They are working to rid BYU of racism. And, in addition, they are pressuring the administration to do its part. The author seems to have forgotten that the racism was displayed at an event that was doing the very thing she implies the antiracist advocates are not doing.

Finally, the piece concludes with the troubling assertion that the antiracist advocates "care more about diversity than they do about the qualifications of the person," as if diversity cannot be an important qualification.

A piece seeking to absolve BYU of its students’ racist actions concludes with the racist ideology that perpetuates the myth that people of color make it into quality institutions only because of their race rather than their merits. The piece ignores the benefits of having a diverse faculty.

Diversity would allow the administration to more fully represent all of its students; not just the white ones. When hiring faculty, diversity of backgrounds is vital to achieving the best results.

Racism is a problem at BYU, in Utah, and throughout the United States. Shifting responsibility to combat racism from those in power to those affected by it is one of many barriers to solving this problem.

Ryan Wallentine

Ryan Wallentine, Provo, graduated from Utah State University with degrees in mathematics and history and is a second-year law student at Brigham Young University.