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Arthur Diaz: Allowing returned missionaries extra language credits discriminates against native speakers

All students who learn another language outside of the classroom deserve the same credit.

(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.

Utah universities and colleges must stop discriminating against their diverse students in favor of privileging Latter-day Saint students.

Recently, members of the Utah Republican State Central Committee passed a resolution saying critical race theory, “establishes the false premise that America has been and always will be a systemically racist nation.” What these legislators fail to acknowledge is that discrimination continues through complex religious and racial dynamics in Utah, with a key point of concern being Utah’s foreign language credit exam policies.

Multiple institutions in higher education across the state allow returned missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to purchase up to 16 credit hours of college credit for speaking a foreign language, but prevent their diverse students from taking the same exam to qualify for language credit. Schools deny the privilege of purchasing language credit to students who grew up speaking a foreign language, whether as a heritage speaker or an international student. However, these universities deem outside knowledge of a foreign language from a religious background to be of acceptable academic merit.

These institutional practices and written policies perpetuate a system of discrimination based on race and ethnicity. While this issue seems to be a statewide concern, three universities in particular have published information regarding these exams online, in no unclear terms. Other universities, I have been told, follow similar practices that are not readily transparent.

The University of Utah states on its website “international students are not eligible to purchase credits in their native language.”

Much to the same affect, Utah Valley University Policy 522 states: “Students may not take 1000 or 2000 level language courses in their dominant language, nor may they receive credit for those courses through testing procedures.”

Likewise, Weber State University’s procedures for foreign language credit state “students may not earn lower-division foreign language credit for proficiency in their native language.”

Not only do these policies unfairly privilege LDS students, but they also exacerbate inequities that threaten access to scholarships and funding for minority students. Bolstered by up to 16 credits, many LDS returned missionaries gain easy access to merit-based scholarships, while diverse students are expected to attend college in their second language, and must learn a third language to qualify for the bachelor of arts distinction.

Latter-day Saints gain their foreign language from experiences outside the classroom, so why is the same impermissible for students who grow up speaking a foreign language?

As a leader for diversity and equity in higher education, President Astrid Tuminez has stated Utah’s universities need to better support Latino students. I believe that changing these policies at UVU, and encouraging her peers across the state to re-examine their institutional practices would be a great start.

Arthur Diaz

Arthur Diaz, Murray, is a recent Utah Valley University graduate, the 2021 Student Champion of Inclusion, and was recently featured by the Utah division of Multicultural Affairs as an emerging leader in Utah.

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