From the mountains in Peru, to the temples in Japan, to the desert in Las Vegas, one BYU graduate has seen it all.
Cassie Bingham, who recently graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, has developed her interest and respect for other cultures by traveling the world and growing up around the United States.
“My (birth-father) is black and my (birth-mother) is white, but I was adopted by my white stepdad so I’ve always stood out in my family,” Bingham said. “My stepdad was in dental school through the military, so I moved about every two years. I saw non-Mormon culture and Mormon culture. There were times where I was the only black kid in school and times where I had a whole group of diverse friends. I think that gave me a good range of diversity while I was still young.”
Bingham’s friends, whether lifelong or recent, recognize her open mind and love for all people and cultures. Kelby Gummersall, from Spokane, Wash., met Bingham this summer, and the two quickly became friends.
“I feel so lucky to just know Cassie. She has inspired me in so many ways, especially with her outlook on life,” Gummersall said. “She sees and understands things in a way that most people do not.”
Ben Pugh, who met Bingham in high school in Spokane, says she has been the biggest influence in his life.
“I had always been such a shy and awkward person, but somehow I got the courage to just go up and introduce myself (to Bingham), and for some reason we clicked,” Pugh said. “The way that she is so fearless herself helped me overcome my own awkward shyness. She always knows what she wants and how she’s going to achieve it and doesn’t let problems get in her way. She’s always been such an incredibly hard worker.”
During a trip to Peru while she was 16, Bingham developed a strong sense of wanderlust.
“I fell in love with Peru because it wasn’t really touristy,” Bingham said. “It was while I was there that I realized I (wanted) to study something that dealt with culture and travel.”
While she started out as a humanities major, she quickly switched to anthropology. She felt that anthropology looked at the aesthetics of culture but also the social part of culture. While nannying in Japan, after her freshman year at BYU, Bingham became even more aware of difference in culture and the importance of respect.
“The trip made me more aware of culture respect,” Bingham said. “I feel like tourists go to places for the pictures, food, etc., but that’s not respectful to other cultures. Other people take for granted things that they keep sacred.”
While she was in Japan, Bingham had a life-changing moment.
“I started snapping hundreds of pictures of the Kinakuji Temple and was like, ‘What I am I doing?’ There was this beautiful building, and I was only experiencing it through my camera,” Bingham said. “It was then that I realized that I didn’t want to just be another tourist, but I wanted to learn about the people and the history and everything that made these different places so great.”
For her field study in anthropology, Bingham had the opportunity to travel to Africa. There she studied cultural relativism, or the idea that an important cultural idea varies from one society to another.
“Studying in Africa taught me to not be entitled. My study was about who I was with. I was being blessed and privileged to take something that the culture offered me,” Bingham said. “Going to Africa wasn’t an advantage to those people because I was there, it was an advantage to me because I got to meet them and learn more about their life.”
Now, post graduation, Bingham can see exactly how studying anthropology has changed her life.
“Anthropology is a part of my testimony, which may sound kind of weird because some people think it contradicts things that the Church stands for,” Bingham said. “But, it’s made it so I really appreciate the different cultures that Heavenly Father has created and that everyone is valuable and appreciated.”
All of Bingham’s adventures have shaped her view on life.
“Cassie gets her knowledge in life through experience. Whether through something as simple as a deep, thoughtful discussion or a three-month field study in the village life of Ghana, she values it all the same,” Pugh said. “She’s gone to so many unique places and seen people living in such different situations that she’s been able to reinforce her appreciation for the little things in life and the value you can find in everything.”
At the end of November, Bingham left on an LDS mission to Bolivia. Her studies in anthropology and her experiences traveling will help her while she serves in a new culture.
“I am absolutely certain that Cassie will be an outstanding missionary. I think that all of her travel has prepared her to not only adapt in other cultures but also appreciate them,” Gummersall said. “She is also wonderful at making genuine connections with people, and I think that trait more than anything will be a great missionary tool.”
Not only does Bingham want to share the gospel, but she wants the people she will teach to know how important they are.
“I want the people of Bolivia to appreciate and know that they are valuable,” Bingham said. “We’re all different culturally, but we can still contribute in the same gospel truths.”