The new Life Sciences Building differs from most other buildings on campus in one notable aspect: it doesn’t bear the name of a prominent Mormon.
An online petition makes advances to reach the desk of President Kevin J. Worthen in hopes that he’ll name it after a prominent Mormon woman.
According to the group’s Facebook page, “BYU’s new Life Sciences Building is not named after anyone. Let’s honor a Mormon woman and give this building a proper name.”
The Facebook page launched Sept. 14 this year, with more than 280 likes to date. The page links to the formal petition, created by Kristi Thomas Boyce, which has more than 1,470 supporters. The goal is 10,000.
Boyce said that 10,000 seemed like a high number to shoot for but is pleased at the momentum so far. She said she wants to maintain that momentum and keep people talking and spreading the word.
Boyce said she hopes to reach 10,000 signatures by the end of the school year.
“We’ve had over 1,000 in a couple days, but of course the first little while you start anything you get momentum at the beginning. If it happened by December, that would be all the better,” Boyce said.
Chelsea Connelly, a BYU student from Macomb, Ill., signed the petition.
“BYU is made up of men and women. Why shouldn’t the names of buildings reflect that?” Connelly commented on the petition’s page.
Boyce said that to her knowledge, the University never put the name up for a vote or asked students or alumni for input. She said she understands why some people are hesitant to push for a new name. “Ultimately the Board of Directors handles this, and those are some pretty high-ranking general authorities in the Church,” Boyce said.
Boyce said this is a secular issue, not a religious one.
“There’s a difference between authorities exercising religious or secular authority. I think we are well within bounds and not stepping on any toes of Church Administration or officials,” Boyce said.
The petitioners believe it is time for a well-known campus building to be named after a woman. They also hope more women enter the STEM field.
“With half the student body being female, and our history full of fantastic examples of faith and academic excellence, why would we even consider something different?” said Kathryn Pearson, another supporter. “Our new BYU leadership has a great opportunity here. We are watching, and we do care. And yes, small things make a difference in a big way.”
Information on the petition’s page explains that “only two buildings are named after women: The Caroline Hemingway Harman Building and Amanda Knight Hall. If neither of these places sound familiar to you, you’re not alone.”
The Harman Building is located near New Heritage Halls and houses the continuing education program. According to the petition, “the vast majority of BYU graduates (in fact, nearly all of them) never pass through its doors.”
Amanda Knight Hall, a former women’s dormitory, served as a language training center prior to the construction of the MTC. Since 1999, it has “temporarily housed several academic groups during construction and remodeling of various campus buildings.”
Boyce said that many have brought up the fact that when the building was announced in Nov. 2011, it was called the Life Sciences Building. Boyce said she is a hopeful person who believes that “things can always change.”
“I’ve heard from Administration that there’s a new trend to not name buildings after people,” Boyce said. “We’ve seen that with the Broadcast Building and now with Life Sciences. I think it’s a matter of showing demand for it. If we get enough people asking for something, they (Administration) should at least consider it or find some avenue to honor a woman in a different way, even if it’s not through renaming this building.”
Jason Sandvik, a BYU graduate from Tualatin, Oregon, signed the petition.
“Our culture (BYU and LDS) needs to better recognize accomplished females,” he commented on the petition’s page.
The petition presents the names of four potential women: Martha Hughes Cannon, Ellis Reynolds Shipp, Romania B. Pratt Penrose and Jane Manning James. Cannon, Shipp and Penrose were some of the first STEM pioneers at BYU. James was a prominent black pioneer in early Church history.
Petitioners added James to the list because other buildings on campus do not directly relate to the people they’re named after. The petition argues that Harold B. Lee was not a librarian and J. Williard Marriott didn’t play basketball, so James’ nomination is applicable.
“Martha, Ellis, Romania and Jane are just four of many, many Mormon women whose stories are crying out from the dust. Let’s honor a foremother. Let’s honor a role model. Let’s give the LSB a proper name,” the petition states.
Boyce said that she does not want to step on any toes during this process. Boyce is no longer a BYU student, so she said this is a difficult situation because she is not directly affiliated with a club or organization.
She said she has spoken with University Police as well as scheduling coordinators in the Wilkinson Center to go through proper channels.
“Primarily, this is a social-media driven campaign. I have ideas for other things in the near future that are a little more active. If this succeeds, it’s primarily because people are passionate about it, people shared it and people signed the petition,” Boyce said.
The petition can be found here.