BYU group seeking more public recognition for exemplary women

The Chief Massasoit statue outside of the library is a popular statue students like to take pictures with.

This year’s Homecoming theme, “Make Your Mark,” centers on leaving a legacy. But some are claiming that most campus legacies belong to men, giving recognition for women a backseat on the BYU campus.

The Brigham Young statue by the administration building. The towering tribute in a painting of David O. McKay. Even the Chief Massasoit Indian statue freshmen love to take pictures on.

What do they have in common? They’re men, and according to Heather Jensen, there’s an abundance of male-dominated commemorations on campus, from statues and signs to plaques and paintings.

Jensen is an art history professor and BYU Women’s Studies executive committee member. She teaches an intro to women’s studies course, and she said the topic of campus icons has been discussed within the Women’s Studies organization.

“The life-size sculptures of Massasoit and Brigham Young don’t have female counterparts,” Jensen said. “And yet so many women have made invaluable contributions to this university and to our church.”

Jensen said she took her intro to women’s studies students on a campus tour to consider campus representations of contributors to BYU. The class noted that there are very few female images on campus and that more needs to be done to recognize the contributions women have made to Mormon culture and the university.

The class came across the hall of female portraits of those selected for the title of Miss Lamanite Generation on the second floor of the Wilkinson Student Center. The class thought these portraits sent messages diminishing women’s contributions instead of celebrating them.

For example, Jensen said women in this series are valued for their beauty and not their intellect, talents or capacities.

“There isn’t a counterpart of Mr. Lamanite portraits,” Jensen said.

BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead said all physical on-campus projects are planned and reviewed by a campus planning committee, which includes several members of the BYU administration. He said the naming of new facilities or buildings is approved by the BYU Board of Trustees.

Sarah Coyne is another member of the Women’s Studies organization and a professor in the School of Family Life. Coyne studies media portrayals of women and its effects on body image and sexual behavior. She recently studied the influence of Disney princesses on preschool-age girls.

Coyne said she would like to see more recognition of women on the BYU campus. “I’m sure there are statues and other recognitions of women around campus, but the only ones that come to mind are men,” she said.

Robert Hudson, assistant professor of French literature, has directed two master’s theses on Renaissance feminism and teaches a course on early modern European women writers. Hudson pointed out that BYU is not the only college missing the mark.

“This lack of female recognition is not unique to BYU,” Hudson said. “Other campuses where I have studied or taught — Murray State University (in Kentucky) and even far more liberal UCLA — likewise lack female representation in the names of buildings and monuments.”

A tweet went viral this May involving a statue of a female at a Texas university. The statue, however, wasn’t honoring any specific woman, or honoring women at all, according to critics.

The statue depicts a woman sitting back on a bench next to a man who has a knee propped and looks down at her as they converse. The woman who tweeted about the statue calls this pose an example of “mansplaining,” a word describing the act of a man explaining something condescendingly to a woman.

The sculptor, however, explained that the statue is innocently displaying a casual conversation between students.

Southern Utah University honors Ellen Pucell Unthank, a Mormon pioneer representing endurance and heritage. Westminster’s Auntie Em statue recognizes her advocacy of childhood education, as does Utah State’s tribute to Emma Eccles Jones.

The most notable female names at BYU live either on the edge of campus at the Caroline Hemenway Harman Building or in the Wilkinson Student Center — in the basement.

“Remarkable Women: A Motion of Faith” is an 10-frame collection in the WSC basement that was put up during Women’s Month in 2000. The frames honor nine women who were leaders in activities from medicine to politics to motherhood, according to the introductory frame.

“These nine women represent leadership in a whirlwind of activities,” the introduction reads. “Whether gathering with the Saints, traveling to promote women’s rights or reaching to help their children, each build up the Kingdom of God in her own, unique way.

Although the collection has says it has been on display for 15 years, Coyne said she has never seen this exhibit. “I think it’s great,” Coyne said. “But it could probably be more visible.”

The Knight Building on campus is also named after a woman, but it’s not the Knight building students walk by each day. Jesse Knight’s wife, Amanda, has her own building, which served as a residence hall and Language Training Missionary housing. It’s located on 800 North near Brick Oven Pizza.

Coyne said she noticed that almost every single building at BYU is named after a man. “We have so many amazing women in our church history, and it would be great to see them honored with a building at BYU.”

Most female-named buildings follow Knight’s lead by serving as residence housing. Almost all of the former Heritage Halls buildings used women’s names. Some included Alice Merrill, Ruth May Fox and Martha H. Tingey. Jean Fossum May is the only female building name in Helaman Halls. Wymount has four buildings named after women.

Jensen said the women’s studies group noticed the change in residence housing with the demolition of the old Heritage Halls. “We were saddened to see that the old Heritage Halls were replaced with buildings christened with letters and numbers instead,” Jensen said.

Other building changes caught the attention of different groups, who decided to take action. Activists called upon BYU President Kevin J Worthen and the BYU Administration in October 2014 to consider naming the new Life Sciences Building after an LDS woman. A petition was formed and 2,000 people signed, but the building remains the Life Sciences Building.

Jensen said many Women’s Studies members supported the Life Science Building initiative but “nothing came of this.”

Hudson said LDS women are not the only ones to have received poor societal treatment. “Sadly, Mormon women did receive curt treatment in the annals of our history books and monuments, as is the case in nearly all historical traditions … that accompanied the various waves of feminist theory of the 60s through the 90s,” he said.

But Hudson also recognized the steps BYU is taking to keep female names alive. He commended individual colleges and departments for naming endowed chairships and lectureships after noteworthy LDS women.

Hudson named the Marjorie Pay Hinckley and Mary Lou Fulton chairs in the Family, Home and Social Science College, as well as the Nan Osmond Grass lecture and Emmeline B. Wells grant in Women’s Studies.

“I completed my undergraduate studies here at BYU with the Alfina Soffel Barrett scholarship,” he said. “So, these initiatives are a good start. It is encouraging to see that there are efforts to foster parity in some arenas on campus.”

Jensen also noticed developments in women’s recognition, namely the portraits and commemorative plaques in the basement of the Joseph Fielding Smith Building of a couple of women who have donated to the university, something she called “a step in the right direction.”

Jensen encouraged the creation of a campus committee dedicated to making decisions about art and architecture on campus.

As for statue suggestions, Jensen said Alice Louise Reynolds would make a good candidate for campus recognition. She said Reynolds was one of the most influential professors in BYU’s history, according to a poll done a few years ago.

According to Hollingshead, there are no current plans to name any new facilities, buildings or artist works after individuals.

“Most new buildings do not bear a name, including the BYU Broadcasting Building, the Life Sciences Building, the Guest House and the new Heritage Halls residences,” Hollingshead said.

Hudson said he believes the “tides are turning.” He said women are held in higher esteem and “the stodgy, patriarchal good-old-boy mentality is becoming a relic of the past and is frankly frowned upon almost unanimously.”

He said many universities are requiring sensitivity training and diversity courses for students and faculty. He also said students are made aware of what is appropriate with clearer definitions of sexual harassment.

“I think as women are provided more of a presence and a voice, the monuments and buildings will naturally follow,” he said. “For one example, the Curie Institute, one of the greatest medical research centers in the world, is named for Marie Curie. She was provided a laboratory and a voice, won the Nobel Prize and the world now celebrates her accomplishments. So, it’s coming.”

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