It may not be as high-profile as the recent college protests at Missouri or Princeton, but that hasn’t deterred BYU student Sydney Powell from standing up — or in this case, sitting down — in protest over an unlikely object: a bench that used to sit at the north entrance of the Harold B. Lee Library.
Powell, a junior studying English, once made the now infamous bench a regular spot for her studies before she left for an LDS mission to California in Spring 2013. When she came back 18 months later, the bench had disappeared.
She has written several issue papers for her English classes about the relationship she has with that spot — “her spot” — in the library and the bench that was unjustly taken from her.
“I searched all of BYU library for the perfect spot,” Powell wrote in an essay titled “Lost Bench.” “I went upstairs and tried to find empty tables … Every table was filled with flirting, giggling students. It was disgusting to behold.”
“I was at a loss,” Powell continued in the essay. “I gave up and was on my way out of the library when I saw a shining light in my dark abyss. A bench that had no human being sitting on it near the entrance of the library. I slowly walked towards it, afraid that I was dreaming. I slowly touched it with my hand; it was solid and cold.
“I tentatively sat down and was surprised to find that it was perfect to sit upon. Not too hard and not too soft. I noticed the electric plug that perfectly fit my computer charger. I could hear the BYU Men’s Choir sing Hallelujah from the HFAC. I had found the perfect study spot.”
Powell said sitting in that spot helped her improve her social skills. Many people would come up to her to talk.
James Willis, a junior and public heath major, said he met Powell while walking through the library.
“At first I thought something was wrong,” Willis said. “But there wasn’t. She is very relaxed and a great listener. This is her favorite spot and it is fun sitting next to her and then wink(ing) at students as they pass by.”
Library security guard Justin Peter Gallo said he feels bad that Powell is always sitting on the floor. He has offered to get her a pad to sit on so she’d be more comfortable.
While Powell was on her 18-month mission in San Jose, California, her bench was removed from its location. When she came home from her mission and saw it was gone, she immediately emailed BYU to ask where her bench was.
Remote Services Manager Linda Hutchings responded saying the bench was most likely removed because it was a hazard in the case of an emergency alarm exit.
“An 18-wheeler could’ve driven through that hallway, and not have bumped into that bench,” Powell responded. “The trash can that is as wide as the bench is still there. And I have been sitting there on that floor, and no one has tripped over me.”
Despite the absence of a bench, Powell continues to sit in her perfect spot hoping that the library will put her bench back.
“For the first while it wasn’t so comfortable,” Powell said. “My back was starting to hurt. I’d stand up and walk all day and I’d be stiff. But I think I’ve formed some sort of muscle in my buttock area where it doesn’t affect me anymore.”
Powell has been sitting on the floor almost every day for the past year and a half and will continue to do so until she gets her bench again.
“I feel fairly confident the cautionary requirement of not having a bench in this particular spot will likely remain in force,” Hutchings said. “Though I am willing request (a new bench).”
The chances that Powell will get a bench are not very likely, but Hutchings has made the request. Hutchings recommended that Powell sit on the bench that is located just across from the spot.
Powell recognizes that there are other places she could sit but refuses to sit anywhere else.
“This spot is a good place,” Powell said. “It works miracles. I’ve seen people get dates from this spot when they come sit next to me. So if people need dates, come sit here.”
Powell invites people to sit with her on the floor so the library will put the bench back. Many people have accepted the invitation and there are a handful of students that sit on the floor at the north entrance of the HBLL daily.