Non-LDS students and faculty give advice against stereotypes

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Aadesh Neupane is the only current BYU student from Nepal. Neupane, who is Hindu, said people from different religions should respect each other. (Danielle Jardine)

BYU senior Talal Sisalem said he is often forced to pray between book shelves at the library or in hallways because there is no private place he can go on campus for the five daily prayers Islam prescribes.

Sisalem, who’s originally from Palestine, said most BYU students are kind about their religious differences. However, Sisalem said being anything but Mormon is difficult in this community because so much of the BYU social and cultural tradition is centered around the LDS religion.

“It automatically places you on the outside unless you actively choose to integrate yourself, but doing that means you also have to kind of religiously integrate, and that’s just not something that I was interested in doing,” Sisalem said.

About 1 percent BYU students aren’t Mormons, according to BYU’s Y Facts website.

In Provo, 95.7 percent of people identify as religious, with 93.3 percent identifying with the LDS Church, according to Sperling’s Best Places ranking website.

BYU psychology professor Brent Slife is Protestant and said his experience at BYU has been positive, but he has experienced religious stereotypes and assumptions from LDS students on occasion.

Slife said most stereotypes often depend more on the stereotyper than they do on the person being stereotyped.

“I think what a lot of people do with people who are really different, who have obviously made different decisions, (is assume) they must be ignorant or they must be somehow not as smart,” Slife said.

Slife said it’s important to appreciate and learn from others’ differences rather than focus on them.

Various non-LDS BYU students and faculty gave several suggestions on how to avoid common stereotypes when interacting with people of other religions.

Don’t make judgments or assumptions

Jane Zeng graduated from BYU in April and identifies as non-religious. She said it’s important to not make quick judgment calls about people of other religions. (Jane Zeng)

BYU alumna Jane Zeng identifies as non-religious.

She said the first thing BYU students assume when they hear she isn’t religious is that she doesn’t share the same standards as them. Zeng said she shares practically all the same standards, which was reason she chose BYU.

“When you meet new people, it doesn’t really matter how they dress or how they look or how they talk,” Zeng said. “You need to get to know them a little bit better before you make any assumptions.”

Be open-minded and ask questions

Sisalem said most of the misconceptions he hears about Muslims come from misinformation. He said he wishes students would come to him for answers rather than go to second-hand sources.

Talal Sisalem performs at The Wall on the BYU campus. Sisalem is from Palestine and is Muslim. He said he wishes other people would come to him with questions rather than making assumptions about his religion. (Talal Sisalem)

“I wish that they’d just see me and my religion for what we are rather than what either they want to believe or what the media wants them to believe,” Sisalem said. “To see the truth you have to look for it first.”

Zeng said she feels like some BYU students are kept in the “Provo bubble” and aren’t very accustomed to interacting with other types of people, besides the experiences they had on missions.

“Have a heart to know different cultures, different things, not just keep yourself in the bubble,” Zeng said. “Trying to have the curiosity to know things will help.”

Keep your own position, but have respect

Slife said while it’s important to welcome differences and learn from each other, having a personal set of beliefs isn’t a crime.

“I think it’s very important to have your own position. I also think it’s important to consider that another person’s position may be as well thought out, maybe as intelligent and important as yours,” Slife said. “In which case, maybe they could teach you something.”

Aadesh Neupane, a graduate student from Nepal, is Hindu. He said the most important thing to have between different religions is respect.

“We all are human beings,” Neupane said. “We follow different principles and we have a different way of living, but that doesn’t mean we need to be in war or we need to disrespect each other.”

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