BYU students coauthor petition to increase focus on Christ in education

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Leer en español: Estudiantes de BYU colaboran en petición para incrementar el enfoque de Jesucristo en la educación

Religion classes are taught in the Joseph Smith Building, pictured above. Students Hanna Seariac and Tristan Mourier are petitioning BYU administrators to consider whether BYU classes have a great enough religious emphasis. (Hannah Miner)

BYU students Hanna Seariac and Tristan Mourier coauthored a petition to put a greater emphasis on BYU’s unique pursuit to offer education through a gospel lens.

“Brigham Young University was never meant to be like other universities,” the petition reads.

Seariac and Mourier sent the petition, which has received 2,228 signatures as of Aug. 7, to several BYU administrators but have yet to hear back from them.

Seariac said she and Mourier decided to create the petition in response to numerous incidents on campus that they felt represented a shift away from the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The coauthors chose not to mention any specific instances in the petition. However, in their interviews with The Universe, both mentioned the Honor Code protests that took place in March. Seariac said she was disturbed by a sign one protester held that suggested the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency were going to hell.

“I had no issue with people protesting the Honor Code, but to me it turned into a protest against the Church,” she said. “People were saying that the Church was wrong, the Church had issues on big doctrinal things not just minor doctrinal things, and that was allowed and even promoted in some classes.”

Seariac and Mourier said they have both experienced professors teaching philosophies or ideologies that oppose the Church’s doctrine. For example, Seariac said she once had a professor say that a married person is obligated to have sex with their spouse whenever their spouse wants, regardless of personal desire. This, Seariac said, is marital rape, and is not in line with the teachings of the Church.

Mourier said he has kept a log of similar instances in which professors have taught things in class he felt were explicitly contrary to Church doctrine. He said he and Seariac have decided not to release the log or share the names of the professors they found problematic because it is not their goal to throw anyone under the bus.

“I don’t want them stoned to death in the public place. I just would rather them
not be paid on tithing dollars,” he said.

Seariac agreed and added that it would be unChristlike to fire professors without giving them a chance to correct their teachings and that this was not the purpose of the petition. In fact, Mourier said they left the petition vague on purpose because their intention was to raise awareness of something they considered a problem rather than prescribe a solution or instruct the BYU administration.

“We, along with many other students, have felt that the University’s commitment to this has wavered on a practical level and would ask for an assessment of whether or not the University encourages courses, clubs and activities to align themselves with Latter-day Saint religious values,” the petition reads.

Mourier further clarified this statement, saying he would like to see BYU administrators “really reconsidering certain departments’ ideological directions.”

Both coauthors said they don’t want non-Latter-day Saint ideologies erased from BYU curriculum but want to see a greater emphasis on teaching those ideologies through a Latter-day Saint lens to demonstrate why Christ’s gospel is correct.

“This is not an obscurantist movement. We’re not trying to say, ‘BYU needs to be sheltered and live in a bubble for the rest of its life.’ It cannot be,” Mourier said. “The goal of BYU is to have people come in and be trained to, in my opinion, fight the ideological enemies of the Church and of the gospel. So you can’t fight your enemies if you don’t even know what they’re talking about.”

Seariac said she hoped the greatest change would end up being a “greater cultural acceptance of church values.”

“I would rather see more Christ-centered events on campus. I would like to see more discussions about faith on campus,” she said.

The petition has received some criticism online. BYU student Grace Soelberg posted a thread on Twitter in which she questioned the petition’s seeming insensitivity to recent racial and cultural issues on campus.

“They continue to say that BYU is not currently fulfilling its mission statement ‘to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life,'” Soelberg tweeted. “I question why they would levy this accusation as BYU’s current actions in regard to racism on campus is an attempt fulfill this mission statement. How is BYU helping its students to reach eternal life if it does not help them to root out their implicit bias and internalized racism?”

Mourier said the petition was not created in response to race-related issues on campus, though its release came on the heels of the creation of the Race, Equity and Belonging Committee.

“Nothing in the petition mentions race,” Mourier said. “But I do admit concerns about how we decided to deal with these (race-related) questions at BYU because it does not seem
like we’re doing this differently from others.”

Mourier mentioned attempts to defame Brigham Young and “say that BYU was founded upon the premises of slavery” as examples of methods for confronting racism with which he did not agree.

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