Pictures of a racially-insensitive poster in the window of the BYU Student Employment Office made the rounds on Provo Twitter on Thursday, illustrating once again why a diversity GE requirement would benefit the BYU community.
The poster featured a photo of an Asian BYU employee plastered over the face of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with “cha-ching” printed directly above.
To be clear, the poster was not approved by BYU. In replies to individual Twitter posts and Instagram stories about the poster, BYU clarified that a student had hung photos of their supervisor throughout the office, including on the poster, to celebrate her.
The student “didn’t realize the problematic association with the text at the top,” BYU said in a Twitter reply to student Sam Cosgrove, who’s Tweet called attention to the issue online. “They’ve taken down the photo. To be certain, the student is also being informed of the problematic nature that addition created. Thanks again for letting us know.”
Daily Universe reporter Andrea Cabrera covered the story on her personal Instagram account, and BYU representatives responded letting her know they called the Student Employment Office as soon as the university heard about the poster.
I’m proud of my university for clarifying the issue, but I also question if that clarification will get to the root of the problem, which — and I want to be clear about this — is a pattern of insensitive behavior among BYU students. This was an embarrassing mishap, and sadly it’s not the first in the university’s recent history.
Earlier this year, BYU made national headlines for racist comments that were made at a Black immigrant panel during Black History Month, including “What is the percentage of African Americans on food stamps?” and “Why don’t we have any white people on stage?” The day following the panel, BYU issued a statement condemning the racist remarks and asking students to report incidents of white supremacy on campus.
BYU also received national news coverage in 2018 for a “women in mathematics” poster that ironically only featured the photos of white male faculty members, apparently the only speakers the department could drum up for the panel. The math department later apologized, saying the poster was “done with good intentions.”
In all these incidents, the culprits showed a gross insensitively to race and gender issues — and claiming ignorance doesn’t excuse that. I’d like to hope that most of these insensitive episodes are just a lack of awareness, but there are more sinister incidents like white supremacist propaganda that was found on campus in Fall 2019.
BYU rightly condemned all these incidents, and its recently formed Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging is making important progress towards a more inclusive campus. But I’m not sure that’s enough. The negative comments online bashing the committee or lamenting its formation are evidence of that.
Although change at an institutional level is great, it needs to be paired with a change in the hearts and minds of members of the BYU community. The best way to kickstart that change is to help students break the misconceptions, misunderstandings and ignorance they have towards individuals who are different from them.
Earlier this year, a petition to make a race and ethnicity class a GE requirement at BYU gained thousands of signatures, and some individuals called to include a class about gender if such a requirement were enacted.
I’ve taken classes that discuss both race and gender at BYU, and despite allegations that these types of classes indoctrinate students with leftist beliefs or that they’re unfair to white and male students — these claims are patently false. And in my experience, many of them come from people who have not taken the classes.
That’s not to say that such classes won’t push students outside their comfort zones; in fact, they’re almost certain to. Thankfully, that’s in line with the aims of a BYU education. Getting out of your comfort zone is literally the definition of “character building.” Furthermore, a diversity GE requirement that would expose students to race and gender theories would not only expand students’ ability to think critically — thus checking the box on “intellectually enlarging” — but would also allow them to better empathize with others as they prepare for “lifelong service” while going through the “spiritually strengthening” experience of better understanding all of God’s children.
I hope BYU doesn’t let yesterday’s poster just become another item on a long list of the insensitive incidents that have taken place at BYU. Instead, I hope the university uses this as an opportunity to look at what it can do to facilitate positive change among its community.
Give us a diversity GE requirement. We clearly need it.