BYU writing tutor creates brave space, uplifts voices

Luka Romney tutors a student at the Research and Writing Center at BYU. Romney uses his skills as a tutor to uplift others. (Liesel Allen)

Luka Romney, a writing tutor at the Research and Writing Center, uses his skills as a writer and tutor to uplift diverse voices.

When he was seven years old, Romney commandeered the microphone at his ward’s testimony meeting. With his three older siblings watching, Romney talked about the gospel and his relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Ten years later, at the same pulpit, Romney came out as queer with the permission and support of his bishop and stake president, who sat on the stand behind him.

It was his senior year of high school and Romney was preparing to follow in his entire immediate family’s footsteps and attend BYU.

Luka Romney is a junior at BYU studying interdisciplinary humanities. Romney uses his writing to uplift diverse voices. (Courtesy of Luka Romney)

From his experiences over the pulpit to the pieces he has written at BYU, Romney has continuously used words to lift others and change lives.

Romney’s exposure to BYU began at a young age when his family inherited his grandpa’s season football tickets.

In addition to attending games, Romney saw his siblings perform on BYU stages as part of different BYU groups, including the orchestra, the opera and Men’s Chorus. 

“I grew up adjacent to campus in a lot of ways,” said Romney, a native of Emigration Canyon, near Salt Lake City and an hour away from the university.

Growing up in a family of BYU alumni and attendees, Romney said he constantly heard about BYU professors and curricula.

“I’ve been really invested in the way that BYU teaches since I was young,” Romney said, and then added, “Youngest child benefits.”

Hearing his oldest sister gush about her major in interdisciplinary humanities, and even going so far as to read some of her textbooks, Romney realized he wanted a similar education.

His oldest sister, Phoebe Romney Cook, described Romney as a “tiny professor” when he was a child.

Cook remembered a time when her younger sibling was fascinated by geography.

“He had an atlas and he basically memorized the capital of every country in the world,” Cook said. 

Luka Romney is a sophomore at BYU studying interdisciplinary humanities. Romney explores the intersection between nature and God through poetry and prose. (Made in Canva by Liesel Allen)

Romney’s love for knowledge continued beyond elementary school and into high school when he borrowed “This Sacred Earth” from Cook and learned about the intersection between environmentalism and theology.

Now as a 21-year-old student at BYU, Romney has continued to study eco-theology and has self-published a compilation of pieces describing his relationship with God and nature.

On campus, Romney is distinctive for his large crewnecks, pearl cross necklace, and translucent nail polish.

Romney is also recognized as the author of a popular piece published by the Prodigal Press, a media collective with an emphasis on personal narratives and local art.

The piece, “How to Be a Fence Sitter,” chronicles Romney’s identity as a queer member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at BYU.

“When I decided to come to BYU, I changed my mind a lot of times,” Romney said.

He described how his acceptance letter came around the same time as the Honor Code changes and subsequent reversal in early 2020.

Romney described the perennial criticism of queer people at BYU: “Why do you go here? Just transfer.”

Romney explained that because he has been publically out for several years, his relationship with BYU is different than those who come out to themselves while they are in college.

“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Romney said.

He also said challenging things and speaking out is a core part of his identity. 

“I’m an Enneagram Type Eight and the title for that is ‘the challenger,’” Romney said, referencing a popular personality test. “So a big part of why I came to BYU is because I felt really strongly that I could make things change.”

Romney shared that he is enamored with the idea of the writer-activist — someone who uses creative nonfiction to affect change in culture.

As a part of the Prodigal Press and as a writing tutor for BYU’s Research and Writing Center, Romney said he has seen how writing can change lives.

“Luka welcomes students to the RWC and helps them immediately feel comfortable and included regardless of their background,” Romney’s RWC manager Katie Watkins said.

Luka Romney is a tutor at BYU’s Research and Writing Center. Romney’s lanyard has pins that read “here and queer at byu” and “I love my LGBTQ friends at BYU.” (Liesel Allen)

Watkins stressed the importance of hiring tutors who can both edit student papers and remain sensitive to papers with which they disagree or find offensive.

When Romney responded to this concern during his hiring interview, Watkins said she was blown away by his answer.

“Luka talked about their own experiences and how they (Romney) have had positive and negative experiences with how people have approached their views and their lifestyle and that has given them a lot of empathy,” Watkins said.

True to his answer, Romney said he has found during tutoring sessions, the part of his brain that thinks “Do I agree with this?” does not activate. 

“I just care about the person and helping them write and be better,” Romney said.

Watkins said she believes the students who work with Romney are blessed to have someone who exudes enthusiasm, a love for learning and compassion for everyone.

Romney said his personal philosophy behind tutoring revolves around creating a brave space for students.

“I think we need brave spaces for us to learn about each other,” Romney said. “And the key activity of a brave space is structured listening.”

Just like his childhood congregation listened to him and the writing tutors at the RWC listen to their students, Romney hopes BYU can be a space where everyone listens to and learns about each other.

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