Office of Belonging Vice President Carl Hernandez outlined the steps BYU is taking to create a greater sense of belonging on campus in a webinar on Dec. 2.
In his webinar, sponsored by the BYU Center of Teaching & Learning, Hernandez shared how the new office will approach issues and challenges that affect marginalized members of the campus community.
Hernandez was appointed as BYU’s first vice president in the Office of Belonging in June 2022. He also served on BYU’s committee of Race, Equity, and Belonging. He taught as a law professor and served as an assistant dean at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School.
Hernandez began his address by highlighting how BYU’s approach to belonging is different from traditional diversity and inclusion methodologies. He shared his experience growing up in a small agricultural town in Central California with a “migrant farmworker background,” saying how this background gave him a love for immigrants and led him to develop the BYU Community Legal Clinic, which serves immigrants.
“My heart really is with serving those from any background who feel that they have a lack of a sense of belonging here at BYU,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez read the vision statement created by the Office of Belonging. He said “combining gospel principles and insights” and anchoring “in eternal truths and teachings of Jesus Christ and living prophets” are important to create an atmosphere of belonging.
Hernandez encouraged students to use their skill sets to “serve marginalized communities.” He gave an example of the recent efforts made with the Black 14 on campus and engaging with the School of Education to develop a tutoring program to help areas where Black 14 members were living.
Hernandez talked about the objectives of belonging, which included the importance of connection between students and making resources available to everyone. He discussed how the community should be committed to service and sacrifice with a focus on Jesus Christ in order to promote belonging.
“Our ultimate goal is to become more Zion-like,” Hernandez said.
The statement of belonging is the framework of how BYU tries to cultivate belonging, Hernandez explained. He encouraged listeners to become acquainted with the statement. He summarized the statement, explaining that it encourages focus on primary identities as children of God.
“That’s what we have in common … that we love one another and that we serve one another and that we value the diverse backgrounds and experiences that individuals bring to our community,” Hernandez said.
The statement did not include words such as “diversity” and “equity” because these descriptors can be politicized and polarizing, according to Hernandez. Instead, he said that focusing on belonging will bring a more diverse environment where equity issues will be identifiable.
Hernandez mentioned the development of belonging councils with many different individuals on campus, including racial minorities and other groups such as the LGBTQ community and members of other faiths. The Office of Belonging also intends to include those facing lack of belonging due to mental health issues in the conversation, he said.
He explained that the Office of Belonging is looking into achievement gaps between marginalized groups and the majority population, especially for first generation students and Pell Grant recipients.
In order to address issues of discrimination on campus, the university developed a new reconciliation process to help those on campus who have experienced discrimination, Hernandez said. He said the process will be lead by the person who experienced discrimination and give education to the person who caused the harm so they can learn and not cause harm in the future.
“This gospel centered approach to belonging is going to help us to live the covenants and stay on the path and help us to seek and to do our part to establish Zion here on the BYU community campus.” Hernandez said.