Female religion professors discuss working in the department

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Joseph Smith Building is covered in snow after a storm. The religious education department is housed in the JSB. (Stacia O’Leary)

Female involvement in the religious education department has increased over the past 20 years, through the cooperation of coworkers and new opportunities at BYU.

Jenet Erickson, an associate professor teaching eternal families, said she originally taught in the School of Family Life, after earning a Ph.D. in family social science at the University of Minnesota. She joined the department after staying at home with her children while they were young.

According to Erickson, her coworkers in the department are very willing to work together, collaborate and adapt to various circumstances that come with being a working mother. She explained that faculty in the department are willing to move meeting times, or allow remote attendance at meetings to allow her to be home when her children are.

“What strikes me is the sincerity and the humility of my colleagues,” Erickson said.

Jenet Erickson tells her experience joining the Religious Education Department. Erickson originally taught in the School of Family Life. (Stacia O’Leary)

In the future, Erickson said she hopes more women will pursue graduate degrees and join the department. She said there is value in creating diverse avenues toward collegiate-level teaching, that could benefit both men and women pursuing a career in religious education.

“We need more women for our women students, we need more women for our male students,” Erickson said. “It is valuable in the family, it is valuable in the Church, and it is valuable at a university level.”

Another professor in the department, Mary Jane Woodger, agrees with Erickson about the treatment of women in the department. She said the other professors in the department have been kind and supportive during her time at the university.

“The religious department and the university have just bent over backward to get me here and make sure I was successful,” Woodger said.

Woodger said the department hopes to increase the number of women in the religious education department. She also said she was the second woman hired to teach in the Religious Education Department, after Susan Easton Black, and she has seen the number of female educators in the department increase during her time as a faculty member. She suggests students who are looking to pursue this profession in the future learn how to write church history, take opportunities to teach at any level and learn all they can about the Church.

The dean of the Religious Education Department, Scott C. Esplin, said throughout his career at BYU, he has seen an increase in women teaching in the department.

“When I joined the faculty 20 years ago as a visitor and 17 years ago full-time, I think there were five female faculty members in religious education,” Esplin said. “Now we have eight full time, so it has nearly doubled in 20 years.”

Esplin recommends that female students who are hoping to join the department reach out to one of the professors who teach in the department and ask if faculty can mentor them. There is also an introduction to seminary teaching class available to students. Esplin said he even recommends the class to students who do not want to teach seminary because it can be a way for students to become better teachers of the gospel.

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