BYU student fellow starts podcast to share non-members’ experiences at BYU

Leah Marett, left, created The Non-Member Project to provide a platform for BYU non-member students to share their experiences. From left to right, Marett is joined by David Schekall, Rand Al Rabadi and McKay Bowman while filming episodes of the podcast. (Leah Marett)

It may not be obvious at first, but Leah Marett is not exactly a typical BYU student.

Marett is from Kansas, studies neuroscience and is a Protestant Christian, making her a part of the 1% of the student body that is not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

The Non-Member Project is created and produced mainly by Marett. It can be found on most streaming platforms. (Leah Marett)

Marett is a student fellow on the BYU Council for Interfaith Engagement, and her experience as a non-member on campus, as well as those of people she knows, inspired her to start a podcast as her fellowship project, titled The Non-Member Project. The podcast features BYU students who are not Latter-day Saints and allows them to share their experiences being in a small religious minority at BYU.

Since there are so few non-members on campus, it is nearly impossible for non-member students to tell their stories to everyone at BYU, Marett said. However, many people are interested in hearing about their experiences, so a podcast is a good way to spread their voices, she said. 

According to Marett, knowing someone of a different religion drastically increases favorable opinions of that religion, even if people do not talk about religion. The Non-Member Project can provide listeners with an opportunity to know someone who is different from them. 

Leah Marett talks about why it is important to hear stories from those of other faiths. Marett says that even if you do not agree with those of other faiths, you can still respect them. (Annika Ohran)
Marett, left, smiles with Sofia Pusceddu, right, after filming Pusceddu’s episode of the podcast. Pusceddu came to BYU from Italy to be on the swim and dive team. (Leah Marett)

To create the project, Marett emailed non-member students to ask them if they were interested in being interviewed for the podcast, used the production room in the BYU library and started producing episodes.

Sofia Pusceddu, a Catholic member of the BYU swim and dive team majoring in public health, was one of the students featured on the podcast. In her episode, Pusceddu spoke about how it is hard to adjust to an unfamiliar environment but also talked about how she was grateful for BYU and her experiences there.

“(BYU) helps me try to be the best version of myself,” Pusceddu said.

Members of the Church often say things they might not even realize are offensive, according to Pusceddu, and she hopes they will listen to the podcast and take a moment to think about things they say. 

Pusceddu said she has also seen the podcast help non-member students by showing them that they are not alone, and there are other people going through similar experiences on campus.  

Ayanda Sidzatane, a listener of the podcast who works at the Office of Belonging, said the podcast can help people understand the experiences that non-members have at BYU, and help people realize that it is okay if others have different experiences than they do. 

Sama Salah was one of the first students featured on The Non-Member Project. Salah spoke about her experience as a Muslim and how Muslims feel about Jesus. (Leah Marett)

Part of Marett’s process is to do pre-interviews with those she does not know that will be on the podcast, so they are more familiar with each other. She said she often does not script questions but lets the students tell their stories. 

Sama Salah, a pre-business sophomore and Muslim, was also featured on the podcast. In her episode, Salah talked about her experience growing up Muslim in Utah and how she felt lonely and left out at times, as well as how she thinks people from different faiths can learn from each other.

“The beauty of a podcast is you can only listen,” Salah said.

Salah thinks this allows people to tell their whole story and will help create empathy among listeners. 

Salah also works at the Office of Belonging and said that she often draws on part of the Statement of Belonging in her work. It reads, “We value and embrace the variety of individual characteristics, life experiences and circumstances, perspectives, talents, and gifts of each member of the community and the richness and strength they bring to our community (1 Corinthians 12:12–27).”

Salah said the podcast helps illustrate the value of people’s individual experiences. 

Salah talks about how listening to others’ stories can help you relate to their experiences. Salah said she has even had people approach her on campus after listening to her episode of the podcast, which made her feel like people care about her story. (Annika Ohran)
Marett films with another student in the library production room, where she films The Non-Member Project. Marett said she has several episodes yet to be released. (Leah Marett)

In the first episode of the podcast, BYU religion professor Mike MacKay talked about how listening to non-members’ experiences and engaging in interfaith dialogue can help Latter-day Saints practice the second great commandment and learn how to better love others.

McKay Bowman, president of the Interfaith Student Association, said The Non-Member Project is a powerful way for students to become more conscientious of others’ experiences. The podcast helps listeners develop empathy, which in turn helps create belonging, Bowman said. 

The podcast focuses on non-members’ experiences as a small minority in a dominant culture but is not meant to create discord or division. The goal is not to replace interfaith dialogue, but rather provide a resource that can answer questions people have about non-members’ experiences at BYU, Bowman said. 

Marett said she wants people to be aware of how diverse the non-member experience is. Among non-members at BYU, there are people practicing Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, various forms of Christianity, atheism and more. She continued, saying some non-member students end up transferring from BYU, while some love their time at BYU and do not have any problems, and there is a range of experiences in between.

Rand Al Rabadi was featured on the podcast to speak about her experiences as a non-Latter-day Saint Christian student at BYU. Rabadi spoke about the importance of respecting other people’s beliefs. (Leah Marett)

“I also hope that people can just connect with someone who’s not LDS and maybe see a different perspective in life … and we can respect it and love them for who they are instead of who they could be as a member of the LDS church,” Marett said. 

Marett wants people to take away practical applications from listening to the podcast for what they can do if they meet non-LDS students on campus. Don’t assume others are LDS or make statements that aren’t appropriate for a non-LDS audience, Marett said, especially in larger groups or classes.

The experiences a non-Latter-day Saint student has, especially during their first semester on campus, can make or break their overall experience at BYU, so Marett said she hopes the podcast can contribute to improving those experiences. 

Marett is still filming episodes of the podcast and hopes to create a long-term resource with the episodes she has planned. The Non-Member Project can be found on Instagram, Spotify, YouTube and most other podcast streaming services.

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