Non-LDS students speak out on difficulties of attending BYU

The BYU Office of Belonging is a place anyone can visit if they need a friend, University Chaplain Jim L. Slaughter said. Slaughter moderated a panel discussion with students who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Trevor Myers)

Four BYU students of different faiths shared their perspectives at a panel hosted by BYUSA and the BYU Office of Belonging on Wednesday, Feb. 21. 

Omar Aburouss, a Muslim student from Amman, Jordan who is hoping to run for Jordan at the Olympics this year, said his transition from his previous university in Florida to BYU was a bigger shock than his initial move from Jordan. 

He also shared his opinion on what students who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can do to help members of other faiths feel welcome.

“If people here were to educate themselves on different faiths the same way we have educated ourselves on your faith, that would make the biggest difference ever,” Aburouss said.  

Bryan Diego, a Catholic student studying civil engineering agreed with Aburouss. He said one of the number one things students could do is to treat students who aren’t members of the Church as people first.

“Let’s not just talk about faith, let’s talk about what we like to do,” Diego said. 

He said one of the hardest things about coming to BYU was finding people he got along well with and girls he wanted to go out with.

“Back home if you like a girl you don’t look at her hand first to see if she’s married,” Diego said, evoking laughs from the audience.

The event took place at the Varsity Theater on campus. Attendees could submit questions through a QR code. (Eleanor Lambert)

For Madison Raesly-Patton, a gymnast and psychology major who is a non-denominational Christian, said she found friends in her gymnastic teammates. However, she finds the non-member religion classes challenging. 

“This is harder than my religion class,” Raesly-Patton’s friends said when they found out what she has to do in her non-member religion courses.

“You guys from a young age have been taught this and I’m supposed to just learn it all right now,” Raesly-Patton said.  

Raesly-Patton also shared one of the biggest culture shocks she experienced was not what she expected.

“Growing up I was always taught not to talk about religion, politics and money, and then coming here it was like, woah, that’s all we talk about,” she said. 

Leah Marett, a Protestant Christian student who is getting a master’s in athletic training, shared a common misconception of non-LDS students that frustrated her. 

“A lot of people here have the idea that because I’m not LDS I don’t have standards,” said Marett. “You have some people approach you and expect that you’re okay with something that you’re not okay with morally, just because you’re not LDS.”

The panelists all agreed reaching out to make a genuine connection and listening to understand is always a good idea.

“If you know any non-LDS students, look at us as individuals; we’re not a monolith,” Marett finished. “If you get to know us, I think there’s some really wonderful people on this campus that are not LDS.”

Jim L. Slaughter, the current university chaplain, asked the panel questions and moderated the discussion. 

“It can be a lonely place among 33,000 people,” Slaughter said. “If you feel inspired in any way to reach out to someone don’t ignore those feelings. You never know what difference you might make.”

He said anyone was welcome to drop by the Office of Belonging if they needed a friend.

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