Student protesters march last week in Rexburg.

Student protesters march in Rexburg.

Support Local Journalism

BYU-Idaho students are circulating a petition online through change.org calling on BYU-Idaho to create a diversity and inclusion department.

The petition came after a post was made on the BYU-I Visual and Performing Arts Facebook page. “On Friday, June 12, the BYU-Idaho College of Performing and Visual Arts Facebook page posted an argument weaponizing the violence against the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against Black Americans,” according to the petition. It included statements about how the early Latter-day Saint were persecuted. “Why am I telling you this? Because I know, however oppressed you feel, no matter if your skin color, religion, background or heritage.....YOU CAN RISE ABOVE,” the Facebook post read. “You can take your situation and either drown in it or use it.”

According to the petition’s webpage, the statements made in the post were too much for black students. “This statement has become the last straw for many of us! Black students at BYU-Idaho experience racism in many forms that lead to trauma that will take many of us a long time to heal from,” the petition read. “In just one example, many black students on this campus have been not hired at jobs or have been forced to cut their natural hairstyles because they are told they are ‘extreme’ and against the BYU-Idaho dress code. This communicates to black students they are not safe, accepted, and free to be themselves.”

So far the petition has acquired 2,545 signatures of the 5,000 needed.

Fredericka Thomas, a current senior at BYU-Idaho studying sociology signed the petition. She said it would be in the best interest of the University and the students for there to be a diversity department.

“There is a wide range of individuals that go to universities, and it is in the best interest of the University to have one for training (staff and students) to understand the people that are (on campus),” she said.

Thomas said the new department would help people of color feel more confident at school.

“I think for students especially (it would) give them a sense of confidence and (help them) feel more comfortable when talking about negative experiences,” she said. “Students, who are people of color or minorities, don’t feel comfortable speaking out and don’t want to go to the dean or take any action when they are treated wrong. The school could provide a safe space.”

Richard Luyhengo is a returned missionary and a current student in his third year studying computer information technology at BYU-Idaho.

“I think diversity helps you understand people of different cultures,” he said. “It helps you to know what the other person is going through just by being around them. I think we as people have an issue getting along because we just don’t understand one another and being near other people will absolutely decrease issues of race.”

Luyhengo said that he has had issues with race with people he’s come into contact with here in Rexburg.

“Other people (here) have really grown in a small bubble, and they have these stereotypes of people that are different from them,” he said.

Luyhengo said he was once in a class when a professor was talking about George Washington, and everyone agreed he was a generally good person. Then the class talked about how Washington owned slaves.

“This girl quickly had to respond and said ‘Look we really don’t know how he treated those slaves, maybe he treated them well.’ and everyone agreed,” Luyhengo said. “It was natural to have the same mindset, that nothing was really wrong (with him owning slaves) and forgetting that these were actual people.”

He feels that there should even be a foundation class on campus for learning about different races and diversity.

“We do know that the Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) had a history of racism, and that’s swept under the carpet and put away,” Luyhengo said. “That needs to be spoken of because ideas were planted into our parents’ minds and those ideas were planted into their children’s minds and those ideas affect me today.”

The Standard Journal reached out to BYU-Idaho, but the school did not respond to our inquiry.