To all the women and men at Amplify:
My name is Elisa Anne Koler. I am a senior at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a famously conservative university owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. 98% of the student body subscribes to the LDS faith, but we are nevertheless an extremely diverse group of students, ideologically speaking. Of the approximate 30,000 students at BYU, 48% are female, and 2,691 students are enrolled in the Women’s Studies minor, almost 10 percent of the entire student population. At such a conservative, religious school, the fact that we even have a Women’s Studies minor (Although there is no major, unfortunately) is a pretty big deal, and the BYU Women’s Research Institute has contributed enormously to the university community since its founding in 1978. From 2006 to 2008 alone, the WRI funded 132 faculty research publications relating to women. Some of the brightest and most promising students at BYU are involved with this program.
However, on October 29th the BYU Administration issued a press release (that’s what it’s called, but in fact it’s nowhere to be found on the BYU website or in the school newspaper) saying that the WRI is being shut down come January 2010. The Administration claims that they are “streamlining and strengthening” the program but what they’re really doing is removing all funding WRI used to receive and consolidating it into one faculty research grant and a token amount of funding available for students. Most of us found out about this through blogs or other outside media sources rather than through the university itself, and to put it lightly, we’re infuriated.
There’s a reason why this is being kept hush-hush. All major universities have a Women’s Studies Program, and shutting down ours is more than just a bad idea, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Money is not the issue: BYU receives subsidy from the LDS Church, as well as generous donations from LDS alumni even in this economy. Additionally, 52% of the WRI budget came from outside, non-BYU sources. This is, in short, another attempt by an overtly conservative administration to shut down any “feminist” activities—not because LDS people are anti-feminist, mind you, but because a lack of education makes many people at this institution think feminism is a dirty word.
As a small group of BYU students who believe in the importance of scholarly research devoted to women, we are making as much of a fuss as we can. But this needs to get out. It’s an EPICALLY bad PR move for BYU and by extension for the LDS Church, to shut down this program, and the more people know about this and express their disapproval, the better.
I understand that, most likely, no one from BYU has ever contacted your organization before. I’m sure you’re aware that the vast majority of LDS women are abstinent until marriage, and a large percentage of married women are stay-at-home parents, so it might seem strange that I’m writing to an organization that promotes birth control and sex education with such passion (Both of which, for the record, I am highly in favor of). Just because the choices LDS women make based on our faith are considered old-fashioned, doesn’t mean that we aren’t strong, intelligent women who believe in gender equality and everything else feminism stands for. I am proud to consider myself a feminist, and so do many other men and women at this university. We desperately want for this program to not go the way of several other important programs at this university (such as our International Development minor, another magnet for more liberal and therefore supposedly more dangerous students, which was eliminated recently), and it’s possible that if enough people outside of our community stand up for the WRI, maybe the higher-ups will change their minds.
Please understand that this is not an issue of faith. Most of the students at BYU are faithful adherents to the LDS faith and are not being oppressed or silenced by the Church itself. Rather, it is the bureaucracy at the university level that is the source of the problem for myself and all other like-minded students here. This is a rather personal thing to share in an email, but I have found that my faith is one of the greatest sources of my personal empowerment as a women, and that my religious beliefs and my social beliefs complement rather than contradict each other. For BYU students, the solution is not to abandon our faith, rather to find ways to reconcile the beliefs of another generation to the ideals we uphold with as much fervor as we do our religion. Shutting down our Women’s Research Institute would be a step in the entirely wrong direction.
For more information, here is the official “press release”
Most of us found out because of this article below, from an independent publication run by Mormons, which is unaffiliated with the Church or BYU officially:
The Facebook group working to prevent this:
I’m not sure if the BYU student newspaper accepts letters from non-students, but here is a link to submit a letter to the editor:
More information about BYU in general:
A couple of blog entries with some other students’ reactions: