College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences Valedictorians Announced

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences has many outstanding students graduating this April. We are grateful for the hard work and scholarship of each graduating senior and the example of excellence set by the valedictorians in the college. Meet each department’s 2022 valedictorian!

Political Science: Kesley Townsend

Kesley Townsend

Kesley Brooke Townsend, a political science major with a political strategy emphasis and minors in history and sociology, is the oldest child of John and Cindy Powell. She was raised in Richland, Washington, and developed a passion for U.S. political history at a young age. During her time at BYU, she conducted original research as a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and worked as a research assistant for Professors Goodliffe, Preece, Pope, and Argyle. Kesley interned at TargetPoint Consulting while participating in the Washington Seminar program and worked as a political strategy advisor on a U.S. senate campaign. She was president of the BYU Women in Politics organization and a writer for the Political Review. Kesley will begin a research fellowship at TargetPoint Consulting this summer and looks forward to pursuing a Ph.D. in political science in 2023. She is incredibly grateful for the mentorship provided by BYU faculty and the continued support of her family and friends. 

Geography: Kellie Haddon

Kellie Haddon

Kellie Haddon is a geography major with an emphasis in global studies and minors in international development and sociology. While at BYU, Kellie had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for Brandon Plewe on the Mormon Places project during her freshman year and worked as a teaching assistant for Chad Emmett’s Political Geography class for the past two semesters. She is excited to end her time at BYU on the Multicultural Europe study abroad with Jill Knapp during spring term. This year Kellie was also heavily involved in the club Students for International Development as one of its presidents. She will begin graduate school in the fall in American University’s MA International Development program in Washington, D.C. Kellie served as a missionary in Cebu, Philippines and enjoys painting, hiking, and exploring new places. She has lived in six states but mainly grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Kellie is grateful for her incredible family, friends, professors, and mentors for their continual support throughout her time at BYU.

Psychology: Reilly O’Coyle Reid

Reilly O’Coyle Reid

Reilly O’Coyle Reid, a psychology major with a minor in business, is from Henderson, Nevada. The oldest of four girls, Reilly is grateful for her loving parents and the special relationship she has with her sisters. During her time at BYU, Reilly came to appreciate the vast educational opportunities available at this university, and is always searching for the chance to research and teach. She began her undergraduate education as a business major and enjoyed learning about finance, economics, and accounting. Reilly later discovered that studying psychology would fulfill her passion of helping individuals, families, and couples heal. Her research emphasis is in clinical psychology and mental health services. She is inspired by studying psychology and is thrilled to continue her education in BYU’s Marriage and Family Therapy master’s program in August. Reilly is grateful for her professors, classmates, friends and family who have supported her as she completed her bachelor’s degree.

History: Pamela Peterson

Pamela Peterson

Pamela Peterson attended BYU as a non-traditional student for the last 13 years while raising a family of six children — her greatest accomplishment. As a developing family historian, she finds the detective work of family history fulfilling and invigorating. Pam plans to pursue a career in family history with an emphasis in British research while she prepares for her Accredited Genealogist credential exams. She has loved her years at BYU and the wonderful professors she’s been privileged to learn from and associate with. Her professors and fellow students opened her eyes to new ideas, perspectives, and perceptions of peoples, cultures, and the world we live in. Her previously limited paradigm has been broadened and enhanced by her experiences and education at BYU. She is grateful for divine help and extends a sincere thank you to the BYU faculty who give their lives to teach others.

Family Life: Megan (Van Alfen) Brown

Megan Van Alfen Brown

Megan (Van Alfen) Brown is a Family Studies major passionate about helping, educating, and healing individuals and families. She is a Wheatley Scholar and received multiple awards for her educational achievements. She worked as a teaching assistant and a research assistant with professors in the School of Family Life at BYU for several years. She is passionate about researching gender, body image, mental health, and sexuality and hopes to center her career in those fields. She will be attending graduate school in the fall at Brigham Young University for a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. She has plans to pursue a PhD to become a professor to educate students and families about complex topics that deserve increased attention. In her free time, she loves spending time with her husband, being outdoors, catching up with friends and building her floral design business.

Anthropology: Leeann Whiffen

Leeann Whiffen

Leeann Whiffen, an anthropology major, was born and raised on a cattle ranch in rural Idaho. She spent much of her youth helping her dad tend to the cows, swath hay, and irrigate fields. She is grateful for those experiences that have helped shape who she is today. Leeann and her husband Sean have been married for 25 years, and they have three sons. She has the special opportunity to be graduating from BYU with her son, Clay. Her husband and sons have always supported her educational goals. On one especially challenging day, she noticed a note in her chemistry notebook that said, “Good luck, Mom!” Leeann completed research under the supervision of Dr. Greg Thompson, and they co-authored an article examining physician-patient interactions that was published in the health care journal Qualitative Health Research. Leeann is deeply appreciative for her professors who have given her invaluable tools that she will carry forward. Leeann completed pre-medical coursework and plans to attend medical school.

Sociology: Hannah Dixon

Hannah Dixon

​​Hannah Dixon grew up in American Fork, Utah. She served a full-time mission in Poland, then returned to BYU, where she majored in sociology with a minor in English. Hannah is graduating with University Honors. During her time here, she relished research opportunities. She participated in a Ballard Center Social Impact Project, a research assistantship in the Sociology department, worked with the BYU Antiracism Project, completed class projects, and more. Other highlights of her BYU experience include involvement in the Honors program, volunteer and mentorship opportunities with first-year students, long hours in the library, and hiking to the Y more than 100 times. Hannah is grateful for the mentors, family, colleagues, and friends who have made her time here fulfilling and she credits their examples of grit, optimism, and encouragement for getting her to this point. She looks forward to continuing her studies at BYU this fall as a student in the sociology master’s program.

Economics: Alexander Johnson

Alexander Johnson

Alex Johnson is a senior graduating in economics and mathematics, with minors in Spanish and Portuguese. During his time at BYU, Alex realized that he possesses a love for learning and solving problems. Alex initially became interested in economics through Dr. Kearl’s Econ 110 class, learning to use a mathematical and logical framework to better understand the world. Through his experience in economics, Alex developed a passion for statistics and mathematical modeling, using and analyzing data to learn about the world in an economics framework. Seeing the strength of mathematics in such an applied context, Alex decided to supplement this growing passion for applied modeling by deciding to also study mathematics as one of his majors. This preparation allowed Alex to continue his education into the future with plans to study Applied Mathematics in a master’s program. Alex would like to express his sincere gratitude for all his professors, family, friends, and classmates, all of whom have been integral in his learning so far.

You Can Have Anxiety and Be a Social Scientist- Three Professors Share How

As the school year nears its end, we’re all feeling it — the nervousness before finals, the stress and pressure to do well, the fear of what comes next. These anxious feelings aren’t exclusive to students; nearly 20% of American adults have an anxiety disorder and many others experience issues with anxiety each year, even if they don’t have an anxiety disorder.

This month’s “Picture a Social Scientist” activity focused on those who have mental health challenges, particularly anxiety. The “Picture an Anxious Social Scientist” event on March 31 began with a presentation on biofeedback from BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Biofeedback helps us respond to our body’s stress signals before they become too intense and to take action to relieve stress throughout the day before it impacts our ability to complete our tasks or handle our emotions.

CAPS Biofeedback presentation

The biofeedback presentation was followed by a panel of professors with different types of anxiety. Alyssa Banford Witting in the School of Family Life, Sam Hardy in the Psychology Department, and Scott Sanders in the Sociology Department put themselves in an anxiety-inducing situation to help students see how someone with anxiety can be successful as a social scientist. They addressed questions such as, “What was your experience being diagnosed?” and “What do you recommend for students who may have these feelings but have not been diagnosed?” as well as “How has anxiety been a superpower in your career?”

The professors shared some of the tools they use to manage their anxiety. Sanders suggested, “Develop self-love now, develop self-care now… Do it now because it’s so much harder when you’re in those troughs.” Deep breathing is another helpful tool that was taught during the biofeedback presentation. Hardy’s tools include antidepressant medication, therapy, and support groups. His self-care includes Diet Dr. Pepper and hobbies like cooking, playing with dogs, and jamming out on drums in the basement. He also is mindful of nutrition and exercise, reads self-help books, and makes spiritual practices a priority.

Banford Witting encouraged students not to go it alone if they are feeling anxious. “Seek help, there’s no reason to suffer.” When looking for help, remember that your professors are there for you and you are not alone in your struggle. “It’s common enough that it’s okay. You’ll have some friends in the mental illness business… Everybody has anxiety to some degree,” added Hardy.

Sanders said to manage anxiety step by step, day by day, or even moment by moment. Describing his process to overcome anxious feelings he said, “What can you do in that moment? Maybe it’s a breath, a class period, a day. What does it look like and what can I do to get through that moment?”

PICTURE AN ANXIOUS SOCIAL SCIENTIST: Natalie Herbst Durtschi interviews panelists Alyssa Banford Witting, Sam Hardy, and Scott Sanders.

Whatever your experiences with anxiety may be, create boundaries for yourself, find your toolkit, and keep navigating the challenges that come your way. There will be many who can relate and help, as well as those who understand and support.

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences monthly “Picture a Social Scientist” events will return in the fall. With the goal of fostering belonging, each event will feature inspiring social science professionals to whom students can relate. Future events will explore themes such as neurodiversity, being a woman, managing a dual-career family, and other groups that are underrepresented in the social sciences. Students can expect to gain new perspectives and develop insights on how to press forward with their own ambitions.

Learn more about “Picture a Social Scientist” here.

Learn more or schedule an appointment with BYU CAPS.

BYU’s Museum of Peoples and Cultures offers extraordinary experiences for students

This Friday night’s activity, “Night at the Museums” gives students the opportunity to visit all five BYU museums (The Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, Education in Zion Museum, The Museum of Art, The Museum of Paleontology, and The Museum of Peoples and Cultures) on one evening for refreshments, music, activities, and the chance to solve clues for a prize. Each museum will dazzle participants with interesting facts and thought-provoking displays, but a brand new exhibit at The Museum of Peoples and Cultures is sure to be an eye-catcher.

Greenstone Forgeries on Display

“Mayan Greenstone” displays artifacts from the museum’s vast collection of Mesoamerican greenstone artifacts. What makes these particular artifacts so intriguing? Many are forgeries.

The exhibit highlights the research done last year by former BYU student Chloe Burkey and anthropology postdoctoral fellow Marion Forest. Burkey and Forest worked to systematically authenticate the collection, using an innovative collection of techniques to spot each forgery.

The new exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to try their hand at spotting the fakes while also appreciating the ancient craftsmanship of the genuine artifacts. Museum visitors will be impressed, not only by the relics, but also by the experiential learning opportunities available to students through the Museum of Peoples and Cultures.

A Student-Led Exhibit

Nearly every aspect of each exhibit at the museum is produced by BYU students. “All of the research is done by students, the displays are designed by students, even the labels for the artifacts are made by students,” explained museum director Paul Stavast.

One student gaining valuable experience at the museum is Hannah Smith, a history major with minors in art history and anthropology. Hannah plans to work in museums in the future, and her experience as an exhibit designer at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures has given her invaluable skills for her future career.

“Along with the researchers and the director I’ve gotten to pick objects, write text, choose graphics, play with the layout of the exhibit… paint, build some walls!” joked Hannah as she described her role in the new exhibit in an interview. “I’ve learned more through this opportunity than I have in a lot of classes. It’s helped me build skills for any job and helped me really figure out what I want to do.”

Hannah Smith with greenstone artifacts at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures

Learning Through Stories

Hannah started at the museum last April as an intern, unsure of what direction she wanted her future career to take. She gained confidence by helping with the “Utah Valley” exhibit and by talking to the director of the museum. She enjoyed the opportunity and has been working at the museum ever since. 

Smith began studying history and anthropology because she wants to tell human stories. “I feel like the social sciences are so special because it’s all about people. That’s what interests me the most is the story behind things, and the social sciences are all very story driven fields,” said Smith, explaining how stories tie together all of her passions of history, anthropology and art history.

Immerse yourself in the stories of the past at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures and other BYU museums at “Night at the Museums” on March 25.

To learn more about the Museum of Peoples and Cultures visit mpc.byu.edu.

Loneliness and Isolation Present Serious Mortality Risks — Antidote Found in Acts of Kindness

We all know what things can kill us: smoking, drinking alcohol, not exercising, having an unhealthy diet, not getting enough sleep, the list goes on and on. But did you know that being lonely is just as risky? 

In February of 2020, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) declared, “Social isolation is a major public health concern.” Just one month later, the coronavirus pandemic forced people worldwide to deliberately isolate and distance themselves socially. 

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology at BYU, studies the power of social connection on mental and physical health. Her research has built a body of evidence proving exactly what NASEM stated: that society should be very concerned about the risks of isolation and loneliness. 

“Loneliness is associated with increased death by 26%. Conversely, another meta-analysis that included 148 studies, examined the protective effects of being socially connected and we found that social connection increases our odds of survival by 50%,” said Holt-Lunstad as she presented the 29th annual Martin B. Hickman Outstanding Scholar Lecture. 

Her research also reveals that social isolation and loneliness are associated with greater incidents of major psychological, cognitive, and physical morbidities. Holt-Lunstad’s research is now focused on the relationship between the physical symptoms of loneliness and harmful inflammation. 

The global pandemic exacerbated this already urgent health concern. Holt-Lunstad described it like this: “Loneliness was prevalent prior to the pandemic, but increased in prevalence and severity over the pandemic.” Individuals living alone and older adults seemed to be most isolated, but longitudinal studies showed that the pandemic increased feelings of loneliness among most people.  

We take certain aspects of physical health seriously because there are national health guidelines. Recommendations from experts for how to eat, how often to exercise, how much sleep we need, etc. are taught in schools and by doctors when we get check-ups. 

So if loneliness and isolation present serious mortality risks, why don’t we hear about it more often? Why aren’t there school programs like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) teaching kids about the risks of isolation?

C.S. Lewis stated, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.” Lewis’ point of view describes how many people, including public policy makers, perceive loneliness. Social connection can seem more like a bonus than a necessity, but meaningful connection with others can be just as important for mental and physical well being as drinking enough water.

Loneliness is our body giving a biological signal that we need to socially reconnect. Just like hunger and thirst remind us to eat and drink, loneliness reminds us how vital meaningful relationships are for our health.

Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues are working to find widespread solutions to the loneliness and isolation epidemic through public policy and regulation, but she emphasizes the importance of small actions that can improve social connection. 

She and her colleagues ran a study during the pandemic in which nearly 4,500 participants were randomly assigned challenges to connect socially. Participants were told to perform one act of kindness for a neighbor once a week for four weeks. The study found that when individuals actively chose to reach out to neighbors in a positive way, they became significantly less lonely, social anxiety was reduced, neighborhood quality improved, and conflict reduced.

The results of the study showed that a social connection intervention can be performed with no resources or training; anyone can take action and improve the social connection in their life.

Holt-Lunstad concluded with an invitation: “All I ask is that you take a moment to do something kind for someone else, because our evidence shows that one of the best ways to help yourself is to help others.”

The Hickman Lecture is presented annually by a faculty member who received the Martin B. Hickman Scholar Award for being a distinguished faculty member whose professional contributions to the college emulate excellence. Learn from previous outstanding faculty members here.

Learn more about Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s research at julianneholtlunstad.byu.edu.

First-Gen Students Find Success with These Three Tips

Haylie June is a first-generation student, which means she will be the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. A sociology senior from Racine, Wisconsin, June feels she’s had amazing experiences at BYU. Still, she’s recognized the disadvantages and unique struggles that first-generation students face as they navigate college life without guidance from parents or grandparents.

Hundreds of students like June arrive at BYU every year blazing a new trail and setting an example for the next generation, for siblings, and even for parents.

Here are some simple tips for first-generation students looking to find their place at BYU.

1. Join the First-Generation Club

According to The Pell Institute, first-generation students are four times more likely to leave higher education after the first year than their peers. To combat this risk factor, BYU first-gen students have created the First-Generation Student Organization, a BYUSA club dedicated to providing sustained support to first-gen students at BYU. Supervised by Ben Gibbs, assistant professor of sociology, the club hosts weekly events designed to help first-gen students learn to network and find mentors.

June discovered the First Generation club early last semester, and believes the greatest value in the club is sharing knowledge with people in a similar situation and relating to other students. She says, “Being part of this club and meeting students that have similar, but also different experiences than me, has really helped me develop new skills and look outside of myself. It gives me an opportunity to serve and get to know people that I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.”

2. Seek Out Mentors

The club emphasizes the importance of seeking mentors. June’s college experience completely changed when she shifted her perspective, realizing that “there’s people here to help me and [who] want to help [me] succeed, and they’re offering me skills and mentorship that are making these experiences more meaningful.”

June found the mentoring she was seeking in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences as she pursues a degree in sociology. “At first, sociology felt like the fastest way to get a degree and apply for law school,” says June. “But I got a job as a TA for a research class and started doing research with that professor, and now I want to be a professor myself.”

June’s mentor, Michael R. Cope, associate professor of sociology, is a first-gen student himself. “Seeing him as a first-generation student in an academic setting, as someone who I would consider very successful, that has been a great example to me that you can do it — that there are people like you in these academic settings,” says June. She’s even had the opportunity to co-author a peer-reviewed journal article with Cope.  

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Professors

While every student experiences the fear that they’re irritating professors by reaching out, it can be hard for first-gen students to ask for help since they’ve been so independent in getting to college. This can be intimidating, but June says, “All my experiences with mentors in this college… have made me feel very valued and important, and I’ve never felt like a burden when I’m asking questions or needing guidance.”

Professors and teaching assistants are put in place to help students. First-generation students shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of office hours and email communication.

Haylie enjoys a BYU football game with her husband and son. (Haylie June)

June plans to continue sociology research, focusing on first-gen students and motherhood during college. Her experiences navigating college as a first-generation student have helped her build empathy and other attributes that serve her in her family and academic roles.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned, don’t hesitate to invite students — whether they’re first-gen or not — to share the knowledge you have,” say’s June. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends or your classmates to offer help and support when you can.”

To learn more about the First-Generation Student Organization, visit their website.

Use Positive Psychology To Change Your Brain in Healthy Ways

Have you ever felt stuck in a personal rut? Maybe not a full-blown crisis, but you’ve definitely been better? Psychologist Adam Grant terms this feeling “languishing,” and a large portion of the population finds themselves trapped in this mental-health twilight zone.

Jared Warren, associate professor of clinical and developmental psychology, has a solution. 

Warren studies positive psychology, or the applied science of well-being. His research objective is to connect people with evidence-based resources for living their best life possible.

“Positive psychology is about being a whole person,” Warren says. “A misconception about positive psychology is that it’s just a ‘focus on the positive, look on the bright side’ kind of naive approach to life, and that’s not at all what it is. It’s recognizing that there’s value in every experience, including the challenging ones.”

Warren’s research, among the research of others in the field, links principles of positivity like gratitude, mindfulness, self-compassion, and savoring to overall well-being. By learning these skills, anyone can take steps to flourish mentally. But, research also shows that simply understanding positive principles will not lead to personal progress.

Warren developed the course for and teaches Psych 349, “Introduction to Positive Psychology.” The curriculum gives students the opportunity to develop an attribute of well-being by practicing that attribute for three weeks. Known as “The 21-Day Personal Growth Experiment,” this assignment moves students from knowing about well-being to living what they know.

Dr. Warren also has a practice as a clinical psychologist at BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic. He says that his research has helped patients at the clinic “because some positive psychology practices are already baked into some of our best clinical approaches.” 

The John Taylor Building houses the Comprehensive Clinic (Claire Moore)

Many tried and true psychological treatments line up naturally with positive psychology principles, such as having subjects actively plan pleasant activities, consider their personal core values, and set goals to become who they’ve always wanted to be.

But positive psychology isn’t just for those struggling with clinical disorders. Wherever people find themselves on the spectrum of well-being, positive psychology can help anyone live a rich, vibrant, and meaningful life. The skills developed by practicing positive psychology build the capacity to handle unexpected stressors and challenges that will inevitably come into our lives.

So, how can you break out of the languishing rut? 

“To change the brain in healthy ways we have to practice,” says Warren. “My wish for the whole world is that everyone could spend 20 minutes a day practicing some of these skills for improving their well-being.”

To work through some positive psychology modules and improve your own well-being, visit the My Best Self 101 website developed by Warren.

Other mental health resources for students include BYU CAPS, the SafeUT App and webinars from the Hope Squad.

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers counseling services for individuals, couples, and families in the Utah County area. Services are provided by graduate student interns in Clinical Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Social Work. These graduate student therapists are supervised by experienced, licensed professionals, and faculty members. Call (801)422-7759 to schedule an intake.

Durham Lecture Recap: Gail Miller on Courage and Giving

Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group, visited the BYU campus on February 10 to deliver the annual G. Homer Durham lecture. Her talk, titled, “The Impact of Community Service and Philanthropy,” gave insights into her journey as a businesswoman and philanthropist.

Gail and her late husband Larry Miller began their foray into business when Larry purchased his first automobile dealership in 1979. Mrs. Miller described how the company continued to grow saying, “One thing after another we were guided through the business world, adding a piece here and a piece there, until we were very engaged in the automobile business.”

In 1986, the Millers purchased the Utah Jazz, which changed their lives forever. As their company grew and the team gained more notoriety, the Millers found themselves living in the public eye and bringing more attention to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their values than they could have ever expected. 

When Larry passed away in 2009, Gail became the face of the company and took an active role in managing the business. Describing the decision to run the business, Mrs. Miller says, “We had a reputation for being ethical, for being honest, for being fair, for treating our people right and providing good jobs. I knew that I could not let that die, so I gathered my courage and decided to step into a role that I was neither prepared for nor wanted.”

Mrs. Miller felt nervous about the enormous responsibility she faced. She said, “The courage came from knowing that my Heavenly Father expected me to use my talents and my ability as a woman to make a difference.”

While she acted in courage, the transition to leadership in the company wasn’t easy for Mrs. Miller. Working with lifelong businesspeople presented challenges and social discomfort. “I was not respected. I hate to say that, but I was a newbie!” exclaimed Mrs. Miller. “I had to learn to speak up to show that I knew what I was talking about.”

As she gained experience, Mrs. Miller did not forget the values that she and Larry committed to when they started their business, primarily the values of community service and philanthropy. She reflected on the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 when Larry fell ill. “I told my son, ‘I know that we need to do everything that we can to keep the business alive, but we cannot stop giving.’ We couldn’t give at the level that we did before, but we did not stop giving.”

Mrs. Miller closed with her philosophy on philanthropy by saying, “We have opportunities beyond our capacities when we accept the role of sharing what we have with others. There is so much need all around us but there is so much opportunity to enrich lives and make a difference in this world.”

The BYU Political Science Department sponsors the G. Homer Durham lecture every year, inviting notable speakers to discuss social, political and historical topics. G. Homer Durham served as an educator, General Authority in the Church and as Church Historian during his exemplary life.

What the Beijing 2022 Games Taught Us About US–China Relations

There’s nothing quite so unifying as the Olympics. We watched the world’s greatest athletes compete and experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But the conversation surrounding this Winter Olympics was a bit more complicated.

Concerns about China’s human rights violations, athletes’ free speech, and the politics of the International Olympic Committee were swirling around like the snow that didn’t fall in Beijing. Eric Hyer, associate professor of political science at BYU who studies China, has a unique perspective on the situation.

Hyer is the coordinator for Asian Studies at BYU. His knowledge and interest in China foreign policy began as a youth living in Japan and Taiwan and continues through his scholarly work, including his latest book “The Pragmatic Dragon: China’s Grand Strategy and Boundary Settlements,” published in 2015.

“The Olympics have always been a political event — that’s just something that comes with the territory — and the Chinese are experts in making a spectacle of national pride,” says Hyer. When China hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they sent the message that China was taking off as a global superpower, a real international leader.

The message was very different this year. With the predominant global economy, China no longer has to prove their power and seemed to be saying, “We are here and you can’t ignore us.” 

“The Chinese have demonstrated now that they’re not going to back down or try to please the United States. They’re going to go their own direction,” says Hyer of China’s global assertiveness in the last decade.

This shift in messaging is especially apparent in the way that Chinese officials are communicating about the human rights violations currently happening in Xinjiang Province. The United States has accused China of committing cultural genocide among the Uyghur population, citing incarceration in re-education camps, restrictions on religious practices, forced sterilization, torture, and forced labor. Chinese officials continue to deny accusations, and refer to U.S. pressures as “political posturing.”

These pressures seemed to be coming to a head at this year’s Olympics, with U.S. officials declaring a diplomatic boycott, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, and India, among other countries. Hyer believes this boycott may not have the intended effect.

“The Chinese seem to be using this as an example of the United States’ diminishing world power. They’ve responded by saying that the United States tried to organize this big boycott and it just didn’t gain much momentum or influence with very many countries, and they see this as an opportunity to show that the U.S. is not as powerful as it used to be.”

As far as the situation in Xinjiang goes, Hyer has watched things unfold for years. During his research on China’s border disputes in 2006, he published a scholarly article titled, “China’s Policy Toward Uighur Nationalism,” that analyzed the relationship between the Chinese government and the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. 

Hyer expressed the dramatic change in Xinjiang since that article was written. As worldwide concerns about Muslim extremists have grown, China has targeted the Uyghur Muslims as a potential threat to national security measures. Hyer says, “The Chinese are dead set on forcing Uyghurs to essentially forget their language, forget their customs, forget their religion, and embrace being Chinese. It’s a project of total assimilation. And in that sense, it’s cultural genocide.”

Unfortunately, Hyer doesn’t foresee China having a change of heart anytime soon. “The United States and some European allies continue to push human rights, but China just doesn’t respond anymore,” Hyer says. “It’s unfortunate but we’re losing traction when it comes to human rights.”

“It’s a dilemma. On one hand, we are really unhappy with the human rights situation in China, and at this particular moment the human rights situation in Xinjiang. On the other hand we would really like to see the Olympic events go forward without any problems so the athletes can have good competition and demonstrate their years of training.” 

While the Olympic games have come to a close, concern about China’s human rights violations should not.

If learning about topics like this interests you, the Political Science department offers major tracks in Global Development and International Strategy and Diplomacy, and the Kennedy Center offers a major in International Relations.

YOU Can Be a Social Scientist

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a hard question to answer, made even harder if you can’t picture someone like you in the role you dream of. 

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences is hosting monthly “Picture a Social Scientist” events to promote belonging. Each event will feature inspiring social science professionals students can relate to. 

“Our student body doesn’t always look like our faculty, and that creates a disconnect between role models and the groups we want to reach,” explained Mikaela Dufur, associate dean and professor of sociology. “We have such talented students and we just want to make sure that they know they belong in these spaces.” 

The “Picture a Social Scientist” campaign is designed to fulfill two goals: to provide role models in social science for students from underrepresented groups and to help people who aren’t in those groups broaden their picture of what a social scientist is. 

“We want underrepresented students to consider potential pathways they can follow to see themselves in social science. And we want to help change people’s perspective so when they picture a psychologist or a geographer or a sociologist, maybe they’ll picture someone who looks different from them and broaden their own minds,” said Dufur.

The first activity will be a panel this week titled, “Picture a Black Social Scientist,” featuring Sherinah Saasa, assistant professor of social work, Ryan Gabriel, assistant professor of sociology, and Zyon Smiley, a psychology department alumnus who is currently studying for an MPA. The panel will be held on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 3 p.m. in room B192 of the Joseph F. Smith Building (also known as the Education in Zion Auditorium).

Future events will explore themes such as depression and anxiety, neurodiversity, and being a woman or a parent or managing a dual-career family in the social sciences. Students can expect to be enriched by new perspectives and gain insights on their own social science ambitions from each month’s guests.