The BYU Civil Rights Seminar teaches students how to build “beloved communities”

Students participating in the BYU Civil Rights Seminar.

A group of students with majors ranging from English to public health to civil engineering are on a mission to create “beloved communities”. This semester, students of varying racial backgrounds enrolled in the Civil Rights Seminar course and traveled to Alabama and Georgia, where they felt the weight of the Civil Rights movement’s legacy at historical sites, monuments and memorials.

While progress has been made for minorities who have been persecuted in the past, this class sees room for improvement and awareness at BYU and beyond. With percentages of only 1% African American and 82% Caucasian students, BYU has a ways to go in representation.

The purpose of the course was to “Explore frameworks, concepts, models, and examples from the Civil Rights Movement that individual students can utilize as they grapple with the courageous, difficult, and complex history of race relations in the United States.”

After a semester of reading and discussion, the class set off for the South. In the heartland of the Civil Rights movement, students visited sites such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace, the Rosa Parks Museum, and Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The class not only observed the influence of the movement, but interacted with those who’d been a part of it. Students had private meetings with Martin Luther King Jr.’s barber, one of the original Freedom Riders, a participant in the 1963 Birmingham “Children’s Crusade” and a white pastor of an all-black congregation who worked with King and was a neighbor and pastor to Rosa Parks.

From the teachings of Revered Martin Luther King Jr., this class has adopted a purpose for themselves and their fellow BYU students: to create beloved communities where people love and serve as Christ did. More specifically, their goal is to increase cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity at BYU.

“If the world is truly our campus, then we should be discussing the world and its issues,” says a member of the seminar. Having more required conversations at BYU about racial injustice in America and the world would help students as they move on in their careers and education. Knowing the nature of the world, students would be more equipped to “go forth and serve” when they leave BYU.

“Students can get involved with diverse groups on campus such as Tribe of Many Feathers or the Black Student Union,” says Sociology Professor Ryan Gabriel. This is only one of the many ways students can contribute to a beloved community and broaden their view of human experience. “Additionally, they can take courses that emphasize diverse history and experience.”

To learn more about the Civil Rights Seminar and how to apply to participate in 2020, visit the program webpage.

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