Four Ways You Can Help Congress Be More Effective

Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash

President Biden in less than a month has issued 30 executive orders, clearly demonstrating the power of the executive branch. As the 117th United States Congress starts out with mostly new leadership the question on the mind of many Americans is how effective the elected representatives will be.

If the past is any indication, most Americans probably aren’t expecting much. Over the last decade, Gallup reported Congressional job approval ratings that hovered just over 20% — with a low of 9% in November 2013 and a high of 31% in May 2020. To put it in perspective, the institution has lower approval ratings than colonoscopies, root canals, and cockroaches.

This disdain of Congress can be attributed to many factors, including a rise in partisanship. But Andrew L. Johns, associate professor of history at Brigham Young University, believes the historical record reveals that Congress is not simply ineffective, but has in fact abdicated many of its obligations over time.

“As a result, the constitutional powers, authority, and prerogatives that should be exercised by Congress have been progressively appropriated by the occupants of the White House, both directly and indirectly,” says Johns in his article, “Declining the ‘Invitation to Struggle’: Congressional Complicity in the Rise of the Imperial Presidency,” published in the Pacific Historical Review.

The disturbing result is a less democratic and more authoritarian government. Perhaps most disheartening is the decreasing likelihood of solving complex problems that require a broad range of perspectives and thoughtful deliberation — exactly the strengths a large representative body brings to government.

While Congress will need to be the driving force in reclaiming its authority, citizens can do more than hold their collective breath. By combatting four main reasons Johns outlines for Congressional dysfunction, each of us can find ways to influence the power and effectiveness of Congress.

1. Congress isn’t designed for decisive action. This makes it easy to step back and let the president handle urgent matters. Congress has the authority to intervene, but not always the will to do so when it’s possible there is a faster, if less democratic, way to a solution. As citizens, we can be patient in important matters and, with our representatives, consider a variety of perspectives as they struggle toward solutions.

2. Political polarization limits congressional power and influence. The refusal to compromise with one’s political opponents prevents the government from handling pressing issues. Profoundly gerrymandered congressional districts and other tactics contribute to polarization. “Support members of Congress who are willing to reach across the aisle,” Johns says. When Congress is divided it creates power on the extremes of both parties and leaves the center completely powerless. “The center is where the work gets done, where the compromise occurs, and where Congress gets its power and authority.”

3. The evolving relationship of Congress and the presidency with the American public benefits presidential power. In the contemporary world, media and technological tools have created a presidency that has a closer relationship to the public than individual members of Congress have with their own districts, at least in terms of perception and familiarity. Presidents, like quarterbacks, tend to get more credit and more blame than they deserve. Citizens can make an effort to get to know their congressmen and frequently communicate directly with them. Know where to accurately place both blame and praise.

4. Parochial interests override institutional interests. Although members of Congress all theoretically have a common stake in the power of the institution, the stronger motivation to the hundreds of individual members is to get reelected by serving their own district or state. This type of situation results in the diminishing of Congress because the “collective Congress” fractures under parochial considerations. It’s true then, that the greatest power citizens have over Congress is their vote. Use your vote to express how you want elected officials to prioritize their interests when representing you.

Johns reminds us that we should support and elect members of Congress that actively seek to restore the constitutional balance because “the Constitution cannot enforce itself.”

Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Virtual Art Gallery

Students from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences recently participated in an art competition focused on building Zion at BYU through diversity and inclusion. These pieces, done in a variety of mediums, communicate the students’ feelings on fostering a loving environment where all feel welcome.

During February, the library will host a physical gallery of the artwork in the Atrium Gallery. All are welcome to visit. We also compiled the art into a virtual gallery for everyone to enjoy.

(Photos by Alyssa Dahneke of BYU photo)

1st Place: Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise

Kathryn Ogden

“My piece depicts a gathering of priesthood holders for the naming and blessing of a newborn girl. Each priesthood holder is meant to represent a different community, society, or culture. For some of these figures I had a personal, real-life inspiration to guide me in my creation. My daughter was the original inspiration for this chalk design. She inspires me daily to recognize the good around me and try new things as she does the same. While my daughter is caucasian, I wanted to depict the little girl in this artwork as ethically ambiguous as I could. I want her to symbolize the future generations that have the opportunity to be a part of Zion by creating unity and spreading love to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else that differentiates people.”


2nd Place: Character, Attributes, and Faithfulness

Alina Vanderwood

“Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, ‘Zion is Zion because of the character, attributes, and faithfulness of her citizens.’ My piece is a black and white landscape of BYU campus, just outside of the Harold B. Lee Library, populated by colorful silhouettes of students that leave trails of color along their way. This is meant to portray that the character, attributes, and faithfulness of each person is unique and as they interact with and uplift each other, the colors blend together to make a new, more beautiful atmosphere that will lay a positive foundation for those who follow them.”


3rd Place: Your Fight is My Fight

Nicholas Rex

“I was inspired by the many diverse people at the Black Lives Matter protests. It seemed to me that all the people there understood why they were there. They wrote what they believed on their cardboard signs and marched. They knew in their heart why Black Lives Matter, and were fighting for them. I believed Black Lives Matter but did not know why, and did not understand my place in all of this. I did not know what my core message of support for the Black Lives Matter movement was, but as I looked around I found my message in everybody else’s message: Your fight is my fight.”


Dean’s Honorable Mention: Oh How We Need Each Other

Kayla Beck Nuss

“With the news of George Floyd and other POC victims coming into many people’s conversations from this past summer, I was inspired to create this piece. This painting is supposed to reflect the courage and strength of the people who have spoken out and shared their experiences with underlying racism that still exists in our world today. We need them. We need each other to support and uplift.”


Honorable Mention: Zion Under Her Nails

Madison Siebers

“I was inspired by our community’s need for racial diversity to create Zion. When I was a freshman, a professor once talked about living our lives like we “had Zion under our fingernails.” It has been a motto for me as I’ve made life decisions—I want to be on my knees, elbow-deep in the work.”


Honorable Mention: Garden

Leslie Neville

“I have always viewed flowers as a symbol of beauty and growth. In my artwork, I attempted to convey the beauty that can come from joining hands with individuals of all cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Each hand has something unique to contribute that adds to the colorful garden of flowers.”


Honorable Mention: A Day in the Life

Carrie Nelson

“This was taken in a tiny town outside of Mexico City. I remember seeing this man going about his day, most likely doing his work to provide for his family and thinking, ‘Wow, he does this everyday?’ I immediately was overcome with so much respect for him.”


Honorable Mention: Grafting

Eden Smith

“This painting is inspired by the parable of the tame and wild olive trees in Jacob Chapter 5, in which the Lord of the vineyard saves his dying olive trees by crafting in wild branches. In our society today, “grafting” means sharing diverse opinions, ideas, and talents to strengthen those around us and foster inclusion, mutual understanding, and faith.


Honorable Mention: Their Trauma Remains

Lindsey Meza

“I wanted to depict the intergenerational trauma of black women. Enslaved black women went through intense physical, sexual, and emotional trauma. That trauma did not die when they did—it passed to their posterity. I wanted to paint something that depicted that chain. Even though it wasn’t the present woman’s personal trauma, it’s still hers—passed to her by their ancestors.”


Honorable Mention

Claire Felsted

“I want it to represent all kinds of people with no real distinction because in the end, whatever it is of the many things that make us different, we are all children of God and can be united in love if we choose to be. Red and white roses often symbolize unity, and the color blue is also expressive of unity, so I made sure to incorporate them into my piece. I also added intertwined ropes for the same symbolism. We are all part of this world and the community of humanity. May we treat each other with respect is my hope.”


Honorable Mention: My Brother

Sage Smith


Honorable Mention:

Forecasting a Conversation and Seeing Only Storms Ahead, for the Past Has Given Little Reason to Expect Otherwise

Preston Makoto Hunter


Look to the Son

Hannah Stadler

As I thought about what Zion meant to me, I realized that Zion is really another word to describe Jesus Christ. The person who created us so individually clearly not only appreciates diversity but needs it in this world. So vice versa, diversity is necessary to build a Zion community. I wanted to show how different cultures and people all over the world are all united through Christ.


Natalie Frenfell

Despite our differences, as we come together with others in our communities and throughout the world, we will discover a greater whole in store. Growing to accept people regardless of culture, origin, and background will enable us to purify our hearts and create a greater Zion community.


Do Unto Others

Casey Geslison

“I wanted to create a modern icon showing the divine nature of Black women. Basing her pose on traditional Orthodox icons, I hoped to convey a sense of dignity and strength, as well as a spiritual power I’ve felt from BIPOC friends. I hope we can all become the disciples Christ needs us to be by actively pursuing anti-racist actions and narratives and doing unto others as we would have done to us!”


Earth Tones

Faith Williams

“I recently had the realization that every skin tone that exists across the planet earth can be found in the many colors of dirt, sand, and rock across this same planet, our home. It feels beautiful to me that something so natural as the color of our skin—no matter the color—is represented in the earth. After all, what could be more natural than the substance upon which we stand, walk, and exist?”


A Change of Heart

Joseph Chu

“This piece is inspired by the concept of having a changed heart because of the influence of God. when we are truly touched by God and changed, we see others with more charity, and we have a desire to help them no matter the differences we may have with each other. Our perspective towards people becomes more Christlike. To me, the importance of diversity is that it offers us a chance to apply the concept of charity in a variety of different ways, because each person that we encounter is so unique.”


Broken Hands United

Emily Schwartz

“If we are to have the unity of a Zion community, we need to put in a concerted effort to address the pains of the past. It is critical to realize that we can’t keep using bandaids to conceal the centuries of hurt that have been inflicted by racism. In recognizing that truth, we can begin to work towards a brighter future as we stitch together our broken hearts and hands in unity.”


Unique Rules and Important Contributions

Kellie Haddon


Visit the exhibit this month in the HBLL Atrium Gallery and visit the BYUnity website for more information on the college’s Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion initiatives.

Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture Dives into the Immigration Experience from a Psychological Perspective

Niwako Yamawaki, BYU professor and associate chair in the Department of Psychology, is the speaker for this year’s Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, at 11 a.m. Find the Zoom link here.

The title of Dr. Yamawaki’s presentation is “My Perspective as an Immigrant.” 

Dr. Yamawaki came from Japan to Salt Lake City when she was 29 years old. Because she felt impressed by the Spirit to make this move, she had the courage to come alone and without anyone to receive her.

In her presentation, she hopes to use principles of psychology to help others better understand the experience of immigrants, so that everyone can be empathetic toward them. Dr. Yamawaki says, “As a Christian, it is my responsibility to assist people who are in pain and suffering,” 

Dr. Yamawaki conducts cross-cultural research to investigate cultural factors that influence attitudes toward mental health services and violence against women. Along with that, she is interested in the role of psychological resilience in Eastern and Western populations and is affiliated with both the American Psychological Association and the Japanese Association for Mental Health.

The Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture is given annually by a faculty member who has been awarded the Hickman Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Award based on their research, teaching, and citizenship in the area of diversity and inclusion. The award is named for Martin B. Hickman (along with five other faculty awards in the college) who, as founding dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, helped establish the Women’s Research Institute and David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, setting a standard for research that is inclusive of diverse populations. Dr. Yamawaki is the award recipient for the 2020-21 academic year.

Hickman Diversity & Inclusion Lecture

“My Perspective as an Immigrant”

Friday, February 19, 2021, 11 a.m. MT

Presented live via Zoom

Find details here

Family Characteristics are More Important Than School Characteristics for Child Wellbeing

Associate dean, Dr. Mikaela Dufur introduces Dr. Toby Parcel as the 17th Annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecturer

The first-ever virtual Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture took place with guest lecturer Toby L. Parcel, professor emerita of sociology at North Carolina State University, sharing her research on the effects of families and schools on child wellbeing. Her Feb. 4 lecture drew in over 200 participants.

View the lecture here.

Dr. Parcel shares that the best way to support schools is to support families. She says, “In each generation, we ask too much of schools, we place heavy burdens on schools and teachers. Let’s support families in doing their job well and in turn that will be the most beneficial for schools.”

Dr. Parcel finds that family social capital (connection to children) has a larger impact on child wellbeing than schools. Her research shows that social capital at home deters alcohol and drug use, but social capital at school does not.

“Family characteristics are virtually always more powerful than school characteristics in affecting adolescents’ cognitive and social outcomes,” says Dr. Parcel. She also finds that bonds between parents and children predict college enrollment and completion and are longer lasting than bonds at school.

When schools and families conflict, parental jobs become more difficult, but Dr. Parcel shares that when capital at home and at school are mutually reinforcing it can have “positive effects on both academic and social outcomes for children and reduce behavior problems.”

Dr. Parcel addressed the worry that many parents have that their children’s education is being negatively affected by online schooling. She finds that these negative effects are most severe for at-risk children. She also discovers that mothers especially struggle to balance work and their children’s schoolwork, all while establishing limits on screen time. On a positive note, some parents are becoming more involved and report better engagement with their children’s learning.

Dr. Parcel encouraged parents to create a warm and supportive environment in their homes by reading to children, asking about school, and showing their children that school is important.

Dr. Parcel gave additional public lectures online designed specifically for students and faculty.

During the student lecture on Feb. 2, Dr. Parcel spoke on the idea of “having it all,” or more specifically, balancing career ambitions and family goals. She asked students to consider how the choices they make now can help them in the years ahead.

“One can have it all, but probably not all at once,” says Dr. Parcel. “Different paths work best for different people.”

Dr. Parcel discussed how the shifting values in society and more remote job options are making careers more flexible and accessible for people who have different needs. She says, “At the end of the day, the ability to adapt to shifting circumstances is critical to making the right decisions at the right time.”

She presented relevant scholarship as well as her own experiences as an academic and mother that indicate a hopeful change and more opportunities — especially for women — in crafting a healthy balance between a career and family.

View the recorded sessions at hinckleychair.byu.edu/parcel-lectures-2021

Check out what we have going on in February!

Happy February! Here are the events we have going on in our college, including many that celebrate Black History Month.

February 1-29 Black History Month — “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” ~ Desmond Tutu

Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion (DCI) Art Contest Entries: Entries & Winners are on display ALL MONTH in the Atrium Gallery at the HBLL 

February 3 Race: Myths and Realities “How To Be An Antiracist” — Join the panel discussion regarding the Book of the Semester, How to Be an Antiracist. Amazing professors will be on the panel such as Rebecca de Schweinitz, Ryan Gabriel, Lori Spruance, and Leslie Hadfield as the moderator. Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here.  Noon

February 4 The Divide in the LDS 2020 Vote by Gender, Age, Race, and Place — Join us for a lecture by Jake Rugh, Associate Professor of Sociology at BYU. Part of the Global Women’s Studies Winter 2021 Colloquium. Zoom Meeting ID: 996 5473 7803   Noon 

February 10 Race: Myths and Realities: Matt Mason (BYU, History) “Slavery and the Politics of Humanity and Honor in the American Revolutionary War” — Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here.  Noon

February 12, 13, & 26 Living Legends — BYU Living Legends is pleased to offer an encore performance of its beloved show, Seasons. With recognizable classics and a bevy of new numbers, this production is sure to delight multiple generations. Come enjoy the music of our hearts, the outfits of our cultures, the story of our people, and, most especially, the dance of our powerful performers! Look at dance.byu.edu/ for times & Livestream Links 

February 14 Valentines Day 

February 16 Darius Gray Black History Month Lecture: Richard Bell (University of Maryland, Author of Stolen) — Professor Bell will be answering questions connecting his book with the movie Harriet. Co-sponsored by BYU History Department and BYU International Cinema. Zoom Link: click here.  2-3:15PM 

February 16 Jazz Ensemble & Syncopation — Big Band and vocal choir jazz. A high-energy, fun, uplifting, and enjoyable show! 7:30PM Livestream from https://music.byu.edu/

February 17 Race: Myths and Realities: Nadia Brown (Purdue University) “Sister Style: The Politics of Appearance for Black Women Political Elites” — Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here. Noon

February 18 GWS Colloquium: Marie Orton “Women Migrant Writers in Italy and the International Black Lives Matter Movement” — Part of the Global Women’s Studies Winter 2021 Colloquium. Zoom Meeting ID: 996 5473 7803   Noon 

February 19 Diversity & Inclusion Lecture: Niwako Yamawaki (BYU, Psychology) “My Perspective as an Immigrant” — Zoom Link will be available at http://fhss.byu.edu  11AM

February 19 Perspectives — Black Students put on a performance through music, dance, and poetry highlighting their beautiful expansion of history and culture. Event is through the Multicultural Student Services office. 5PM Look at multicultural.byu.edu/ for Livestream Link

February 23 University Forum: Dambisa Moyo, Macroeconomist — Dambisa Moyo, macroeconomist and author, will deliver the Forum address. Dr. Moyo’s remarks will be broadcast on BYUtv. Connect here 11AM

February 24 Race: Myths and Realities: Erika Edwards (University of North Carolina) “A Black Mother of a White Nation: The Whitening Process in Argentina” — Kennedy Center lecture series, register for Zoom Link here. Noon