All Are Free to Breathe

As George Floyd died at the hands of law enforcement officers he cried out, “I can’t breathe.” Those desperate final words now echo in the mouths of the American people as protests erupt across the nation. 

His is yet another name added to a growing list of victims of police brutality against blacks, and with every name the outcry for change and justice grows louder. Lita Giddins, the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences’ (FHSS) Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Coordinator says, “The question on the minds of everyone…is ‘How long until we are free from this issue?’  Protestors against racism are no longer asking the question.  Their unified response is, ‘Now.’”

One of the voices speaking up belongs to Taylor Munlin, a FHSS student. Munlin is an executive director with BYUSA, a member of the Black Student Union, and a member of the FHSS Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Committee. She says that the primary goal of this committee is to create a culture of Zion in the college and at BYU.

We are commanded in the scriptures to “keep my commandments and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:6). Zion is the place where all of God’s children are treated with an equal fullness of love and respect, where the arbitrary distinctions of social categories are stripped, and each can be appreciated for their unique identity as a son or daughter of God. The Book of Mormon promises “blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day” (1 Nephi 13:37). 

But how? Repeating tired platitudes of unity and love on social media, while perhaps well-intended, does little by itself to solve issues at the fundamental level. 

Giddins comments, “The question I continue to ask myself is ‘What is preventing Zion, the ‘pure in heart,’ from being established?’  Purity or clarity of vision to increase self-awareness as we ask ourselves, ‘What lack I yet?’ is key (Matthew 19:20).” She goes on to say “Lowering our defenses to acknowledge the truth of what we see is greatly needed.  Accepting with courage the need to rethink historic mindsets in order to care and act differently to eradicate the deadly pandemic of specific community members being ‘acted upon’ is essential.”

Munlin says that Zion cannot be established until the injustices against the black community are addressed and remedied. Individual instances of injustice are simply manifestations of a larger societal illness. 

While most Americans have an understanding of racism from slavery through the civil rights movement, the story doesn’t just end there. The issue, Munlin explains, is that “we are taught that systemic discrimination ended with the successes of the civil rights movement in the sixties,” when in fact those systems were simply altered and replaced. She says that though laws do not specifically target individuals based on race, certain laws, institutions, and practices have a disproportionate effect on the black community. According to Munlin, these include, but are not limited to education, housing, healthcare, criminal sentencing, and incarceration.  

Even at BYU, where the administration seeks to create an environment of equality and tolerance, there are still obstacles to overcome. Munlin explained how the BYU rule requiring a full-time faculty sponsor for clubs makes it difficult for organizations like the Black Student Union to find that required sponsor support. This would be easier if the sponsorship rule could be extended to part time or ¾ time employees as well. 

Forms of racism are also present within strains of the campus culture. Even well-intentioned individuals are prone to make insensitive remarks or dismiss the lived experience of others. 

“What if I told you ‘you’re really smart for a blonde’,” Munlin asked. “Those are the kinds of comments that people make here that are meant to be compliments.” 

Munlin said one way that students can make a meaningful change is to, “Say things for what they are. Don’t say ‘the issue in society’, say ‘racism against blacks.” To Munlin, the use of euphemisms to avoid addressing uncomfortable topics only prevents the kind of honest discussions that lead to meaningful change. 

Munlin appreciated President Worthen’s willingness to address the issue directly in his June 2, 2020 message, “With the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others over the years, and the confluence of recent events, important conversations are happening…BYU stands firmly against racism and violence in any form and is committed to promoting a culture of safety, kindness, respect and love.”

The question then shifts to what concrete steps must be taken to create real change. Munlin cites the official site of the NAACP, where specific pieces of legislation are posted and explained. She says that everyone should take the time to review these proposed laws and supplement that with an immersion in relevant literature.

At the end of the day, “allyship is about more than social media campaigns,” says Munlin. To her, it involves addressing issues directly, making donations, consuming black media, participating in community outreach, identifying and stopping micro-aggressions, taking relevant courses, giving a platform for black voices, and most of all, genuinely listening to those voices with the intent to understand and act. 

Giddins shares her hopes for a more loving inclusive society saying, “I now view the air we breathe as a heavenly gift.  I now view a Zion community as ‘the pure in heart.’ Christ and His people are one there, and all are free to breathe.”  

Dean Benjamin Ogles Releases Statement on Commitment to Fight Racism

Helpful Resources:

Equal Justice Initiative

FHSS Valedictorians: Paige Park, Sociology

Paige Park

Graduate Paige Park was named valedictorian for the Department of Sociology.

She grew up moving around the country with her family for her dad’s job. Though she enjoyed all of the places she lived, Paige claims Columbus, Georgia, where she went to high school, as home. The racial injustice apparent in her Columbus community prompted Paige to study sociology at BYU, where she hoped she would learn how to eradicate systemic inequality. Almost immediately after choosing sociology, Paige became involved in research and internships with professors who have continuously instructed and inspired her throughout her time at BYU.

Paige has worked on projects related to community well-being, education access, and rural health care. Currently, she is working on a project related to paid family leave that she plans to turn into her master’s thesis at BYU next year. After completing the BYU master’s program, Paige plans to attend law school to become a public interest lawyer. She would like to thank her family, friends, and BYU mentors for their continued encouragement and support. 

FHSS Valedictorians: Pamela Love, School of Family Life

Pamela Love

Graduate Pamela Love was named valedictorian for the School of Family Life. She is the daughter of Ross and Jolene Davidson.

At age 10, she set a goal to attend BYU on scholarship. Her father mentored her until she accomplished her goal. After studying elementary education for a few years, she decided to continue her education at home when she married Kevin Love in 1993.  She devoted the next twenty-five years to her family and she and Kevin now have six children: McKaila, Hunter, Emily, Weston, Elisabeth, and Abigail. When Kevin’s health prevented him from working, she returned to BYU to finish her childhood dream.

She looks forward to using her undergraduate education as a foundation as she enters the Master of Social Work program at BYU in the fall. She would like to thank BYU, her professors and mentors, and especially God, her parents, husband, and children for their support, guidance, and encouragement. 

FHSS Valedictorians: Camille Carter Tuttle, Psychology

Camille Carter Tuttle

Graduate Camille Carter Tuttle received valedictorian honors from the Department of Psychology. She is the daughter of Eric and Allison Carter and the fifth of seven siblings.

The activities she enjoys most are playing with her family, spending time outside, reading excellent books, and swimming. During her undergraduate studies and mission to Mexico, she was repeatedly drawn to the complex nature of cognition and the human experience. She is double-major in psychology and human development. Throughout her BYU education, she participated in the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Student Outreach Council as well as Dr. Birmingham’s Health and Behavior Lab as a research assistant.

She began a master’s program in counseling psychology in January and looks forward to the day when she can open her own private practice for mental health counseling. She attributes her success at BYU to the support of her incredible husband, Lawrence, her wise professors, ambitious classmates, and to God for all He encouraged and helped her to accomplish. 

FHSS Valedictorians: Braydon Madson, Political Science

Braydon Madson

Graduate Braydon Wade Madson was named valedictorian for the Department of Political Science. He is the son of Heidi and Greg Madson.

He was born and raised in Payson, Utah and served a mission in Brisbane, Australia. During his time at BYU, he participated in a variety of programs, including internships in Washington, D.C. and Melbourne, Australia; a study abroad in the Holy Land; and a fellowship in the Global Politics Lab. He is also majoring in ancient Near Eastern studies. He participated in research that looked at minority group relations, the effects of Brexit, and the impact of the global refugee crisis.

The highlight of his undergraduate experience was working as a teaching assistant for POLI 328, Statistical Analysis. He will attend Duke University in the fall to begin work on a Ph.D. in public policy studying refugee and immigration issues, as well as expanding his quantitative skills and teaching abilities. He is extremely grateful for all the support provided by BYU faculty, his family, friends, and his fiancé and fellow political scientist, Brynne Townley. 

FHSS Valedictorians: Maci Jacobson, Neuroscience

Maci Jacobson

Graduate Maci Jacobson was named valedictorian for the Neuroscience Center.

She was born and raised in Riverton, Utah. She is a passionate BYU sports fan and is an artist, often called the “Gumwrapper Girl” for her ability to make art out of gum wrappers. In high school, Maci played and lettered in basketball, tennis, golf, and track. When injuries cut her sports career short, she focused more on school and was led to study neuroscience. She has fallen in love with the field as it has taught her more about empathy, healthy lifestyle, and the gospel. 

At BYU she found her passion for research and received two grants for undergraduate research studying the effects of nutrition and exercise on cognition. Maci hopes to eventually return to BYU as a neuroscience professor and contribute to unlocking the brain through research. Maci has been married for almost a year to Trace, the man of her dreams, and they currently live in Draper, Utah. After graduation, Maci will start her PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Utah. 

FHSS Valedictorian: Miranda Jessop, History

Miranda Jessop

Graduate Miranda Jessop was named valedictorian for the Department of History.

She is an honors student double majoring in history and Spanish Studies with a minor in German, and is scholar at heart. Her parents Christopher and Tiffany Jessop often tease her about her first word, “book,” because it proved to be indicative of her future. She will graduate with four published works to her name (including one in Spanish) and has won multiple awards for her writing.

Miranda interned in Vienna, transcribing audio recordings of interviews with concentration camp survivors for the Mauthausen Survivors Project, and studied European History at the University of Cambridge. She belongs to numerous honors societies and has enjoyed serving as the president of Phi Alpha Theta and editing The Thetean.

When she isn’t researching and writing about women’s history, Miranda is likely to be found doing a jigsaw puzzle, lifting weights, practicing jiu jitsu, playing guitar, or hanging out with her four younger brothers. She would like to thank the outstanding faculty members and wonderful friends and family who have encouraged her to follow her dreams. 

FHSS Valedictorians: Aspen Neville, Geography

Aspen Neville

Graduate Aspen Emily Neville was named valedictorian for the Department of Geography. She is the daughter of Ron and Lara Neville.

Aspen grew up in Vail, Colorado. While deciding a major, she participated in the Kilimanjaro: Global Adventure Travel in Tanzania study abroad with the Geography Department. That eye-opening experience helped her find a love of geography and a desire to learn about the world around her. With the Geography Department, she has been a teaching assistant and has been involved with the BYU weather station. Additionally, Aspen has worked as a GIS (geographic information system) intern with a water conservancy district. She joined both Phi Kappa Phi and Golden Key International Honor Society at BYU.

Outside of school, she enjoys long-distance running, including having run the Boston Marathon two times while attending BYU, skiing, hiking, and just being in nature. She would like to thank her parents for their constant support and love as well as the Geography Department for making her experience at BYU a memorable one.

FHSS Valedictorians: Savannah Hurley, Anthropology

Savannah Hurley

Graduate Savannah Hurley was named valedictorian for the Department of Anthropology. She is the daughter of Charlotte and Bryan Hurley. She grew up in Moab, Utah, and fell in love with studying people during her freshman year at BYU. She discovers a passion for new subjects each semester.

Last year she participated in an anthropological field school in Southeastern Utah and subsequently wrote a research thesis on the archaeology of trade in southern Utah and surrounding areas. She has enjoyed rubbing shoulders with brilliant and inspiring peers at this university.

Apart from learning, Savannah enjoys spending time with her family, collecting snakes, reading, traveling the world, and trying new foods. She would like to thank her family for their support, as well as all of her professors at BYU. In particular, she would like to thank Joseph Moody, Alexandra Brattos, James Allison, and Zach Chase for their skill in teaching and their considerate stewardship over, and even love for their students. Their inspiring words distinguished them and assured her she was worth teaching.