As a teenage convert to the LDS Church from New York City, going to BYU and studying in Utah was the equivalent of going to the Vatican or Mecca–– I would be studying on holy ground. BYU was the place where all good Mormons went (at least, according to my bright eyed and bushy tailed new convert self). So despite acceptances to other colleges such as Mount Holyoke, Pratt Institute, the University of Michigan, and others, I put my deposit down at BYU. And, much to the dismay of my non-member parents, I attended.
I arrived in Provo ready to be among my Mormon brothers and sisters. I was ready to embrace all that Mormon culture had to offer. I would finally be accepted for who I was as a faithful Latter-day Saint! Well, that was the idea, at least.
Back home in New York, after being introduced to the Church, I was considered a conservative among a vast sea of liberals (this was New York City, after all). As a result of my affiliation with the LDS Church and because of my desire to fit in with my new faith, I embraced conservative ideals–– I was anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, believed a woman’s place was in the home, supported Republican leadership, et cetera. This was part of joining the Mormon Church, right? So I went through my four years of high school defending those conservative ideals, believing it was what the Church wanted for me and was the way to true happiness.
In Provo, all those beliefs started to unfurl. I saw what I supposedly believed in the faces of others. When people I knew at BYU began to express homophobic tendencies (including one friend who believed that homosexuality was a choice), I cringed. When the female friends I associated with only aspired to be stay-at-home mothers with no other contingency plan or any further hopes or passions, I was in shock. When my friends believed that people outside the Church were lacking in happiness or true joy, I was saddened. Did I really believe that? Did I really support those things in high school? Are these really the ideas the Church espouses and wants me to embrace? Obviously, my testimony began to fall apart and unravel as I tried to figure out the difference between doctrine and culture. However, that is for another day and another post. The point here being that I kept my testimony, but BYU eventually turned me into a diehard liberal and feminist.
Okay, so I became a liberal and a feminist. Now what? Who was I supposed to relate to? Who was I supposed to confide in? The only way to find that out was to just be myself. I wasn’t completely in-your-face about my new ideology, but when people said things that offended my newfound liberal and feminist conscience, I spoke up. I got to know people who also spoke up and expressed similar views as I. Essentially, I put out feelers as to who I could trust. They didn’t necessarily have to be as liberal or as outspoken as I was, but I did have to trust them enough to speak my mind. And I was lucky enough to find quite a few friends who were openminded and loving. Even a few feminists, much to my joy. Finding online support groups such as Young Mormon Feminists and Feminist Mormon Housewives helped with my sanity a great, great deal. I was not alone.
As I prepare to graduate from Brigham Young University (by the time you read this post, I’ll have probably walked across the stage at commencement already), I look back at my time here and realize that as a feminist, things weren’t so bad.
Yes, I had to deal with people mocking the sincere and faithful members of Ordain Women. I had to restrain myself from verbally lashing those who blatantly insulted and demeaned our homosexual brothers and sisters. And if I had a dollar for every time I heard “those feminists”, I would be able to afford quite a few Cafe Rio pork salads. But overall, I was able to find my niche. BYU helped me develop into a feminist I don’t think I would have become had I gone somewhere else. I suppose it’s because it was easier to stand up for what I believed in, after being confronting with viewpoints I didn’t believe in. BYU was a refiner’s fire. And as I began to shine brightly with that feminist glow, others were able to draw nearer to me. I found dear friends who felt the same frustrations as I did and celebrated the same victories as I did. The friends and associates I found here truly saved me here from suffocating here at BYU. And though many of my friends wouldn’t consider themselves liberal or feminists, they are openminded. And that’s all I really ask for in friendships. Some of my good friends are among the most conservative Republicans you’ll ever meet. But we’re friends because they’re able to listen to my views, respectfully disagree (or, reluctantly agree), and still continue to be my friend. I am grateful for those friends, as well. Those who listen, regardless of political or religious belief. Those who are able to not let politics or religious conservatism get in the way of a fruitful friendship. It also helped my sanity a great deal that I studied within a fairly moderate and left leaning department here at BYU, with decidedly openminded and caring professors. I was also able to take classes from and identify other feminist and left-leaning professors here, and that has given me great hope for BYU. Even my church leaders, conservative as they were, were empathetic and listened to my concerns and were extremely caring.
So, looking back at my time here at BYU, I can honestly say as a feminist that I enjoyed and appreciated my education and experiences here. BYU helped me to define my beliefs (politically and religiously), introduced me to the most amazing and interesting people, and learn patience and empathy. I realize that many people with similar views did not have the same positive experience as I did, and that saddens me. But at least for this New York City convert, attending BYU proved to be a character defining experience that has shaped the person I am now, feminism and all.
I wouldn’t change it for the world. (Well, maybe a few things….)
For those who went to BYU (either in Provo, Idaho or Hawaii) what was your experience? Looking back, would you have chosen another school to attend? How did you survive? Would you encourage others to attend? What were some feminist successes or failures you had while studying at a Church school?
If you didn’t attend a Church school, how were your experiences elsewhere as a feminist or liberal member of the Church?