Thursday, April 22


My Aunt forwarded the latest news on the Mormon blogs.  Turns out Brigham Young University (BYU) is closing its Women's Research Institute (WRI).  Here is a posting my Aunt sent me from the Mormon Feminist Network.

Shutting Down BYU's Women's Research Institute

By: Guest - November 4, 2009

My name is Elisa. I am a senior at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a famously conservative university owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. 98% of the student body subscribes to the LDS faith, but we are nevertheless an extremely diverse group of students, ideologically speaking. Of the approximate 30,000 students at BYU, 48% are female, and 2,691 students are enrolled in the Women's Studies minor, almost 10 percent of the entire student population. At such a (let's face it) conservative school, the fact that we even have a Women's Studies minor is a pretty big deal, and the BYU Women's Research Institute has contributed enormously to the university community since its founding in 1978.  From 2006 to 2008 alone, the WRI funded 132 faculty research publications relating to women. Some of the brightest and most promising students at BYU are involved with this program.

However, on October 29th the BYU Administration issued a press release (that's what it's called, but in fact it's nowhere to be found on the BYU website or in the school newspaper) saying that the WRI is being shut down come January 2010. The Administration claims that they are "streamlining and strengthening" the program but what they're really doing is removing all funding WRI used to receive and consolidating it into one faculty research grant and a token amount of funding available for students. Most BYU students found out about this through blogs or other outside media sources rather than through the university itself, and to put it lightly, most of us are infuriated.

There's a reason why this is being kept hush-hush. All major universities have a Women's Studies Program, and shutting down ours is more than just a bad idea, it's a disaster waiting to happen. Money is not the issue: BYU receives generous donations from LDS alumni even in this economy. Additionally, 52% of the WRI budget came from outside, non-BYU sources. This is, in short, another attempt by an overtly conservative administration to shut down any feminist activities because a lack of education makes many people at this institution think feminism is a dirty word.
I believe in the importance of scholarly research devoted to women, and my friends and I are making as much of a fuss as we can. But this needs to get out. Its an ESPECIALLY bad PR move for BYU, and by extension for the LDS Church, to shut down this program, and the more people know about this and express their disapproval, the better.

This is what I am telling those I write to who are not of our faith: Just because the choices LDS women make based on our faith are considered old-fashioned, doesn't mean that we aren't strong, intelligent women who believe in gender equality and everything else feminism stands for. I am proud to consider myself a feminist, and so do many other men and women at this university. We desperately want for this program to not go the way of several other important programs at this university (such as our International Development minor, another magnet for more liberal and therefore supposedly more dangerous students, which was eliminated recently), and it's possible that if enough people outside of our community stand up for the WRI, maybe the higher-ups will change their minds.

One more thing: I may be a convert, a democrat, a feminist, and I may have a swearing problem that I still haven't licked, but this is my church too. I'm not going anywhere, but it's things like this that make it so hard to be a BYU student. This is not an issue of faith. Most of the students at BYU are faithful adherents to the LDS faith and are not being oppressed or silenced by the Church itself. Rather, it is the bureaucracy at the university level that is the source of the problem for myself and all other like-minded students here. I have found that my faith is one of the greatest sources of my personal empowerment as a women, and that my religious beliefs and my social beliefs complement rather than contradict each other. For BYU students, the solution is not to abandon our faith, rather to find ways to reconcile the beliefs of another generation to the ideals we uphold with as much fervor as we do our religion. Shutting down our Women's Research Institute would be a step in the entirely wrong direction.

For more information, here is the official press release.

Most of us found out because of this article, from an independent publication run by Mormons, which is unaffiliated with the Church or BYU officially.

The Facebook group working to prevent this action.

I'm not sure if the BYU student newspaper accepts letters from
non-students, but here is a link to submit a letter to the editor.

More information about BYU in general.

A couple of blog entries with some other students reactions:


There is also a long and interesting set of responses on the Mormon Feminist Housewives website (see good comments #218 - #219; then read the fanatical comment #238 with a funny retort at #239), and a response to all the tumultuous debate on the BYU Website written by the Academic Vice President.

If you read through some of the comments on Mormon Feminist Housewives, I think the most interesting comments are:
1)  Those that address the top-down structure of organizations and contrast it with the bottom-up behaviour of those who seek change or adjustment.  
2)  Close to my heart is the theme of feminism which ultimately desires individual choices for women, which begs the question of how this ideology sits within a patriarchal framework of a religion led by men.  
3)  A conversation about University education and its purposes: is it to provide a liberal education, should it have financial end goals for its students and faculties, or should it train people for a particular type of employment.  
4)  The classic debate of women working in or outside the home rears its historic head.  
5)  The boundaries of a private versus a public education institution, and the distinct laws governing each organization.

All very mixed together they create an interesting discussion.  Most importantly, it was great to read some heartfelt and honest debate about what is important to people and the information we use to help us make our choices.

I am definitely opposed to closing down an umbrella organization that opens up and provides a space for discussing Women's Studies within an academic organization.  The phrase 'two steps forward, one step back' is applicable here.  On the other hand, could the study of women's issues be more effective if integrated into other faculties and disciplines rather than being seen as separate and distinct?  One of my favourite courses during  University was the Sociology of Gender Relations with Dr. Gillian Ranson, in a classroom of 300 students.  The professor taught the course from a feminist perspective but did not share this information with the class until the final week of the term.  Those of us that were familiar with feminist ideologies were not surprised, but I remember hearing a subtle verbal 'ohhhh' 'ahhhhh' and 'really?' after the professor's revelation.  At the end of the course, our professor was nominated for a teaching award and the feeling in the lecture hall was always positive especially during discussions.  A mix of having an institute and including this perspective in all faculties is the best choice in my opinion.  Hopefully the feminist academic conversation at BYU does not suffer due to the loss of the WRI.

Lets keep creating interesting conversations and making informed choices!

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