The Women’s Research Institute of BYU (also known as the WRI) is being eliminated effective Jan., 2010. As is the usual fashion when the Church wants to announce something potentially controversial, the “press release” announcing this change was buried as an archive on BYU’s website. Most in the Bloggernacle only found out this information from a farewell article published online by Square Two, published by “various WRI affiliates”. This last article makes the following statement:
The elimination of the WRI was expressed as a streamlining and strengthening of BYU programs in the area of womens studies. While the Womens Studies Minor is to be housed in the Sociology Department (i.e., an interdisciplinary major housed in a disciplinary department), there will no longer be coordinated facilitation at BYU of research and scholarly dialogue concerning women, apart from one university-wide faculty research award and the transfer from the WRI of a small amount of research money for research on women to be given out by the universitys Office of Research and Creative Activities. Within the last twenty years of record-keeping, no other university in the country has eliminated its center of research concerning women. We hope the anomaly of this move on the part of BYU will not be misinterpreted by those who erroneously believe that the LDS Church is not a friend to women and does not consider women’s issues to be important. Only time will tell if the envisioned strengthening will in fact take place at BYU.
Sara Vranes at laughter = medicine contacted the dean of the Sociology department for clarification on the decision to eliminate the WRI:
He had no solid response, just something about how the WRI was no longer fulfilling its mission. Pardon? The WRI brings awareness to the plight of women worldwide through work done by and through BYU students and faculty. Lookie here:Since 1993, the primary focus of the Institute has been programmatic research in three areas: 1) studies designed to prevent gender-related violence and increase peace in individuals, homes, and communities, 2) longitudinal studies to determine effective ways to improve the lives of women in developing countries, especially through education, and 3) studies capitalizing on innovative technologies in order to create repositories of information documenting the conditions in which women live . . . as well as their contributions to society.
[I]f BYU wants to be viewed as an establish[ed] university, then it should do what Stanford, Yale, Harvard, U Penn, Michigan and Berkley do- have a WRI.
However, one post in particular caught my attention:Elise atFeminist Mormon Housewives gave an impassioned plea to BYU to retain the WRI:
Of the approximate 30,000 students at BYU, 48% are female, and 2,691 students are enrolled in the Womens Studies minor, almost 10 percent of the entire student population. At such a (lets face it) conservative school, the fact that we even have a Womens Studies minor is a pretty big deal, and the BYU Womens 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… The Administration claims that they are streamlining and strengthening the program but what theyre 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…
All major universities have a Womens Studies Program, and shutting down ours is more than just a bad idea, its 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 agree with Elise up to this point. However, she then goes on to indicatethat:
Just because the choices LDS women make based on our faith are considered old-fashioned, doesnt mean that we arent strong, intelligent women who believe in gender equality and everything else feminism stands for.
What Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does she belong to that believes in gender equality? The only Mormon church I am aware of makes it clear that women are not equal with men (unless you believe that two groups can be separate but equal, and that by denying women rights given to men, you are actually protecting them).
Furthermore, she also indicates that the LDS church is actually progressive for women, but that it is the “bureaucracy of BYU” that pushed this move (to remove the WRI), and that it is not indicative of the Church at large:
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.
Here is the problem with her analysis: the higher-ups in the bureaucracy that she is railing against here are the General Authorities and the Quorum of the Twelve. You can’t say that when something of this magnitude is being done at “The Lord’s University” (or less tongue-in-cheek, “The University of the CoJCoLDS”) that it isn’t reflective of the opinion of the Church as a whole towards women, women’s issues, and feminism. I remain baffled by women who can endure this sort of obvious second-class treatment at the Church authorities hands, while simultaneously arguing that they Church itself is not misogynist.
Although I understand that the author (and others like her) is trying to avoid cog dis, at some point these issues will be more than just academic.
Perhaps she will go to graduate school, and be questioned by her bishop – the authorized “servant of God” for her salvation – about her “intentions” with regards to having a family and fulfilling her divine calling of motherhood.
Perhaps she will desire to go on a mission, and her Stake President will restrict her, saying that because she has a (pseudo) boyfriend, that she should be thinking of getting married.
Perhaps she will consider getting a job at BYU, only to discover that her department of choice does not hire women of child-bearing age.
Perhaps she will realize that it is demeaning to women when her 12-year-old son (who still wets the bed) has more “authority” to act in God’s name than she, as a 50 year old woman, will ever have.
Moreso than forany monetary or academic reason, the symbolic nature of the Women’s Research Institute should warrant its being kept alive; that is, if the Church were truly at all interested in maintaining the feminist voice within its organization (which I am not convinced of). When the Relief Society was changed from an autonomous body to an auxillary of the priesthood, the process marginalized women. The symbolism of that change is synonymous with the symbolism of the change being effected with the elimination of WRI.
Is this truly the direction the Church would like to see going forward for women in the Church?
For those interested in doing more, there is a Facebook group working to prevent the elimination of the WRI, or you can send a letter to BYU’s student newspaper, The Universe.