BYU Eliminating its Women’s Research Institute
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.
Just goes to show that the church still thinks that the only use for women is cooking, cleaning and reproduction.
I remember being told by some Mormon guy, all the way back in the late 1970s that I shouldn’t be going to college at all because I was taking up a place in classes that a man could be filling.
And then, during the two months I lasted a BYU before not being able to stand it anymore, I was chastised by the adult adviser at my on-campus apartment building that I “wasn’t trying to get along” because I wouldn’t clean up after some of my roommates when they had had a dinner party to which I wasn’t invited. I guess I didn’t help anything when I told the woman that if I had intended to just learn to be a housekeeper, I could have stayed in California and done that much more inexpensively.
But, really, what are you going to do? Because the church is never going to “get it” in regards to equality.
I joined the facebook group.
I don’t see any reason to study violence against women throughout the world or to try and move towards peace. I’m not in favor of any of these goals. And it’s obvious the LDS church is not either.
Wish I was in SLC so I could deliver some additional white roses to the COB.
This is what I meant to have in my quote from the OP
” 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.”
PS – my sarcasm quotes in post 2 didn’t show up either. sigh.
Elaine– During the time my DH was at BYU (late 90s) the Daily Universe printed a letter to the editor to the effect that BYU should stop admitting women, since they just take up men’s spots in the classes. So, some things never change.
Aerin– Don’t worry, I got your sarcasm 🙂 I really hope that the church sees some serious backlash over this. I would like to see their gem of a press release sent to the AP, or at least the board of higher education. I would like to see it go viral.
I wonder if Elisa is simply trying to communicate a message to Mormons in as non-threatening a manner as possible. If you say outright that the General Authorities are wrong or that the Church does not treat men and women equally, many Mormons readers/listeners will simply shut their ears and dismiss you as a misguided apostate who has allowed herself to be offended. Perhaps she engages in questionable distinctions (i.e., BYU higher-ups vs. General Authorities) and evinces a charitable view of gender issues in the Church in order to capture a wider LDS audience. I’m not sure that it all comes down to cog dis.
Steve– You make a very good point. I admit that I have a tendency to “rage against the machine” myself, which is not always the most helpful at fostering effective discussion.
While I agree with your assessment of the church’s overall attitude toward women, Madame Curie, I’m willing to cut Elise some slack. Like Steve M., I think it’s possible that she’s just trying to change the machine from within. If she acknowledges that the church’s position on women is all-out wrong, she loses part of the audience she’s trying to reach.
I know plenty of people who don’t have a problem with the church’s position on women but do have a problem with shutting down the WRI. It does reflect a bit of cognitive dissonance on their part, but hey, you work with what you have.
Bridget – Agreed, I should have cut Elise more slack. I admit a bias – my feminist issues with the church have been pushing me out of it.
And, thank you, by the way, for your conversation with my DH (Former BYU Student) over at FMH. You aptly expressed to him exactly what I would have said in the same position.
Ha, I didn’t know Former BYU Student was your husband. Makes me like him anymore.
er, anymore = even more
Jack & Madame Curie — I just went back and read that amusing exchange on fMh! Fabulous!
And that Mothers’ Employment Lesson in the Institute manual? Wow.
Lucky for me he’s not begging any wives to come home from software engineering…
Or from science writing. Although, would you really obey him if he was? I know I wouldn’t. There was a time I would have… that time is no more.
Of course not. I wouldn’t have even as a believer.
I’m just trying to wrap my head around the fact that he seems to think that women’s careers must necessarily be things like laundress, waitress, secretary and he also seems to believe that women are choosing these jobs out of some selfish desire to have a glamorous jet-setting lifestyle.
It’s not merely insulting — it’s more like it leaves me wondering what planet he’s writing from.
I’m a little late to the discussion here on the BYU Women’s program’s demise. I commented on it over at MormonMatters.org and I’m including my comment below, but I think in your former Mormon-ness you’ve forgotten what the problem with women studies really is — Homosexuality or maybe even sexuality.
As a former alum (albeit nearly 30 years ago in the age of the 7th East Press) of BYU and a male, Im probably completely inadequate to comment on Womens studies issues, but I have four daughters and a wife so I have a little experience. Ive also read a small smattering of the more gound breaking feminists (I really enjoy reading Camille Paglia) and helped one daughter through a Gender Study class and I have some thoughts on your post from an outsiders perspective.
The move by the administration seems to be more based on eliminating a program that could be looked at or perceived as lesbian or even sexual. You cant study Gender Studies in todays world without looking at Dworkin, McKinnon and a whole host of lesbian bi-sexual and transgendered writers. You also cant study Gender Studies without looking at sexuality, another big no-no at Harvard of the West. In case you dont believe me, look at all the sex, religion and GLBT in the classes at the Harvard of the East:
The fact that BYU is fifteen to twenty years behind the political correctness in naming its Gender Studies program is no surprise. Blacks got the priesthood 20 years after the Civil Rights movement. There was a brief period of 60s political radicalism at BYU in the early 80s with Eugene England and friends in the honors department at BYU, promoting Lech Walesa and metaphoric Mormonism, ala Joseph Campbell. The sad fact is that my alma mater (mater is Latin for mother I dont know it seems relevant) seems destined to educational ignomiy by forgetting that the Glory of God is intelligence, or in other words light and truth. And light and truth arent usually found when you bury things in the Sociology Department.
Only someone completely ignorant about the power and authority attached to the presence of the Holy Ghost would believe such nonsense. Women have a crucial work in this Church, and you know nothing of our hearts and minds if you think that we’ve sold our souls to an institution of malevolent white men for a mess of pottage we have to cook ourselves.
When we engage in the cause of holding offices and callings in the Church, raising our families, running our homes, serving and volunteering in our communities, and working to put ourselves through school, what exactly do you think we’re doing? We are some of the busiest women in the country, and we don’t deserved to have our intelligence as women and the value of our service questioned like this.
It has been my pleasure to see for myself that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are the greatest protection I have against men who would degrade or objectify me in any way because they have taught me to believe in myself enough never to tolerate such treatment. As a young single Mormon woman, I know with certainty that the men and women leading this Church today care about me and my peers enough to tell us the truth–that careers and social causes will never EVER substitute for a genuine, loving, Christ-like character. Such women–no, such saints are eager to bless the whole human race, and need no one’s permission–not a university, and certainly not a degree–to engage in such service. The women of this Church will continue to care for a bless the women of this world without the WRI because caring for our sisters (for truly we believe that is what they are) is just as much a part of our religion as everything else we do.
The fundamental tenant of feminism is choice–the choice for women to be able to live the lives they choose to live in order to create for themselves an identity that brings them happiness and fulfillment. Do not claim to be an advocate for all women if you’re only going to be an advocate for women who think like you do. We have made our choice to follow the divine voice that is within our hearts and minds, the voice that comes straight to us from God. This is why we believe our leaders, both men and women, because what they say matches what God has said to our individual hearts and minds through His Holy Spirit. (D&C 8: 2) Because of the Holy Spirit, we build ourselves into women of faith, and you have no right to ridicule or question that and still call yourself a feminist. This what we have chosen, and we are feminists just as much as you are because we believe in choice–our choice to be builders of the Kingdom of God.
Wow. The only thing wrong with that statement is that it’s entirely false. The Relief Society has always been under the direction of the Priesthood. Always. The Relief Society was just as much of a Restoration as the offices of the Priesthood were. You can look that up in the Deseret News archives if you’d like. Female Relief Society by Eliza R. Snow. President Julie B. Beck reiterated that fact in the most recent General Relief Society Meeting a month ago. Your misunderstanding of the origin of the Relief Society shows how qualified you are to make any analogy on its behalf.
Essentially, I doubt the WRI was eliminated personally by the Quorum of the Twelve or the First Presidency. They have more important things to do than to eliminate what was a small research institute in one college on a very large campus.
Brigham Young University is just that–a university. It has a President and department heads to make these kinds of decisions. So before you accuse the Brethren of something you haven’t bothered to substantiate, please do us the courtesy of not speculating. It’s rude.
And I’m very sorry that you rejected the message that Elisa tried to share. I’m also sorry you felt the need to tear it apart, because there were many things she said in it that were true. The most important thing was one you quoted, and I add my testimony to hers, having found that my faith is the greatest source of my personal empowerment as a woman. My religious beliefs and my social beliefs do not contradict each other, but together are the means by which I am building my family, my future, and accomplishing my mission here on the earth. I believe in the good that my sisters and I are doing at this university, with or without the WRI–and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Paradox, at one time, the Relief Society was internally organized and chose its own leaders. Now the RS leaders are chosen by the priesthood hierarchy at every level, from general president to ward-level president.
Curie’s statement is not “entirely false.” We’re very happy to have you come here and offer your perspective and discuss these issues with us. But talking past each other (when I assume you know what she meant) doesn’t help us have a constructive discussion.
Ulysseus, thanks for bring up that point. I hate when homophobia and anti-feminism get lumped together, but you may have a point in what you say.
Paradox – The fact that you just bore your testimony to me indicates that you want to use spiritual feelings to fight reason. I’m cool with that, and I feel no need to respond because I no longer share that testimony. I hope you continue to find joy in your service in the church and in what you have defined as “feminism”.
I’ll continue voicing my opinions for the rest of us who aren’t nearly so content.
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.
Me too. It’s quite a, um, paradox.
16- Paradox – For me, personally, things look very different outside the LDS church than from within.
A friend of mine is an ordained Lutheran minister, and a woman.
The pre-school my children attend has a “pastor Pat”. Because I was raised LDS, with all of that context, I assumed that Pastor Pat was male. I was shocked to learn that she is not.
The Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS) has ordained women, and has female apostles.
But the issue of leadership, authority and ordination are not what I wanted to address. I just wanted to point out that telling someone they have power and autonomy and actually giving them that power and autonomy are two separate things. It is one thing to talk about giving choices and options, it is another to actually give those choices and support them.
For me personally, as I mentioned in my comments above, I am disappointed that an institute to study things like “gender related violence around the world” would be deemed unnecessary to the mission of a university who proports to value women. As the premier university of the LDS church, which also proports to value women (all women – not just the ones that think like “they or we” do) I am shocked that such a mission was seen as less valuable.
I have found over the years, personally, that actions speak much louder than words. I’m sure I won’t change anyone’s mind. I can understand the argument that the General authorities had nothing to do with this, that it’s just a budget decision, and that women are really and truly valued for being who they are.
I will say, I want so much more for my daughter than for her to assume that since she was born female, she “deserves” gender related violence or abuse, that her education is not as important as a man’s (by staying in school she is taking a man’s place), and that she is worthless without a temple going priesthood holding husband. Some of these messages are still prevalent in some of the LDS communities – and were definitely present thirty years ago.
If my daughter chooses not to be a mother, that is her choice. She doesn’t have to do or be anything to be worthy of my unconditional love as her mother. She is valuable just the way she is, whatever she decides to do.
Quotes didn’t work – trying this again.
Upon getting a decent nights sleep, I realize that I responded hastily, Paradox, to your criticism. I responded to your testimony at the end without dealing with the rest of your criticisms, many of which were well thought-out.
I dont like the approach of bearing ones testimony at the end of what someone says, because it immediately shuts down the conversation. The argument goes, No one can argue with your testimony and that is true, because no one can argue with a feeling. While the GAs will suggest that the person you are speaking to will be left with your heart-felt Spirit in their mind, I assure you that for some (many, even) that is not the case. In particular, those of a primarily scientific or reasoning mind-set are left feeling that the speaker has resorted to saying Because God says so.
The problem with this is that Mormons dont have a monopoly on God. Every Muslim, Catholic, Jew, Protestant, you name it, feels strongly about their faith and can say Because my God says so! and call it a day. Rather than feeling the Spirit, I was left feeling exasperated at the end of your message, because you resorted to the classic bear down in testimony to try to convince me. And its not convincing its frustrating, because my concerns with the churchs relationship towards women is not something that can be prayed or obeyed away. I know Ive tried.
I also want to make clear that I am not really against Elise here as you can see, I agreed with her in her assessment of the WRI. The comments you took exception to in my post were more towards those who call themselves feminists while blindly obeying whatever their priesthood leaders tell them to, and who cannot recognize the legitimate concerns some have with the churchs relationship with women. Please dont apply my comments to a demographic they were never intended for.
I am not ignorant of the power of the Spirit I had been an active, truly converted member of the LDS church for 10 years. I made a conscious choice to turn my back on family and close friends when I joined the church at the age of 21, and I fully believed its promise of a crucial work for women. That promise was unfulfilled for me, and I personally know for others as well. I am not wanting to give a full biography of my life, but trust me, I fully understand what you call the power of the Spirit. Furthermore, your calling legitimate concerns of the church nonsense only serves to drive a further wedge between those Mormon women who have legitimate concerns and the rest of the Church.
First, I dont really think being busy has anything to do with intelligence, but thats besides the point.
I was neither questioning your intelligence or the value of your service. Indeed, I think the service and commitment of any woman in whatever role she chooses to fill is admirable. The key here is the word choose I judge from your response that you assume that all Mormon women who are actively engaged in what the prophet tells them to do so because they have chosen to. The problem with that is that some (many?) make choices strictly because The Prophet has spoken. These choices are often contrary to their own personal strengths or life plan. For example, the moms who quit successful careers or drop out of school simply because The Prophet said so without question or without personal confirmation. I have serious issues with that mentality. That is not feminism, when you give someone else the right to make lifestyle decisions for you, in the name of authority.
Some other examples are those who voted against Prop 8 in California recently, NOT because they personally felt it was right or compelling, but SOLELY BECAUSE the prophet said to. I place no very high commendation on blond obedience.
As a general rule, my issue with the Churchs relationship to women boils down to the Family Proclamation, which gives the idea that all men and all women have one and only divinely appointed role. I disagree with lumping people together based solely on their anatomy penis = priesthood, mammary glands = mom.
And while that is your personal experience, my personal experience also includes seeing men continue to carry callings within the church while sexually abusing their children and raping their wives. I am glad that you have had only positive experiences with such things, but your positive experience does not negate negative ones. I dont think the church causes all such problems, but I also dont think it acts as an immunity from them. For some individuals predisposed to unrighteous dominion or to some raised in overly patriarchal families, yes, it can be a negative.
I agree with you I never argued otherwise. Developing Christ-like attributes is certainly a positive thing.
Still not seeing the relationship to my comments here. I naturally agree that no one needs a college degree to improve their character.
I dont doubt it, but you do realize that Elises original post was in favor of keeping the WRI and why it was a disservice to eliminate it, correct?
Agreed see my comment above about the importance of choice. As long as it is what is best for the individual, I dont care if she listens to Pres. Monson, Pope Benedict, or the Shah of Iran. As long as she is given choices real choices, and doesnt feel compelled to make certain decisions because of her anatomy.
First, I never took it upon myself to be an advocate for all women that is far too stressful of a role for anyone. Second, I dont expect everyone to think like I do. The beauty of feminism is that each women should be entitled to think for herself. I would be incredibly stupid if I thought even the majority of people thought like me. The blog sort of serves a fairly limited niche of individuals, and I dont even claim to be an advocate for them.
Thats fine, I respect and applaud that choice. But please bear in mind that in your we, you have chosen to make yourself an advocate for all active Mormon women. And I have witnessed first-hand that if someone does not fulfill a neatly-defined, pre-packaged method of building themselves into women of faith, then their choices are ridiculed and they are no longer respected. Some of these individuals even choose against their own conscience and make decisions to fit the mold and even then, I dont ridicule them, but I do feel angry for their sake.
First, see chansons response, above. Second, I do not find Deseret News to be the most, um, reliable source for historical accuracy. I could tell you historical facts about the church and its relationship with women that I am sure the Church works hard to keep hidden (e.g., the fact that Joseph Smith took a 14-year-old Helen Kimball to wife, as one of his documented 32 polygamous wives. Wont find that one in the Priesthood manual, will you?). Finally, I can make any analogy I want to make you do not have any power to stop me. As to my authority, of course I dont have that I am a feminist women within the Mormon church. My thoughts will be forever consigned to the blogosphere.
Aerin – I concur.
I don’t want to dogpile here, but Paradox said (#16):
I couldn’t agree more. And what choices does Mormonism give women?
~ Administer the sacrament? Nope.
~ Baptize their own children? Nope.
~ Give blessings? Nope.
~ Honorific titles? Nope.
~ Leadership callings over both men and women? Not really.
~ Being sealed to more than one spouse? Not while you’re alive.
~ Work in the temple when you have children at home under the age of 18? Nope.
~ Knowing your husband’s temple name? Nope.
So what choices does Mormonism give women? As far as I can tell, you get to choose whether or not to serve a mission (with both options being considered honorable), and you get to choose how many times you can go on a mission.
You also get to choose whether or not to fill your uterus with a baby—although you can do that just fine without Mormonism, so that doesn’t really count.
Wow. Some choices. I can’t see why more women don’t line up for that.
I read Elisa’s post at mormonbloggers (linked above), and I wanted to welcome her to comment and participate here at Main Street Plaza. I may disagree with some of her points, but I welcome her perspective and point of view. For example, I disagree that LDS church leadership has nothing to do with decisions about BYU. But I don’t know that for certain myself.
I also appreciated Madame Curie’s post too. I still don’t understand the reasons to close the WRI and am still part of the fb group to keep it open.
I think it is a very difficult thing to be a feminist in the LDS church. Also to attempt to separate the gospel from LDS culture. I may write a separate post myself on both of these topics.
The blog software has some interesting behavior when giving us pingbacks (like #24 above). I’d read that post a few months ago, and now the pingback suddenly shows up. I think it means that someone new clicked through the link from her post to here.
aerin — I also think it would be cool if Elisa would be willing to add some comments and join in the discussion here. And I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on the topics you’ve mentioned.