Skip to main content

Honors Chocolate Chats

Lead Out Against Prejudice & Racism

Though things look a little different this year, some Honors traditions are going strong! Every other Friday at noon, Honors students gather "at a distance" in the Maeser Auditorium and on Zoom for an "Honors Chocolate Chat." Though we all miss the chocolate treats this semester, these academic discussions are no less lively -- and yes, we're keeping the name as an act of faith in the future! Sponsored by the Honors Student Leadership Council, these informal chats are led by a faculty member about timely, important, and interesting topics. Learn about ongoing research at BYU, discuss critical issues, and engage in Q&A with other Honors students. It’s a chance to talk, connect, and spark interests on a wide variety of topics! (Photo by Freepik)

In case you missed the Chats we've already held so far this year, here's a quick look -- and links to the recordings!

March 26:  Dr. David J. Michaelis - Organic Chemistry: Seeds of Creation
David Michaelis, Professor of Chemistry, loves what he does and loves sharing it with students. His energy was infectious in our last chocolate chat. On beginning his presentation about “Organic Chemistry: Seeds of Creation,” he expressed his love for non-fiction literature, data, and his strong desire to go to Mars. Throughout his presentation he explored the different factors that led him to become what he is today. He looked back fondly on his time researching with Paul Savage and his time at Stanford, Wisconsin, and now BYU. He has seen Heavenly Father’s hand in his life as he sees he is destined for life-long learning. In his life-long learning, Professor Michaelis has worked on AMPK activators that could help him fulfill his dream of going to space. He has also worked on Vitamin E Derivatives and the Influenza. He has also worked with physical chemists to help use organic crystals as lightbulbs. All of these projects have helped him work in creation, making him feel closer to God.

March 25:  Disciple Scholar Lecture, Dr. Lisa Argyle - “The Political is Personal: Reflections on Political Disagreement in Latter-day Saint Communities”
Professor Argyle, an Assistant Professor of Political Science, spoke on the widening political divisions that exist in the late 20th century, and the 21st century, pushing communities towards the more hardline stances.
While both conservative and liberal ideologies have long existed, it has been since the 1960’s that the difference in belief sets have pushed each side to be more extreme. This creates less diverse opinions of belief that are normally found in liberal-republicans, or conservative-democrats -- that is, more moderate political beliefs. The shift is causing both parties to become more left or right leaning than those generations before them. Liberal and conservative citizens are being pushed to choose certain parties despite how they may really feel. The shift from moderate leaning beliefs have been accelerated by the polarization of the news media, teachings in universities, and in politics in general. The sharp contrast of opinions have caused individuals to become more hardline in order to be accepted by ‘their’ group instead of being labeled an outsider. This behavior creates the widening chasm that has become all too familiar in American politics.

It is important to understand that the actual differences are minor, and the shared belief of each set of ideologies is important; the moderate middle is the foundation of American politics. The moderate view is critical in politics because it allows the other side to view a topic from a different perspective. LDS communities are able to embrace the differences in belief as long as their understanding of LDS teachings are the basis for belief. Foreign policy, domestic social change, or international trade agreements are best handled with moderate bipartisan approaches of mutual understanding and cooperation. We see this in the incredible amount of cooperation that already and has existed in church affairs;we can learn from our faith's ability to organize and build communities across the world. Politics should be civil, bipartisan, and have empathy used to bring awareness to different opinions that can constitute a solution to issues that otherwise seem difficult to resolve. Professor Argyle's message was that respect and empathy are the ways that the political sphere can become more united, and create actual change in a world that has many challenges and issues that need to be resolved.

March 5: Dr. Dawn-Marie Wood - Imposter Syndrome
Professor Dawn-Marie Wood at this week’s chocolate chat introduced the concept of imposter syndrome, or as she witfully coined it, FOBFO, fear of being found out. Many individuals are faced with occasional feelings of anxiety or self-doubt, but some have this feeling all the time. Even Albert Einstein expressed feelings of his own inadequacy. Dr Wood claims that we must “eradicate the vestiges of internalized undervaluing.” This can be done by showing kindness to yourself and to others. Life transitions can often trigger imposter syndrome, but we must reframe our point of view. As mentioned by Elder Holland in his conference talk "Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence," Dr Wood recommends finding a personal sacred grove. A place to reflect and learn is essential for our internal and external success.

February 19: Dr. Leslie Hadfield - Avoiding White Saviorism
In this week’s chocolate chat, Dr. Leslie Hadfield, a professor of Africana Studies, explained what white saviorism is and how to overcome it, not to bring one more charge against white people but to help us “go forth to serve” well. She began by explaining that white saviorism involves people from a privileged group going into a less privileged culture to serve in a way that is not beneficial to that culture. Even though it often stems from an honest desire to serve, making assumptions about what people need or trying to do a job we aren’t qualified for can do more harm than good.
After explaining what white saviorism is, Dr. Hadfield gave some suggestions on how to avoid it. She said that the most important part of serving is doing your research. We need to recognize that Africa is not one homogeneous group and that local history and current events will greatly impact any work we hope to do in a given area. Dr. Hadfield also explained the importance of asking why we want to serve. If we’re going to Africa as tourists that also spend a day serving, as students looking for a resume builder, or just as a person looking to boost their ego, we’re already on thin ice. To help counter this she suggested working directly or closely with local groups since they are the most likely to understand the needs of a community and how we can best contribute.
Dr. Hadfield ended her presentation with two final thoughts: first, that one of the best things we can do to help disadvantaged cultures is making changes in how we think, talk, consume and vote here at home and second, that it will always be more effective to honestly engage with people rather than giving them paternalistic blanket fixes.

February 12:  Dr. Jacob Rugh, Grace Soelberg (Honors student) and Tania Carillo (Honors student)

The Chocolate Chat on February 12th brought a unique twist as two Honors students, Grace Soelberg and Tania Carillo, joined Dr. Jacob Rugh on a panel to discuss diversity and equity at BYU. Professor Rugh, together with Professor Luke Howard, teaches an Honor’s Unexpected Connections course on race and music and has taught sociology courses on race at BYU for many years. In context of the Honors Program’s book of the year, How to Become an Antiracist, Dr. Rugh felt it was important “as the token white guy on the panel” to let Grace and Tania share their thoughts and perspectives.

Tania, a BYU student of Mexican and Salvadorean heritage, is a first-generation college student. She explained that programs such as Hispanos Unidos and the First-Generation Office BYU have been crucial to her sense of community here at BYU. All involved explained that these groups are not to promote exclusion of races, but rather to give those on the margins a place where they can feel understood by those who face similar experiences. She also expressed how crucial inclusive professors such as Dr. Rugh have been in her success. She stated that his class on race and equity “really helped her cope” with her situation at BYU.

Grace Soelberg, an African American Honors Student, also took time to explain her experiences here at BYU. She reiterated the need for a support-group. In dealing with the all the racist microaggressions that occur regularly on campus, she has come to realize why so many black students do not graduate. In her hopes to better understand race and the BYU experience, Grace has undertaken an Honor’s Thesis that examines past BYU yearbooks and how race is represented across their pages. In many instances there are race jokes and participation in Black Face, as well as wide-spread underrepresentation of people of color across the yearbook pages. Other interesting patterns show a decrease in Asian students around the time of WWII. It is apparent that BYU was not exempt from racist tendencies.

Grace delivered a beautiful and raw conclusion to her research. She had recently discovered that Brigham Young is actually one of her great uncles. This realization shook her for a time, Brigham Young being a man with many strong racist tendencies. She now holds strong to her belief of eternal progression and repentance and believes that he is doing the work to overcome these past mistakes. She hopes to greet him in heaven one day with a giant hug.

Many students at BYU want to know how to help race relations, but often don’t know how. Dr. Rugh implores those who are in the majority to be a bridge and learn something new. Actively seek new information and narratives that will help us all be a little more Antiracist.

November 6:  Dr. Karl Warnick - What radio signals teach us about cosmic structures, black holes, dark matter & dark energy, and the origins of the universe.

During this week’s chocolate chat Dr. Karl Warnick, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, discussed his work building instrumentation for astronomers and answered questions about the nature of the universe. He began by sharing that while is astronomy is not his area of expertise, he enjoys approaching the topic as a student because it helps him see things from the perspective of a novice and it’s fun and easy to look up answers on Google. He then provided an overview about the conception and formation of the universe, outlining the Big Bang, the Cosmic Dark Ages, and the Epoch of deionization (also known as The Cosmic Dawn and his favorite epoch).
After providing us with this brief introduction, he then moved into a Q&A session where he thoughtfully answered students’ questions. He covered various topics, including the relationship between dark matter and dark energy, entropy, black holes, wormholes, and the Higgs Boson particle. Through his answers, we were able to see how discrepancies between predictive models and actual observed phenomena can lead to theories being created or revised. He suggested that being open to new information and willing to challenge your assumptions about theories or laws of nature are some of the things necessary for scientific progress.
Lastly, he frequently referred to the important mission of connecting quantum (the small) with cosmology (the large) in physics. When asked about why this type of research matters, he shared that it’s important to him because it combines personal questions about himself, as a child of God, with larger questions about the universe and the world around him. Overall, this chocolate chat was a wonderful demonstration of the power of interdisciplinary thinking and not being afraid to ask questions about things outside of your field.

October 9: Dr. Terryl Givens - Leading Out Against Prejudice & Racism (An Honors Book of the Year Event)
If you had to describe one of the things that made Christianity radical, what would you say? According to Dr. Terryl Givens, prominent LDS scholar and a Neal A. Maxwell Senior Research Fellow at the Wheatley Institute, one answer could be that it attempted to create a community based on the foundational principles of love and equality. His Chocolate Chat focused on the idea that moral mayhem occurred when humanity cut love loose from its theological moorings. Throughout his talk, Dr. Givens showed how this phenomenon contributes to the racial strife present in our world today. He reminded us that though Zion is our “aspiration, hope, and mandate,” we have a long way to go in creating it. The legacy of the priesthood ban, for example, is one way that this moral mayhem is felt today.

Dr. Givens encouraged us to help heal the wounds of racism by becoming practitioners of pure love. He urged us to do our part in building Zion by listening to those who feel hurt by unjust systems and prejudice. According to Dr. Givens, Christians should be at the forefront of this work, but he warned that some of the cures could potentially be worse than the disease. Although he praised aspects of Ibram Kendi’s work and the role of critical race theory in helping us understand these problems, he pointed out what he thought were some flaws in these viewpoints. These include scholars’ beliefs that power is always based around self-interest and humans don’t have to take responsibilities for all of their actions. Finally, Dr. Givens challenged us to be innovative in coming up with new solutions rather than just repeating existing ideas and practices. Overall, the lecture was a great reminder of the power of interdisciplinary thinking—that looking at issues from perspectives as different as theology and sociology can lead to wonderful insights and ideas.

September 25:  Dr. Seth Holladay - Multidisciplinary Collaboration on BYU Animation's Avast Ye!

What can a crew of cutlass-swinging insects teach BYU students about interdisciplinary teamwork? According to Dr. Seth Holladay’s recent Chocolate Chat, quite a lot.
Dr. Holladay’s presentation and discussion celebrated the work of faculty and students that culminated in the creation of the prize-winning video game concept Avast Ye. This demo created by BYU’s team took top place in both the gameplay and visuals categories at the highly selective Intel University game competition—the first game ever to do so in the competition’s history. Dr. Holladay attributed this enormous success to the diverse skills brought to their team by students from across a wide range of disciplines. Though the “core crew” was made up of Animation students completing their academic capstone, the team also received irreplaceable contributions from students completing a variety of programs: Computer Science, Illustration, Commercial Music, and Theatre and Media Arts.

The variety of experiences and talents brought to their team by each individual, Dr. Holladay said, made their great success possible. While Animation students were perfecting the texture of a cola river and sun rays falling through forests of grass, Computer Science majors were straightening out the gameplay mechanics, Illustration students were crafting backdrops and promotional images, a commercial music major was creating a musical score, and the managing Theatre and Media Arts student was molding the entire project into a cohesive story. Without the contributions from any one of these disciplines, the success of their work would have been far more limited.

While not all BYU students may find themselves part of a motley crew of insects on a quest for chocolate doubloons, all BYU students—and especially those involved in the Honors Program—can learn from the tremendous example of the interdisciplinary team behind Avast Ye.

September 11:  Dr. Michaelyn Steele - Becoming Co-Workers with God
Dr. Steele led an entertaining and informative discussion about Martin Luther King Jr.'s charge from Birmingham Jail to become co-workers with God. Watch the Zoom recording here.