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Racial Equity, Justice, and Inclusion

Building Bridges of Understanding

The Honors Program is committed to fostering fundamental respect for the human dignity of every human soul, regardless of their color, creed or cause as we heed President Russel M. Nelson’s recent admonition to "build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation."  We stand firmly against racism and violence in any form and are committed to promoting a culture of safety, kindness, respect and love. We affirm the statement on inclusion and diversity posted by Undergraduate Education and are working to better prepare our students to understand systemic racism, confront their own biases, and work toward racial equity at the university.  

One important way we are engaging in these critical conversations is through the Unexpected Connections courses.  Two courses this coming year will engage students on matters of race.  This fall, “Jazz on the Road” will look at the history of jazz music, and the history of African American travel in the U.S during the 20th century (see HONRS 227).  Winter semester, Honors will once again offer a course on “Race and Music” (HONRS 226).  Here’s what our faculty and students had to say about their experience in one of these classes this past Winter semester:

Dr. Jake Rugh (Sociology) and Dr. Luke Howard (Music) acknowledge that people often have strong opinions on the topics discussed in their class on “Race and Music.” They note that many people have ideas about race and music that can be based on misinformation and prejudices, so this course aims to help students gain an understanding of racial and ethnic tensions within the context of music and society. By promoting a respectful and informed atmosphere within the classroom, the course dives into topics such as the color line in society and the sonic color line in music, cultural appropriation of Native symbols and of racialized musical genres, the tension between segregation, assimilation, and antiracism in society and music, and questions of racial identity American society and its music. Overall, the question students and professors interrogate is what it means to be American in a racial and musical context, and the transition from racial assimilation to multicultural pluralism.
 
For Dr. Rugh, teaching this class using an interdisciplinary approach helps students to not only make unexpected connections between the disciplines, but also within their own lives. “[Honors] students will have big questions that they're really thinking about and want to get to the bottom of it for its own sake- not for points or a grade. It is a unique experience because the questions the students are asking are things everyone questions about life, but we can discuss them together and we can learn from the students. It is also satisfying for me because, despite the fact every semester feels long to students, they've only got four years to be in college and then it will be over. I really want to be a part of making that journey something where they always look back and say ‘that was really valuable for how I learned to think and now I can make sense of the world around me.’”
 
Dr. Howard echoes Dr. Rugh’s sentiments and enjoys seeing the personal connections student’s made to their own experiences. “My favorite part of this Honors course experience has been finding out what the students are learning and thinking. This course is a stretch for me- I know the music part, but the sociology and race aspect has been a real eye-opener for me. To see students take that on and expand their knowledge in both directions…the insights and knowledge that they are formulating have just blown me away sometimes. The things that they are able to recognize, connect, and then express about what they see in the world around them speaks volumes to the caliber of students that they are.”
 
But don’t take just the faculty’s word for it!  Honors students shared some of their recent experiences in the class:   
 
"One of the first things that was transformed was how I think about cultural appropriation. Thinking about whether or not something is informed and intentional while maintaining integrity and identity has softened my stance on the issue and helped me see a little bit more nuance." --Black Student, English-speaking Immigrant Who Realized They Also Don't Need to Speak Spanish to Help Latino Immigrants Who Grew Up Undocumented and Speak English like Her, Too
 
"Racism also affects religion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints built barriers against African Americans in the past and now must figure out how to move past them.  They asserted their “whiteness” to stay alive in America and the culture has followed.  The readings by W. Paul Reeve and Ignacio M Garcia has shown me how limited many of the ideals and cultures are in our church." --White Student Who Discovered the Power of Learning Our True Racial History
 
"I think the most poignant lesson I took from my experience in this class this semester was a stronger commitment to the reality that change must be intentional. Music is anchored by tradition, and some of the most meaningful and necessary progress came from abandoning or restructuring those traditions in favor of promoting a higher level of respect for humankind." --White Student Who Started the @StopYourSilenceBYU Instagram Account and Focused More on Music and the True Meaning Behind Unexpected Connections
 
"This class also helped me to grow in my comfortability with my personal identity as a Latina. For so much of my life, I did not know how to treat that side of my identity. I grew up in white suburbs with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. My race was never mentioned except for a joke (which I can now identify as microaggressions) or to ask me where I was from. Then in those instances where I would find myself within the Latin community, I also felt like a fraud because I hadn’t been raised within the culture and I didn’t know Spanish." --Latina Student Who Always Struggled with Her In-Between Status
 
"This semester really helped to widen how I view race as an individual and as a musician. Taking this course opened my eyes to my own previous misconceptions about race and how racism works in our society. I was specifically able to challenge what I thought I knew about discrimination, immigration, and the model minority stereotype. Before this class, I considered myself to not be racist, but I wasn’t by any means actively working towards becoming antiracist...I have always held sympathetic sentiments towards immigrants because my grandmother was an immigrant first from Shanghai to Taiwan and then from Taiwan to the United States." --Asian American Student, Singer and Public Figure with over 10,000 Followers, and Finalist Contestant on “The Voice”
 
In light of the recent upheaval on systemic racism in society, Dr. Rugh provided some recommended titles for reading:
 
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The Cosmopolitan Canopy by Elijah Anderson
Segregation by Design by Jessica Trounstine
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
White Backlash by Abrajano & Hajnal
Religion of a Different Color by Reeve
American Apartheid by Massey and Denton
Black Picket Fences by Mary Pattillo
Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan Metzl
Racism without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
 
We invite all members of the Honors community to stand together to address injustice and work toward unity.  We look forward to engaging with you this year in our courses, discussions, and projects as strive for deeper understanding of our questions and one another.