Is BYU Home?

As cooler temperatures descend on the northern latitudes and higher elevations of the northern hemisphere, for many people, thoughts of the holiday season come to mind and with those thoughts, the plan to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or both. Going home for the holidays is a time-honored tradition that most people thoroughly enjoy. But what exactly is “home”?

In 1999, the BYU men’s volleyball team was on track to their best season yet (in fact, it remains their best season to this day, with a record of 30-1).[1] When the team made it to the Final Four to be held at UCLA in Los Angeles, my brother (also a BYU student at the time) and I didn’t hesitate a moment to make the decision to drive down to the tournament and stay with our parents in the home where we had grown up. While the emotion of being present for BYU’s first national championship was unforgettable, the emotion of southern California not feeling quite like “home” anymore was weird and unexpected. The feeling was new for me, as I had never before felt that I didn’t have a home. At the time, I wondered if Provo was my new home, but Provo didn’t exactly feel like home either. I supposed Provo was more “home” than Rancho Cucamonga, California at that point, probably because of a recency effect, given that I had been living there for a year since returning from a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Venezuela. Was I somewhat “home”-less in my life?

Since that time, I’ve thought a lot about what makes home “home.” While I was born and raised in one location, as an adult I’ve moved around quite a bit. After BYU, my wife and I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I received a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics. After four years there, I accepted a one-year position at Auburn University in Alabama. Next, we moved to central California where I took my first tenure-track position at California State University, Monterey Bay. After four years there, I took a position at Kansas State University, in the college town of Manhattan, Kansas. Then, after five years, I accepted a position here at BYU, where I’m now in my fifth year as a professor.

Each of these places was home to some degree. I sometimes ask myself: “How could home be an apartment complex in Albuquerque that was frequently visited by the swat team and the police helicopter circling overhead?” It was because of our friendly neighbor Patrick and his father who lived next door, and because of the kind people in our church congregation, like Matt and Dacia, Jeff and Brittany, and Doug and Dora, who helped us move in and invited us over for dinner and games. Also, it was because Carlos and Anete were our young kids’ surrogate grandparents, as their blood grandparents were far away in different states.

I sometimes think: “How could a duplex in Alabama with a scorpion on the wall when my wife first walked in be considered home?” It was because of my solicitous officemate at the university, Ted, who invited my family over for dinner, and asked if it would be alright with us if he said grace before eating. In California, it was because of time spent on beaches sitting around bonfires with friends like Marcus and Caren, Akoni and Kim, and Chris and Alyssa, and because of my über friendly Japanese colleagues at the university, Yoshiko and Shigeko, who occasionally gave gifts to my children. It was because of the friends in Kansas, like Nathan and Wendy, and Brandon and Cheryl, who invited us over for dinner and because my colleagues at the university, especially Mary and Laura, respected my membership in the Church. In short, in each of the places that my family and I have lived, the relationships with neighbors, colleagues, friends, and especially fellow church-goers converted each location into home. I now consider “home” to be much more a feeling than a place. I think the essence of home is a sense of belonging, mutual respect, and love.

President Worthen shared a statement on belonging and announced the creation of a new Office of Belonging at the university conference in August 2021. Among other important ideas and calls to action, the statement affirms: “We strive to create a community of belonging composed of students, faculty, and staff whose hearts are knit together in love (Mosiah 18:21) … We value and embrace the variety of individual characteristics, life experiences and circumstances, perspectives, talents, and gifts of each member of the community and the richness and strength they bring to our community (1 Corinthians 12:12–27).”[2]

Is President Worthen asking us to help create a home for all members of the BYU community? I think so. How do we help create that home? I don’t presume to have the definitive answer to that question, but I can put the Statement on Belonging into my simple-man vernacular: be nice to others, including to people different from you, and don’t be afraid to spend time with them.

While xenophobia is often used in reference to foreigners, on a micro level, xenophobia is easily observed in ourselves when we shy away, whether subconsciously or on purpose, from contact with people different from ourselves within our own communities, neighborhoods and church congregations. Unfortunately, we humans seem to quickly self-silo into groups and cliques with other people like us. It appears that President Worthen and the committee members who crafted the statement have asked BYU faculty, staff and students to throw off the natural man and woman and to rise above the tendency to exclude others different from ourselves. Perhaps they are asking us to learn from history and avoid the mistakes of past peoples. After all: “The hasty reformer who does not remember the past will find himself condemned to repeat it.”[3] Maybe that’s why the committee members cite five scriptures in a relatively short 147-word statement.

What can we learn from Alma the Elder’s command that his people’s hearts be knitted together in unity and love? What can we learn from Paul’s analogy to the people of Corinth that all members of the body are important and vital for the functionality of the body of Christ, that is, the Church? In October 2020, why did President Russell M. Nelson “call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice” and “plead with [us] to promote respect for all of God’s children”[4]?

Perhaps the most important question for faculty, staff and students at BYU is: How can others feel at “home” in my presence and because I’m present?

Earl Kjar Brown is a Faculty Fellow in the Humanities Center.

 

[1] https://byucougars.com/page/m-volleyball/byu-mens-volleyball-year-year-results

[2] https://belong.byu.edu/

[3] John Buchan. (1923). Great Britain, vol. 1, p. 12. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/History

[4] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/46nelson?lang=eng

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