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BYU students of color see ‘business as usual’ on campus following racial heckling incident

A photo of LaVell Edwards Stadium on campus of Brigham Young University.
Brigham Young University is a private research university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Brigham Young University started the new school year Monday after spending the weekend in the national spotlight.

A BYU fan yelled racist slurs at a Duke volleyball player during a match in Provo on Friday. Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson said in a statement that she and her fellow African American teammates “were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match. The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe.”

BYU Athletics released a statement Saturday saying the person who was yelling racial slurs was not a BYU student and has been banned from all the university’s athletic venues.

Felipe Larrocha, a Latino sociology student at BYU, was disappointed to hear what happened at the volleyball match but said he wasn’t surprised.

The incident was on Larrocha’s mind when he went on campus. He talked about it with his peers.

“The mood among my friends and other minority students feels different, like exhaustion and frustration,” Larrocha said. “Walking around campus though, seems like business as usual.”

Larrocha said it didn’t come as a surprise that he didn’t see many white students talking about it. BYU’s undergraduate student body is about 81% white.

“If it doesn’t affect people personally, then they’re not going to care about it,” he said.

For Noriadnys Gomez de Bybee, another Latino BYU sociology student, what happened during the game weighed on her throughout the first day of school.

“Every time I see another minority student walk past me on campus, which is infrequent, I wonder if they’re feeling the same way,” she said. “It’s funny how hyper-aware you become of how different you are from those around you, not just in how you look, but in those under the surface feelings of anxiety and sadness that follow you throughout the day every time another ‘incident’ of racism happens in the BYU community.”

Larrocha thinks more BYU students and faculty should be talking about what happened.

“You’ve got to ask yourself: as a BYU student, am I OK if another person insults somebody in my presence? What does that say to me about my moral code? About my religious code?”

Larrocha thinks it would’ve been a good idea for BYU to direct its faculty to talk about the game on the first day of school and provide talking points for professors.

“Maybe point to some resources in school where students of color or other marginalized students might go,” he said.

Some BYU professors called on the school via Twitter to do better and said they would be talking about the incident with their students.

BYU associate communications professor and KUER advisory board member, Joel Campbell, agreed that the first day of classes felt like a normal first day.

“There was a couple of comments about the game and how it was reported,” Campbell said. “At the same time, most of the students are shocked that this happened on our campus, unlike what it says on Twitter.”

Campbell feels some of the reporting of the incident mischaracterized BYU. Campbell talked with his students about the game.

“They did not hear the slur and said they would have responded if they had,” he said. “We agreed that there’s still work to do on campus, but students said they believe blanket statements about students holding racist attitudes are unfair and were critical of media coverage that didn’t check out basic facts.”

Sociology student Rachel Weaver is a member of The Black Menaces, a group of current and former Black BYU students known for their viral TikToks. Weaver was disappointed by what happened at the game and what it says about the campus.

“The people at the top are so set in their ways and really refuse to acknowledge the role that they played in racial issues. It’s hard for me to have hope,” Weaver said.

In a statement on Twitter, The Black Menaces showed solidarity with Rachel Richardson and criticized those at the game for not doing more.

“As black representatives and students at Brigham Young University, we are deeply disturbed by the occurrences at the BYU vs Duke volleyball game,” the statement reads. “First, we are sorry to Rachel Richardson, we hurt for you.”

The group also called on BYU to take steps to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future. It recommended mandatory anti-racism training for all BYU staff, faculty and students. The goal of these training sessions would be to “root out internal racism and learn how to respond correctly in these incidents.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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