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BYU shuts down Women’s Research Institute, Mormon feminist students respond

December 19th, 2009 · 8 Comments

n169442383235_7147The new year is creeping up, which means a new semester will start for students across the country. And come January 2010, Brigham Young University will no longer have a Women’s Research Institute.

I read this news a couple months ago at Feminist Mormon Housewives. I was running around having Girldrive readings and such, and therefore forgot to post on it. But I was reminded about it again when someone showed me this Facebook group protesting the decision–which has almost 2,000 members! One of the women involved, Sara, recently posted that the university has started “negotiations” on the issue after thousands of students signed a petition. Beyond that, the incident has seemed to have spurred a tight-knit community of young Mormon feminists sharing information with each other. Like this Facebook post:

Valerie Hudson (of the BYU WomanStats project) was recognized as one of the 100 most influential global thinkers of the year by Foreign Policy. One more piece of evidence that the gender-related research coming out of BYU is important, relevant, and getting positive press for the university.

There are a few good posts on this issue like this one and this one. Below is an excerpt from Elisa’s passionate letter on FMH:

This is what I am telling those I write to who are not of our faith: Just because the choices LDS women make based on our faith are considered old-fashioned, doesn’t mean that we aren’t strong, intelligent women who believe in gender equality and everything else feminism stands for. I am proud to consider myself a feminist, and so do many other men and women at this university. We desperately want for this program to not go the way of several other important programs at this university (such as our International Development minor, another magnet for more liberal and therefore supposedly more dangerous students, which was eliminated recently), and it’s possible that if enough people outside of our community stand up for the WRI, maybe the higher-ups will change their minds.

One more thing: I may be a convert, a democrat, a feminist, and I may have a swearing problem that I still haven’t licked, but this is my church too.  I’m not going anywhere, but it’s things like this that make it so hard to be a BYU student.  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. Shutting down our Women’s Research Institute would be a step in the entirely wrong direction.

BYU students are working hard to restore the institute. If you’re in Utah, ask Sara how you can help. Email her here.

This incident not only sheds light on the way young people are galvanized to protect feminism when it starts slipping away from them, but also raises interesting questions about the relationship between feminism and faith, and the effects of the recession on women’s studies programs and research institutes across the country.

Tags: Girls with Drive · Grass Routes · Young Women in the News

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Caroline // Dec 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Just a side note — it never recieved widespread press/blog coverage, but the University of New Orleans’ women’s studies program just got cut, too. I believe it is only one of TWO in the whole state — the other being at LSU, the state’s major flagship university. Katrina and the economy have been major hits against UNO… but that is not a reason to cut women’s studies when many other majors are duplicated needlessly around the state.

  • 2 Nona // Dec 20, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Wow, didn’t know that, thanks for letting me know. Ethnic studies and art studies have been cut everywhere too, but I’m interested to see if any university has been pressured by students to bring the programs back…

  • 3 Vanessa // Dec 20, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for linking to this. :D

  • 4 Most Tweeted Articles by Feminist Experts // Dec 26, 2009 at 7:37 am

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  • 5 sara // Jan 4, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Thank you for writing this article and providing a way of contacting me. If you’d like, I can send you several links to various informational sites, in addition to blog posts. There are several links on the sidebar of the site, as well. And please feel free to spread the word that negotiations and progress are being made!

  • 6 Nona // Jan 4, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Sure Sara, I’ll add it as an update! Feel free to email me at

  • 7 Jen // Jan 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Nona, just so you know the quote you shared on your blog isn’t entirely correct. The International Development major was reduced some years ago to a minor that is still very well and alive on BYU’s campus. This minor is responsible for the annual Hunger Banquet put on in March and run by SID (Students for International Development). Just thought I’d clear that up.

  • 8 Nona // Jan 18, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Noted…thanks for clarifying, Jen!

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