October 10, 2005
Although 62.4 percent of Utahns are Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members, organizers were still surprised Friday at the large crowd in a forum titled, "Is being male and Mormon a privilege in the Weber State University classroom?"
The Diversity Conference forum changed venues from a smaller room in the Shepherd Union Building to the larger Ballroom B, where approximately 200 students gathered. This forum was one of 12 scheduled for the conference.
Before beginning, Rebecca Johns, session moderator and WSU Department of Communication assistant professor, reminded the audience this was meant to be a "friendly and civil, welcoming, inviting place."
Johns, a self-described "feminist Mormon," said she organized the forum so students could ask panel members questions about the LDS church in the classroom. She said she felt a small division between LDS and non-LDS faculty members during her time at WSU.
"That can happen anytime you have a minority/majority kind of population," Johns said.
She said she believed a forum discussing the issue would be beneficial to faculty and students.
The panel was composed of Edward Walker, WSU Department of Chemistry professor; Robert Hogge, WSU Department of English professor; and Howard Noel, WSU Department of Communication instructor. All were male members of the LDS church.
Johns said she felt the LDS culture of "obedience to authority" trickled into the classroom, where some students seem to accept what their professors say without question.
"My students, just because I am the teacher, believe everything I say," Johns said. "I want them to be critical thinkers, to question what I have to say. Sometimes I say the most ridiculous things in class just to see if they will respond in any way, and most of the time, they do not."
Hogge said he believed this effect is not prevalent in classrooms where lessons are student-centered, rather than teacher-centered.
During the question-and-answer session, one student mentioned the difficulty she had in transferring credits to WSU from the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City.
"One department in particular basically said, 'We don't like taking credits from a church school,'" she said.
Hogge said discrimination at WSU "cuts in both directions," and that, as other students mentioned, privilege is a double-edged sword.
One student thought the selection of panel members was ironic.
"I do think it's strange that we're having three white male LDS guys on the panel at the Diversity Conference," the student said.
You can reach reporter Blair Dee Hodges by calling 626-7655.