Change the name of Brigham Young University
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Brigham Young University is a key institution and brand for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church) and for the tens of thousands of alumni and current students. BYU’s mission statement "enter to learn, go forth and serve" is admirable and demonstrates the great potential of BYU to influence the world for good. Unfortunately having the university named after Brigham Young detracts from this mission. The LDS Church should remove Brigham Young's name and consider a new name that greater represents the values the Church hopes to promote.
Brigham Young is a problematic figure to commemorate for three primary reasons. Racism, fostering a culture of violence towards others, and polygamy and misogyny. These three problems were devastating for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. The impact of these policies still lingers today. Renaming BYU would play a small part in deconstructing the damage Brigham Young has done.
The first problem is racism. Brigham Young instigated the priesthood ban on African Americans. The ban also precluded Black members from receiving temple ordinances which according to Mormon theology would limit their eternal progression as servants in heaven. The ban became institutionalized and was reversed only in 1978. The ban was justified and complimented with a devilish Curse of Cain doctrine that was also taught long after Brigham Young died.
Brigham Young ruled both the Church and the territory of Utah with a firm hand. Under his rule he created a militant culture that viewed those outside the Church with hostility. During his rule Mormon settlers were responsible for a number of violent attacks including the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857 and the Circleville massacre of the Paiutes in 1866. Together over 150 innocent people were murdered. While most historians do not think that Brigham Young directly ordered the attacks, he can be held responsible for creating a culture of hatred and fear that resulted in violence towards outsiders.
Lastly, Brigham Young’s misogynist policies deem his name unsuitable to represent BYU. His decision to suspend the Relief Society should be noted but his problematic practice of polygamy is the most troubling. While much of the attention on polygamy and polyandry today centers on Joseph Smith one should not forgot Brigham Young’s role in cementing the practice in Mormonism. Brigham Young had 55 wives, including a marriage to Zina Jacobs who was married with children at the time.
Anyone who has attended or even visited BYU can attest to the potential that the institution has. It offers students a Church-friendly environment to learn and grow in their formative years. Aside from the Church’s missionary force, BYU is the most important ambassador that the Church has. BYU has potential to be a beacon of light and knowledge to both students and the world. Having BYU bear the namesake of Brigham Young tarnishes the same principles that BYU is trying to accomplish.
There would of course be many options for a renamed BYU. Generic names such as Zion University, or the Desseret University would still affiliate the university to LDS Church culture and Utah as a location. An inspirational figure from the Book of Mormon could be an interesting option such as the University of Helaman.
A second option would be to replace Brigham Young's name with another influential person from LDS history who personifies the search for truth and knowledge represented at BYU. BH Roberts or Hue B. Brown could be options. A controversial option would be someone who stood firm to counteract some of the detrimental policies and teachings that Brigham Young taught. Sarah Pratt or Elijah Abel could be such figures. There are many good options for renaming BYU, one name that cannot remain is Brigham Young University.
The LDS Church has demonstrated a pattern of correcting its mistakes in its past from reversing the priesthood ban to ending polygamy. We ask that the LDS Church take one more additional step in righting a wrong of the past by renaming Brigham Young University.
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