BYU makes changes to address racism and fan behavior, but student reactions are divided

Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson said a BYU fan called her a racial slur last week, putting BYU in the national spotlight.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fans head to the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse in Provo for the volleyball game between Brigham Young University and Utah State University on Sept. 1, 2022.

Province • Less than a week after a Duke University volleyball player said she was called a racial slur during a game on BYU’s campus, a group of fans unfurled a banner to show his support here on Thursday night.

“We stand with Coach Heather,” the sign read, a response to a report that BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead received a threatening voicemail following the incident.

“I think it’s really unfair that she’s getting death threats,” said one of the young fans holding the banner. “Even if what was said happened, what could Heather do?”

What could, should have, and will be done differently at BYU has been a national talking point ever since Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson said she was called the N-word by a Cougars student section fan the last week.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alyssa Minor, left, and Emmy Pykles, both Ballard Center student leaders, hand out stickers promoting diversity and belonging before the start of the volleyball game between Brigham Young University and Utah State University at the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on September 1, 2022.

BYU banned a Utah Valley student who Duke identified as the person who said the insult, but campus police and athletic department officials have since reviewed video footage from the night and said that it does not appear that the man shouted insults. BYU has not said it doubts the veracity of Richardson’s claims and they continue to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, the debate and division that have featured prominently in the national discourse were also present at the Smith Fieldhouse.

“I was shocked but wasn’t surprised when I heard it,” said BYU student Tailey Quick. “I think some in [our community] talk about it and some ignore it. Some of our teachers said something. [Some are saying]’I’m sorry if it hurt you.’

BYU officials rushed to implement immediate changes.

Thursday’s visitors, the Utah State volleyball team, marched past the women’s soccer field, around the old chain-link fence surrounding the field, past a number of BYU officials posted along their route from the team bus, and through a rear entrance to enter in the site. All the while, a policeman walked behind them to monitor things.

Normally, BYU visiting teams simply get dropped off at the front door and walk right in with the rest of the students. But things are not normal here now.

There were other obvious security differences. The student section was removed from the ground and placed in the upper deck seats above the pitch. A security guard was posted with both teams for the duration of the game. There was an additional officer roaming the arena.

But as the stands filled with fans cheering on their team, it was clear it was still a divided place in some ways. Some students expressed shock that racism could exist on their campus. Some expressed disappointment. Others simply said it wouldn’t be a surprise in the predominantly white community.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Players pause at the start of the volleyball game between Brigham Young University and Utah State University, Sept. 1, 2022.

“It was disappointing but not shocking,” said BYU student Hannah Clark.

The BYU volleyball team released a pre-game video that talked about inclusion and treating opposing fans well. The team also wore a shirt that said “Love one another” on the back.

BYU did not make any coaches or players available to speak before or after the game.

On the field, the No. 7-ranked Cougars beat USU 3-0.

In the stands there were many who probably still left disappointed

“I was disappointed with BYU’s response [to say it happened]said a student named Jessica, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of reprisal. “In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. BYU admitted it happened.

About Joyce Hill

Check Also

Healing Hearts and Nurturing Souls

PROVO, Utah – There’s a lot of history with BYU football. Saturday’s game against Wyoming …