Phillip Rash, director of First-Year Experience and assistant dean of Undergraduate Education, delivered Tuesday’s Devotional address in the de Jong Concert Hall. Rash spoke on the importance of reaching out to those on the margins of the different groups we belong to, including those who might feel marginalized at BYU.
Rash began by emphasizing pieces of the BYU Mission Statement: to contribute to the balanced development of the total person, and to help those involved realize and pursue their full potential. Dr. Laurie Schreiner, a scholar who researches higher education, conceptualizes the idea of success as “students getting the most out of their college experience – being intellectually, socially and psychologically engaged.”
Rash summarized this as the development of a person and our potential to become like our Heavenly Parents. Heavenly Father wants us to live, work and study and to do so abundantly.
A key part of this, Rash continued, is seen in a sense of belonging: “Belonging says that this place is my home, that I am needed and have a purpose here, that these people around me understand and accept me. It’s a feeling that my community ‘has my back’ and wants the best for me.”
Belonging has been described as a basic human need. Its absence has been shown to affect our mood, our ability to cope with stress, our academic achievement and even our immune system. Belonging is more than just affiliation.
Helping someone truly belong requires an intentional effort to reach toward those on the margins.
“Belonging summons the courage to confront our own prejudices and to challenge the assumptions we make about others. It enlists those who are wise enough to just listen and humble enough to admit they don’t fully understand,” Rash said.
While there are many at the university and in the community who have shared life experiences, there are also those who are isolated from these experiences and don’t feel as if they have a place. Rash then explained the idea of marginality: there are those who, for many different reasons and life circumstances, find themselves at the margins of a given group or community.
Rash said that although some believe that those who feel they don’t belong simply aren’t trying hard enough, this ignores the complexity of the issue.
“Often the factors that place and keep individuals on the margins, or on the periphery, of a given community are extremely complex and usually have very deep sociological and historical roots. Have we not all, at some point in our lives, felt like we didn’t belong? I am confident that it wouldn’t take long for the majority of us to remember a time in our lives when we felt like a stranger or an outsider looking in.”
How we respond to those who feel this way as a community and as a university can be improved. Rash emphasized that this can be done by following the example of Christ in his ministry to those outcast from their societies.
Rash said, “Christ ate with them, he walked with them, he cried with them, he healed them, he validated them and he listened to them. Most importantly, Christ taught everyone the doctrine of his Father, the doctrine of ultimate liberation: that in Him and through Him alone we are made free from the bondage of sin and death and that in Him we can overcome all things.”
Rash concluded by giving specific examples of those who may feel as though they are on the margins of our society: those who haven’t served a mission in a sea of those who speak frequently of their experience, those whose faith has failed them surrounded by people loudly proclaiming faith and those whose sexuality is causing them to question. Instead of working toward immediate change, Rash recommended listening with love and seeking to understand first.
“We have to be alright with a little stumbling. We ask for patience and understanding because this is only the beginning of important conversations. The important thing is that we try. We acknowledge that there really is a margin and that some people have lived on that margin for a very long time. . . . We listen with love and understanding.”
Next Devotional: Ellie Young
Ellie Young, associate professor of clinical psychology and special education, will deliver the next BYU Devotional on Tuesday, June 11, at 11:05 a.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall.
Her remarks will also be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM and BYUradio.