*Editor’s note: some names have been changed for safety and privacy purposes.*
Coming from D.C., Jamal Taylor did not think he would be treated differently just because of the color of his skin.
Taylor, an African-American and a sophomore studying communication, was shocked by the way he was treated after he got to Rexburg, during his first semester.
“I had just bought a moped,” Taylor said. “We went to the gas station (in my first semester) to fill it up and the next thing you know, three cars full of white guys (…) drove down and just started yelling out the craziest racial slurs.”
Taylor said the men started throwing cups of water and soda at them.
“Luckily none of it hit us, but they were throwing food out the window at us and this was like at 11:30 at night, so there weren’t many people around at all,” Taylor said.
Taylor is part of the approximately 6 percent of the population in Rexburg who is considered a minority, according to the 2010 United States Census.
Results from a survey conducted by Scroll in the beginning of Fall Semester 2016, showed that only 9 percent of BYU-Idaho students considered racism an important issue in the elections. In a Twitter poll done by Scroll in October, 15 percent of the participants said they have been racially discriminated against while living in Rexburg.
Taylor said there was a lady at the gas station when those men mocked him.
“She was just looking and wasn’t doing anything to them,” he said. “When they were done, she just got in her car and pulled off. She didn’t say anything to us or nothing. As if it just wasn’t a big deal.”
Taylor said he was surprised by her reaction and the situation as a whole.
“We didn’t think anything like that would happen in Rexburg, Idaho,” Taylor said. “Maybe that’s why we didn’t really say anything. (…) We were just like, ‘Wow, that’s the world that we live in? Are you really that low? Are we really gonna be that ignorant?’”
Jerry Merrill, the mayor of Rexburg, said the city does not have any specific organization to help people going through discriminative situations, but they have ways to help.
“I feel strongly that the basic virtues of love and kindness are the best ways to deal with prejudice and racism,” Merrill said. “We are taught that we should ‘love one another as I have loved you.’”
Merrill said the commandment encompasses people of all races, genders, ages, sexual preferences, sinners and anyone else.
“One of the things I sometimes hear about the people of Rexburg is that we are judgmental, and I believe that, at times, we are, because we hold ourselves and others to very high standards in the way we live,” Merrill said.
He said he encourages students and citizens to be more kind and accepting of others.
“I know that sounds too simple to be a government program, but that — in a nutshell — is the City of Rexburg’s program for dealing with racism and prejudice,” Merrill said.
Sam Johnson*, a BYU-I employee, adopted his African-American son, Joseph*, when he was a baby.
Johnson said there has been preconceived prejudice since Joseph was in the first grade.
“There is a term — and (we) witnessed this in first grade — called internalized oppression,” Johnson said.
Teacherscollegerecord.org defined internalized oppression as something “used to describe and explain the experience of those who are members of (…) minority groups.”
“Those who are powerless and often victimized, both intentionally and unintentionally, by members of dominant groups; and those who have ‘adopted the (dominant) group’s ideology and accept their subordinate status as deserved, natural and inevitable,’” according to teacherscollegerecord.org.
Johnson said Joseph’s teacher called him a drug baby in a parent-teacher conference.
Johnson said Joseph would come home and question his worth.
“He came home a couple of times and said, ‘Mom, am I a bad kid?’ My wife said, ‘No, you’re not a bad kid,’ ‘Mom, I don’t wanna be black anymore. Mom, everybody hates me,’” Johnson said.
Johnson said he noticed towards the end of the school year, Joseph “started exhibiting bad behavior because he deliberately thought he was a bad kid. He internalized that oppression.”
In an official statement on the BYU-I website, the university’s policy “considers non-discrimination to be fundamental to its mission, goals and objectives.”
BYU-I administrators, in an official statement, encouraged students and employees to report an incident if they believe they have been discriminated against. Students can report to the Dean of Students Office, and employees can go to the Human Resources office.
Sabrina Fernandes, president of the Brazilian Association and a freshman studying biology, said her teacher was talking about building a wall of knowledge about different cultures in her Spanish class.
“One of the students automatically said, ‘And we will make Mexico pay for it,’ like if he was making a reference to Trump,” Fernandes said. “So, the other Mexican descendants and I were like, ‘That was not funny,’ while the rest of the class was laughing.”
She said sometimes she notices that some students do not make those types of jokes “to be mean,” but they do not realize the impact it can have on others.
Fernandes said most people here think with too many labels because of the diversity of the university.
“They think a lot: ‘This person is Latina; this person is Korean; this person is black,’ … So, there are too many labels,” she said.
Fernandes said when people make jokes about other people’s cultures, the focus is on the differences.
“We should be thinking of the things that we have in common,” Fernandes said. “We all have bodies and we have the capacity to return to Heavenly Father’s presence. So sometimes, people kind of forget that. They focus so much on the place you came from and forget where we all want to go.”
The Fall Semester 2016 official enrollment statistics of BYU-I showed that more than 14 percent of the students are considered minorities.
Taylor said being exposed to different cultures helps people understand that everyone is different.
“We are trying to break this barrier; people think that just because you are not part of a specific culture, you don’t need to learn about it, that you need to feel intimidated, that you are not welcome in this culture,” Fernandes said. “This is the purpose of the associations: to unite people.”
Taylor said being exposed to people from different colors and cultures can prevent the generalizations created by society.
One of Taylor’s biggest worries is about his future family.
“I was talking with my girlfriend about this, and she brought up how, when we get married, our kids will live in fear, how anything can happen to me now or in the future — possibly with kids — and how it’s not fair for her,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he hopes by then there will be less prejudice against minorities.
“If not, then just like me, they’ll be subject to discrimination from police, employers when being interviewed, strangers when in a nicer part of town and even people of the same race for being mixed,” he said. “I can only do my best in teaching them to respond positively.”
In a second instance, on Dec. 2, Taylor said he was on his phone texting his roommate while filling up his car with gas at gas station near Rexburg, when a truck drove in his direction.
“(They) rolled their window down — only half way so I couldn’t see their faces — and yelled out, ‘what’s up (vulgarity),’ ‘get the (vulgarity) out our country (vulgarity),’ ‘go back to Africa,’ ‘white power’ and ‘make America White again,’ Taylor said.
He said the group had one girl and three guys yelling and laughing at him.
“My initial thought was ‘Oh, all three of those guys have to fight me right now,’” Taylor said. “’I’ve gotta show them what these black hands do,’ but almost immediately, the better part of me thought, ‘they are just ignorant.’” Taylor said all he could do would be to not react with violence and to pray for them.
“It saddens my heart to know that there are a ton of people who genuinely feel that I am less than them or I deserve to be treated like an animal in a zoo rather than just another guy,” Taylor said. “And what for — because my ancestors were exposed to more sun?”
Taylor said when he was growing up, he saw most people would stand out because of their positive characteristics.
“I never wanted to be thought of as the one black guy from the hood someone knows or the black guy Jamal,” Taylor said. “It just sucks that people automatically make assumptions about me or stereotype me as soon as they see me. I think I’m a nice guy and so does my mom.”