At Brigham Young University, Black students represent less than one percent of the 30,000 undergrads on campus, a fact that can leave many of the Black students feeling isolated. But they do have a Black Student Union which has tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to encourage more inclusiveness on the school’s Utah campus.
“The fact that we have a ‘Black’ table is an issue in itself,” BYU junior Kylee Shepherd said in an interview with Newsweek. “It just goes to show that we’re not welcomed at anybody else’s table. To relate it back, because we go to a church school, Jesus would have wanted me at his table and so, I should be allowed at any table.”
Black BYU students felt their cries for representation were going unheard. So in February of 2022, Shepherd, along with Nate Byrd, Rachel Weaver, Kennethia Dorse and Sebastian Stewart-Johnson launched The Black Menaces on TikTok to show the rest of the world what life is like for Black students on campus. The group approaches white BYU students to ask their thoughts on topics like whether they think Black people should receive reparations and if they think white privilege exists. The account currently has over 675,000 followers and nearly 23 million likes.
Watching the videos may evoke everything from laughter to anger, especially when you see some of the white students struggle to identify a picture of Coretta Scott King. But more than anything, you’ll probably leave shaking your head at the fact that so many of these young adults know so little about Black history.
Brigham Young University was founded in 1875 by Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon church, as an institution to train public school teachers. According to the school’s website, “a BYU education should be spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging, and character building, leading to lifelong learning and service.” But the school and the Mormon church have had a complicated history with Black folks. In 1978, the church reversed a ban on Black people serving in the lay priesthood that had been in place since the mid-1800s. And in 2018, Black Mormons represented only 6 percent of the church’s 16 million members around the world.
The Black Menaces say their goal is to share their experiences with as many people as possible. “The Black Menaces aren’t affiliated with BYU, so they can’t hold our voice back,” said sophomore Stewart-Johnson. “We wanted to highlight everything that we go through in a way that millions could see it.”
“There’s a lot of prejudice and discrimination that goes on here that people don’t know about,” Nate Byrd added. “And so our goal is to let people know that hey that exists here, and this is something that needs to change.”