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In 1966, Brigham Young University student Darius Gray was summoned to meet with his dean and the parents of a white classmate. They told him that if he continued his relationship with the girl, he would need to drop out.
Gray, one of a handful of black students then on the campus, packed his schoolbooks and left.
"It was not the most supporting or inviting environment," said Gray, a contributor to Huffington Post's Black Voices, who eventually graduated from the University of Utah and is now a member of the national advisory council of BYU's business school.
BYU's environment has changed but there's still more work to be done, Gray and other BYU alumni, students and faculty said at a panel discussion Friday. A few hundred attended the afternoon session focusing on race and BYU, part of the two-day conference "Black, White and Mormon" hosted at the University of Utah.
The panelists praised the school, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for bolstering programs to recruit minority students. But they said BYU must do more to confront an uncomfortable history of racism at the school and in the LDS Church.
"If we are the Lord's university," said alumna Maybelline McCoy, "then we need to step up our game."
About 290 African-American students attend the Provo school, which enrolls about 30,000, according to BYU.
The slim ratio is unacceptable, said McCoy, who now lives in Washington, D.C.
"There's a need. There's huge disparities," she said. "And it's vital that we [home] in on that."
The school's admissions office recognizes the racial gap and is taking steps to close it. A program called SOAR aims to introduce young multicultural students to rigorous university coursework before they arrive on campuses. It also helps them prepare for college admissions tests by pairing them with counselors.
McCoy, for her part, is focused on building a critical mass of African-American students at BYU.
She and her husband are meeting with BYU leaders next week, part of a series of steps to firmly establish their fledgling BYU black alumni association, she said. McCoy envisions the group will raise the profile of black students, combating unfounded stereotypes and connecting black students to graduates who can give advice.
At the school, "black students are labeled as inner-city children," McCoy said, but the reality is not so.
And there isn't enough open discussion on campus about race to correct misperceptions, panelists said.
"We're not speaking about those issues with any degree of intricacy, because it's too uncomfortable," said Gray, the former development officer in the communications department. "We need to be forthright. We need to be honest with ourselves."
Leslie Hadfield, a BYU professor of African studies, requires students to read and reflect on the LDS Church's historic December 2013 essay that disavowed some members' use of Mormon theology to defend the church denying black men the priesthood prior to 1978.
"Race and the Priesthood" noted that "church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form."
But that work is not on the syllabus in most other courses, said Margaret Young, a part-time BYU professor and author.
The 2013 essay "gives me peace," said BYU student Luis Belchior, even though "we try to ignore the idea of race" on campus most of the time.
Belchior said he does not feel the hostility Gray did five decades ago, but confronts assumptions from classmates that he's an athlete, a perception based solely on his skin color.
"They look at me and say, 'You're black. You go to BYU. What do you play?'" said the international relations major from Mozambique.
Still, he said, a shift is taking place.
For example, Belchior took a civil rights seminar, which took on the complex issue of race. In the discussions with about a dozen other students, most of whom came from diverse backgrounds, "I didn't feel awkward," Belchior said, "because it was a safe environment."