Nolong Bonner prayed she could temper her emotions during a religion class at Brigham Young University.
Bonner's instructor preached that blacks carry the mark of Cain, the Biblical son of Adam and Eve who was punished by God for killing his brother Abel."Then he said to me, `But it's OK because you are in the gospel and can repent,' " said the Las Vegas native. "I had to pray to the Lord to control my actions and my response because I wanted to go off. I had to pray to control my actions and help this person understand who I am."
Bonner was one of seven BYU students who participated in a panel discussion about issues facing 116 black students at the 28,000-student school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The event was part of the university's Black History Month. Other events include a speech by attorney Marguerite Driessen, a performance by a gospel choir, a discussion about interracial dating and the showing of two movies, "Long Walk Home," and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
With other students in agreement, Bonner doesn't think that the number of questions, comments or beliefs about black Americans are racially motivated. It stems from an unfamiliarity with people from other ethnic origins, she said.
"I think the word racism insinuates a hatred and I haven't felt a hatred here," said Bonner, a sophomore. "It's not racist. I think that it is ignorance."
Leslie Peabody, a senior from Littleton, Colo., said BYU should encourage all students to take a class about cultures from around the world. Very few, if any, classes address multiculturalism, she said.
"It's an injustice to students to not have a class about social cultures," she said, "because you're going to find other cultures when you get out into the world."
Tyrone Brown believes that a class about various cultures and black history would help those who haven't been around minorities understand their viewpoints. He also thinks more students should be more involved in making the campus more attractive for minority students.
"Students should be more pro-active in helping BYU become more diverse," Brown said.
But for the most part, he said, people in Utah and at BYU are accepting of black culture.
"What I appreciate about my heritage is that we have a strong will and a desire that nothing is going to hold us back," he said.
Movies, television shows and sometimes TV news programs perpetuate stereotypes of the average American black man and woman. Sandra Abalo, a freshman from New York, said she'd been asked how many times she'd been in jail.
"A lot of times the media portrays black people as criminals or as uneducated," Bonner said. "I think the media fails to portray a good part of black America. But I do think they are getting better."
Emeka Chukwurah, a junior from Nigeria, said black students at BYU shoulder a lot of responsibility. He said many students tend to judge the entire race by the actions of a few.
"Because there are a handful of us we live in glass houses," he said. "What we do now as black citizens of BYU will determine how future students are treated."