LGBTQ+U: The community at the University of Utah

Story and photos by ANDREW LURAS

Salt Lake City is known as being one of the most Mormon cities in America. And to counter the common knowledge of that, it’s also known as one of the “gayest” cities, which many people find hard to believe.

With it being known as this type of city, many different students from out of state are probably wondering how the University of Utah may reflect those values.

The conversation of the LGBTQ+ has always been around, but it’s become such a widespread debate through politicians, news, and just everyday conversation. This community is constantly fighting for its well-deserved rights in this country, as well as the freedom to walk around safely without the lingering fear of running into the many hateful people who reside within America. 

LGBTQ+ students are seeking out which colleges and universities to attend based on many differing factors such as how accepting toward them will their future campus be. With the U, at new student orientation, the staff will kindly ask you to state your name, without it even having to be your birth name, and your pronouns, such as he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.

The LGBT Resource Center is located on the fourth floor in room 409 inside the U’s A. Ray Olpin Union building. The center was founded in 2002 by Stayner Landward and Kay Harward, both retired and moved on. This was during a time when the Mormon church was “anti-gay” with many of its teachings and practices showing some distaste toward gay marriage, according to Whit Hollis, the director of the Student Union. It started out as just an LGBT student organization with weekly meetings garnering a range of 80 to 250 students. 

Hollis attended a few of these meetings. “There was a clear need for services for that group of students, faculty, and staff of course due to the sheer size of the student organization,” Hollis said. When creating the resource center, Landward and Harward found support from the student body and administration at the U but it wasn’t always like that. 

Proposition 8, also known as Prop 8, came about during 2008. It was a ballot proposition against same-sex marriage. During this time the LGBTQ+ found themselves being targeted for hate-speech and microaggressions. “They would tell us, ‘Why do you need more rights, you already have equal rights,’ which was bullshit,” Hollis said. 

“Things have definitely been better recently. There’s still these microaggressions going around but the U has improved since the resource center first started,” Hollis said. He commented on the many different locations the resource center has occupied as it’s grown. “There was a point where I had to convert a storage closet to be the center’s main room which was ironic for the gay director to put all the gays in the closet,” Hollis said as he laughed at the idea. 

“Right now it seems to be quite successful, but we all can strive to do better, no matter where we are,” Hollis said. “The U isn’t as safe as it needs to be and that we must always strive to make the U a safe campus for all students, faculty, and staff who attend or work here.”

As of February 2019, the resource center’s director is Clare Lemke, the former assistant director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success at Iowa State University. “I was looking for my next step and Utah wasn’t on my radar,” she said. “I’ve been looking for different opportunities in the West and this job came up.” Lemke had been moving in order to try to find something closer to her partner’s career. When this job opportunity appeared, she became surprised by the vibrancy of diversity in the U’s campus with the many queer and transgender people she has been able to meet on campus. 

Originally, she thought she was studying to become a professor but over time she found that working in a resource center felt more “collaborative” than being a traditional educator. Currently at the resource center there are three full time staff members and two student staff members. “All of our staff here bring a wealth of different backgrounds and personalities. It’s refreshing to see for the students who visit the center,” Lemke said. 

When it comes to the changes the U has gone through in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance, Lemke feels as if the U “isn’t just a place you go to and leave at 5 p.m. anymore.”

Lemke finds that the U is very different from her previous institution. “I don’t think I’ve been anywhere with so much of its influence being made by the different cultures within the U.” She added, “We’re constantly striving to make the U a safe space for queer and trans students, we just want to make sure we don’t let these negative experiences an LGBTQ+ student might have affect the rest of their life here.”

One student in particular, who asked to be identified as “G,” said she had some pretty odd experiences at the U as an LGBTQ+ member. “I’m a business major and a lot of the students in those buildings in particular are pretty discriminatory towards my sexuality.”

G also said her Mormon peers have invited her to church. “They would be overly friendly at first,” she said, but she felt like they were only inviting her to change her sexual orientation.

G doesn’t know how accepting the rest of campus is, but that experience left her with much anxiety. She found it harder to reach out to many of her peers or professors about this issue but she found solace in the many other friends outside of school who were LGBTQ+ accepting. G used to go to Westminster College and she felt the transition from there to the U was “an odd experience.” G said there is room for improvement at the U and we should be looking for ways to help students have an overall great campus life.

“I’ve been to the resource center a few times,” G said. “Clare [Lemke] and the staff at the center are very helpful, though I had trouble finding it at first. If you are a part of the LGBTQ+ you should definitely check out the resource center, they’re a really great group of people, especially if you had an experience on campus like mine.”  Even with G’s experience at the U, she has decided to stay and not let it affect her pursuit of a business degree. This is just one in the many cases of what it’s like to be a student at the U who is a part of the LGBTQ+. 

As much as Salt Lake City has this good image on being an open and welcoming city to the LGBTQ+, students, faculty, and staff at the U are always working on improving upon the areas they may be lacking in. Whit Hollis believes we need to focus more on the safety of our LGBTQ+ members. And Lemke knows we must prioritize these students because the negative experiences they might have on campus may affect their education here. As Hollis, Lemke, and G have agreed on, the U should always be striving to do better in order to figure out the best way to serve its students so they can have an educational, safe, and happy experience here on campus. 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Utah musicians discuss struggles for work and appreciation from residents

Story and illustrations by NATALIE ZULLO

Upon graduating from college, professional musicians look toward their careers with hope. But outside of the campus, they worry about their careers due to the lack of professional opportunities available.

Hallie Mosteller, a violin teacher in the Sandy, Utah, area and member of the Orchestra at Temple Square said, “I maybe thought I would have a little more option. But I have found that I’ve had a lot of opportunities that I never thought I would have, like the Orchestra at Temple Square.”

Joanne Andrus, owner of Andrus Music, agrees that there are a lot of opportunities in Utah for music. She said, “I think the thing that’s great about living in Utah is that that there are a lot of avenues, a lot of venues, that you can use to make money.”

But opportunities to share music on the professional level do not come to everyone. “I think if you have a talent level, there is a lot of work out there,” Andrus added. “But you have to be the best of the best to have those kinds of opportunities.”

Those musicians who are not “the best of the best” worry about their financial future.

In a previous interview, Kasia Sokol-Borup, assistant violin professor and director of the String Preparatory Division of the University of Utah’s School of Music, said, “When people think that what we do is just this constant inspired magical moment, they feel that we should feel lucky when we’re asked to do that in front of other people.”

Mosteller, violinist in the Orchestra at Temple Square, said she gets asked to do a lot of performances for free. “Especially in Utah, you get asked to do a lot of church things like performing in church. It definitely takes a lot of work to be able to make a living performing. It’s tough. I’m a little worried about it.”

To help make ends meet, many musicians have turned to teaching children and owning their own studios. But they fear that their rates are an issue for parents.

“I do feel like music is highly valued and the arts are very import to our culture,” Andrus said. “But I do feel like people don’t like to spend a ton of money.” Andrus charges $25 per private lesson but has had experiences with parents who refuse to pay her rates.

Mosteller, who is both performing and teaching, said she worries about her future as a teacher. “I feel like you hit a brick wall teaching. I probably would need to get another job.”

Sarah Affleck, Utah mother of six, feels differently about the rates musicians offer. She said in reference to hiring private music instructors for her children, “Price was never an issue for us because we were happy to invest in that for our children. I would pay their prices because I know how genius they are.” No matter how high the price of the musician, Affleck said she feels that music is a long-term investment for her children. It is a skill that can be taken with them throughout their lives no matter their age.

Affleck’s children have been privately taught piano, guitar, voice, cello and composition from instructors around the Salt Lake Valley. When asked if Affleck hired an instructor based on a music degree and skill, she replied, “Their background in music education was less important to me. What was important to me with the instructor was how well they interacted with children. That was probably the number one over degrees or skill.”

Mosteller has felt in her performing career that her degree is not as important to employers as her skill and experience. She said, “I feel like experience is definitely more valued, like with the Orchestra at Temple Square.”

Musicians tend to take up other musical careers to help with finances giving private lessons, including teaching the arts in school orchestras, choirs and bands. But musicians are seeing the loss of music in the education system.

Sokol-Borup said, “I think the fact that people ask for so much music and [desire] it shows that music actually is a basic human need, which when you look at the way our education works, it’s as if it wasn’t.”

In reference to the current school system, Andrus said, “It’s not just STEM it should be STEAM. It shouldn’t just be science, technology, engineering and math. We need to throw the arts in there. Because that’s what makes our children people. That is what humanizes all of us is the arts.”

Leslie Henire, concert mistress of Sinfonia Salt Lake, also has noticed the lack of arts in the lives of children. “It’s necessary for us as humans to have beauty and art and culture in our lives. I just don’t see any other way. It’s a necessity and it’s becoming less and less,” she said.

Affleck feels strongly about music in the lives of children. She wants her own kids to be involved in music “for their own self-expression and creativity. Music is a powerful brain tool.” She added, “It can be used for education. It stimulates the brain.”

For many Utah musicians and parents, music is crucial in school curriculums and individual lives. Andrus said it is also a crucial part of humanity.

“That creative part of life gives a huge reason to get out of bed every day and if we lose that, we lose part of our culture, part of our humanity and we lose all the benefits that come to our brains by creating and being more than just robots,” Andrus said. “We have things that we can accomplish that are so much bigger if we include the arts in our curriculum for our kids and in our lives as adults.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Reaching out to China’s past

Story and gallery by PORTER L. ANDERSON

The Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City has for many years been a free and open facility where visitors can come and conduct research about their ancestors. The library is the largest genealogical library in the world and attracts people from all walks of life to travel to Utah just to take part in the work that takes place there.

Recently the library has implemented a new interactive activity for those visitors who come from China. “The Genealogical Society of Utah and the Family History Library have always been working to build an open and informative experience for visitors of our great state,” said Yvonne Sorenson, the library’s administrative representative.

The Family History Library is located on Temple Square, which is the most visited tourist site in all of Utah. Temple Square is a large plot of land with many different facilities that are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Christian church that has a strong following in Utah.

The interactive experience that can be found on the main floor of the Family History Library is meant to be the first look into genealogical work for those who haven’t had much experience before. Visitors are guided by the volunteers that work in the library to several different stations where they are able to learn about famous relatives, facts about their birth, interesting stories about ancestors, and so much more.

The newly remodeled main floor has been open for almost two years but just recently the administration decided to create an experience specifically for Chinese guests who couldn’t take part in the regular activities due to lack of Chinese records in the library.

“We realized that so many international visitors would come to visit Temple Square but, we would often have to turn them away from our interactive activities. We wanted to help reach out to these people in any simple way we could to help the guests get excited about family history work while making them feel welcome to our facilities,” Sorenson said.

The Chinese experience has been in place for almost three months and the results have been nothing short of amazing. One of the translators for the library, Charles Garrett, said, “It is so amazing to see these wonderful people come to the library and be so excited to see that they can learn simple things like the origin of their last name. They just seem to light up and get excited to learn more about their families.”

While the program is still in the testing phases it remains very simple but, with the results that have been observed over the past few months, the administration of the library is really excited to continue building on the experience. “I would love to see the experiment we have created grow to a more substantial point,” Garrett said when asked how he felt about the future of the program.

While the future of the program seems bright, no concrete plans have been made to improve the activities or even keep them up and running after the test period is over at the end of the year. The patrons of the library are very inspired by the activity and seem genuinely excited to revisit the library if they were to visit Utah again.

“This was very interesting for me because it taught me a lot of information about myself that I didn’t know. I only wish the building had the materials for me to do more searching into my past,” said Li-Wei Chen, a visitor who is traveling from Shanghai.

This is the exact result that the library administration was hoping to see from these visitors. “We were hoping that we could build the excitement that we see the locals get when visiting but, we’re a little short on resources to do it. I think the team in charge of the program has done a wonderful job creating this experience and I hope that we decided to put more effort and keep the program for the long-term,” Sorenson said.

The library has access to thousands of genealogical resources but few of those are Chinese, which makes the program that much more impressive. The program being added for the long-term would be a great addition to the library but would also help the state of Utah as well. Creating global attractions like the Family History Library builds the state’s reputation as a place that welcomes all visitors.

With the inclusion of the Chinese experience in the Family History Library, it shows that the LDS church is aware of the importance it holds in building tourism and attending to the growing international attention that Utah is getting.

Sorenson added, “We want to continue to create a global experience here that can be enjoyed by all. The journey may be difficult and we may struggle to find a way but, we are determined to help all find the joys that genealogical work can bring to an individual.”

Legalizing Medical Cannabis in Utah: Does the LDS Church Get to Decide

 

SALT LAKE CITY- The subject of religion influencing politics is a major discussion in Utah particularly concerning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ( LDS) influence in legislation regarding legalizing medical cannabis. The LDS (Mormon) church, last year, made a statement regarding legalizing medical marijuana saying “We urge a cautious approach to legislatures”. Some Utah voters question if religious views should even be involved on the floor, and if the church should be allowed such influence (verbally); especially when it comes to the well-being of the citizens of the state.

According to the most recent census numbers, sixty percent of Utah citizens are Mormon as are 80 percent of Utah legislators.  Medical marijuana (MM) supporters are concerned that LDS legislators are making their decisions based on personal religious views. While the LDS church has made their views regarding the use of cannabis very clear,  75% of Utah voters; still favor medical cannabis and are pushing to have the vote to legalize it on the 2018 ballot. Some argue that the Utah house should be pushing legalization more because the Utah public is expressing interest, and it should be the public choice rather than the senates with possible influence from the church.

“I strongly dispute the narrative regarding poll numbers,” Rep. Brad Daw (R) said when asked about public opinion regarding legalizing medical cannabis.  He discussed how under polls he conducted [not scientific] the question asked was “what level of cannabis legalization do you support” and more people, many of those who are LDS, are in favor of carefully supervised legalization rather than a full allowance of medical cannabis,. This past February, the house passed Daw’s bill (197) that requires the state to grow medical marijuana, and allow chronically ill patients to “try it. They also completely legalized cannabinoid with 10% THC for over the counter sales. “This can benefit the people who need it, and for those who need higher THC, the bill will allow research patients under careful supervision to be allowed access”

When asked if the Church had influenced decisions made by legislatures, Daw responded by saying “Removing religious opinions from politics would be hard to do…. the people on the board are elected by Utahan’s and their belief is their belief” stating that politicians would not be elected into office if the public had an issue with their decisions and personal beliefs. While the church is not opposed to limited and monitored medical use, they do make statements that the church would prefer that there be no use of cannabis; thus possibly affecting the opinion of those in Utah Senate.  Daw explained, that we don’t want to “stifle the voice of public opinion” and the LDS church has the right to freedom of speech and to represent voters just as any other organization or citizen.

Voter Ann Cook, a non-Mormon who has lived in the state for more than 45 years, sees the idea of religion and its influence on the state differently. “The LDS church really does have control, if they just came out in favor of this, the bills would pass,” she said regarding the issue. Cook is in favor of citizens of Utah voting on this rather than the legislature, believing that the church’s opinion would primarily be removed if done in this manner. “ I myself suffer from chronic arthritic pain and had to retire because of it. I’m limited in what I can do and I deserve the right to legally try out cannabis to alleviate my pain.” Cook also added that she could make the effort to get products in states which have legalized them, but she does not feel comfortable obtaining such until they are legalized here in Utah.

“We regard cannabis medicine as a medical, scientific, and sociological matter,” According to TRUCE (Together For Responsible Use and Cannabis Education)  reps said in regard to the influence the church has had on Utah’s position on legalization. “Our LDS TRUCE members are generally of the opinion that medical cannabis use is not a doctrinal issue, and LDS patients in medically legal states are considered members in full good standing… as are members anywhere taking prescribed opioid medications.” TRUCE has been pushing for the decision to be put on the 2018 ballot, rather than putting it the hands of the legislature. This is in belief that voters will support full access to medical marijuana, and will keep religious affiliations away from the decision. TRUCE advocates that the church does not need to be “speaking with representatives” as it grants too much power of the state to the church. They are not advocating for recreational use, and that they simply wish that patients with chronic illnesses have the option to use cannabis to assist with their treatments.

The issue regarding church and state in Utah is easily a debatable subject. While some believe the LDS church has too much influence or control over Utah politics, others see the affiliation only as freedom of speech. With terminally ill patients begging to allow for the public to vote on the subject the legislature is moving slowly towards the idea, and many are concerned if the LDS church’s views regarding cannabis, could be conflicting with progression towards legalizing it for medical purposes.

Their brothers’ keeper — Utah charity targets refugee men

Story and slideshow by PETER JOHNSTON

Leul Mengistu hits the gas pedal of his company van. The light has turned green and he is late for an appointment with Julia, a female refugee from South Sudan. A banner with a blue, yellow and red logo that reads, “Catholic Community Services,” has been slapped onto the van’s side.  

Though Mengistu helps female refugees like Julia at Catholic Community Services (CCS) he has a new focus demographic: refugee men.

“I don’t want them to fall between the cracks,” he says, one hand on the steering wheel. There are programs for women and children and youth, but men are often forgotten in refugee assistance efforts.

The International Rescue Committee reports that “refugee men, a category not prioritized by the humanitarian system for support, are often not able to access support that they need and, even more often, feel themselves to be excluded from it.”

According to CARE International, a relief organization that primarily targets women, “among humanitarian actors, donors and government agencies, there is a common perception that men are best able to look after themselves and negotiate the complexities of displacement unaided.”

The report says this perception leads to less attention for the problems of male refugees.

Mengistu acknowledges that women and children are often the most disadvantaged groups fleeing conflict in their home countries. However, he also says he deals with many refugee men who have not received needed support from other organizations because of the common belief that men are “best able to look after themselves.”

Mengistu has responded to widespread ignorance toward male refugees with the Men’s Wellness Support Group — a program that will bring together 10 to 15 refugee men for weekly classes. Each “cohort” of men will learn about topics ranging from building a budget to coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Weekly instruction will be led by men: Mengistu, a couple of class facilitators, and guest speakers specially tapped because of their area of expertise. David Harris is one such guest speaker. He is slated to teach the class on physical health and comes from a background of pediatrics and insurance management.

Harris says he sees cultural adjustment as the greatest priority of the Men’s Wellness Support Group. “They [the refugee men] need to protect their own culture,” he says, but they also “need to understand how stuff works [in the U.S.] so that they can get along.”

Mengistu once directed a support group for women that focused primarily on health. However, he too says the new support group’s objectives go beyond just physical wellness. “I want them [the refugee men] to be very competitive,” he says. “Everybody’s smart, but now it’s camouflaged!”

That intellectual camouflage refers to the invalidation of refugees’ prior work experience and professional talent in the United States.

Mengistu’s boss, Aden Batar, is the director of Immigration and Refugee Resettlement at CCS. He explains the “camouflage” problem from his own perspective.

Batar left Somalia with his family in the mid 1990s with a law degree from his home country. He says that degree and legal experience went unrecognized in the U.S.

“Can you imagine how frustrating that would be?” Batar asks. Today, he says, refugees can more easily get college degrees that match the ones they earned previously because NGOs and governmental agencies provide financial help. However, “back then [he] was lost in the middle because [he] didn’t have those systems.”

Even with revamped nonprofit and governmental aid, Batar says the Men’s Wellness Support Group “fills a gap.”

Eighty percent of CCS cases are women and children, Batar says. Men aren’t seen later unless they have a demonstrated problem.

Despite widespread apathy on the issue, Utah’s history with refugees makes it an appropriate birthplace for the program. In 2015, when 30 governors called for the cessation of Syrian refugee resettlement, Gov. Gary R. Herbert announced Utah’s continued commitment to assist refugees.

Batar also highlights the strong public-private relationship among CCS and local religious organizations as a positive sign of Utah’s tolerance of refugees. “The most welcoming state in the U.S. is Utah,” he says.

While the Men’s Wellness Support Group has public backing, it faces significant challenges.

For one, cultural conflicts between refugees’ old way of life and their new one in America could foster misunderstanding and resentment. David Harris, the guest speaker who will handle the physical health section, underlines that the program’s facilitators and guest speakers may not understand all cultural nuances of refugees’ backgrounds. “We may say something that we feel strongly about or think is obvious when they disagree or don’t think it’s obvious,” Harris says.

The key, he says, will be for facilitators to “listen really closely to what [the refugees] have to say and what their concerns are rather than being very dogmatic.”

Participating refugees will come from more than three countries. Mengistu has recruited men from Burma, Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo for the support group so far. His proposed solution to bridge cultural divides is to recruit participants who speak one of only two languages — Karen (a language spoken in Burma) and Swahili.

Logistics also pose a problem. Mengistu will need to resolve the scheduling conflicts of refugee men who work night and day shifts and CCS interpreters who work business hours. The program director says he and the guest speakers will adapt to the schedules of the refugees.

Regardless of the program’s potential problems, Mengistu envisions far-reaching implications for the Salt Lake City community. He says refugee men will integrate with the larger community, enjoy more family unity and become more self-sufficient fathers.

The first of the weekly classes launched April 5 with a cohort of seven participants — two from Burma, five from East Africa. If all goes well, these seven men will walk away from the CCS classroom on May 24 with the skills to start a career and find daily joy. A tall order — but like Mengistu says, “I don’t want them to fall through the cracks.”

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Can a Mormon be a feminist?

Story and photos by MEGAN CHRISTINE

When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are excommunicated, they are stripped of their membership, much of their personal identity, and the chance to see their loved ones in heaven after death.

This is what happened to Margaret Toscano, 69, when she wrote and spoke about issues regarding women’s place in the Mormon church and related topics such as the priesthood.

Many people like Toscano have been raising their voices against the inequities they feel women experience in the Mormon church, whether that be through research and writing or making small changes in their home churches.

Toscano conducted research as an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University on church history and found that “the women that received their temple endowments through Joseph Smith all knew that they had priesthood.” Toscano believes that in the 1800s, Smith ordained women with the priesthood through religious ordinances called temple endowments.

According to the Mormon church, the temple endowments are considered “a gift from God whereby He bestows sacred blessings upon you.” Today, these gifts do not include priesthood.

The priesthood is a power given to males in the Mormon church. It is believed to be “the eternal power and authority of our Heavenly Father.” Through the priesthood, various ordinances can be administered, such as baby blessing, baptisms, temple marriages, and more. For many leadership positions in the Mormon church, it is a requirement to hold the priesthood. This excludes women from these positions.

“If there’s going to be any equality for women, then you have to question the notion of priesthood,” Toscano said.

To Toscano, women need to be granted the priesthood again in order to be equal to men in the church. She has found that church leaders disagree with this.

Toscano spoke out about her beliefs and church leaders claimed she was in opposition to the teachings of the church. She was summoned to a religious court, conducted by local church leaders. She was told that she could either denounce everything she had written, apologize for the testimonies she had destroyed, and never speak out on these issues again, or be excommunicated. She chose the latter.

Marjorie Smith, 35, and Joseph Peterson, 35, are a married couple located in Salt Lake City who have similar views to Toscano. Smith is a member of the Aspiring Mormon Women group on Facebook.

Smith views the priesthood as an “entry between you and God.” To her, it seems unfair that women have to go through another person just to achieve that connection.

Peterson agreed. He has the ability to give his son and wife blessings when they are sick, but realized that when he is sick he cannot receive this same blessing from his wife.

“As rooted in selfishness as that was, it was a light switch that opened my eyes to a lot of other things. Women are not visible in this church,” Peterson said.

Smith and Peterson made the decision together to give their son a baby blessing after he was born. Smith felt excluded from this important moment, because according to church doctrine “only worthy men who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood may participate in naming and blessing children.”

Peterson included Smith by naming her as a blessing giver by stating that the act was “our blessing to you.” This small but meaningful act received positive feedback from fellow churchgoers.

Smith also taught lessons to young women in the church. She had to teach lessons on the law of chastity, which “prohibits all sexual relations outside marriage.” While teaching, Smith reconstructed these values to be moral instead of religious. She also taught the importance of education whenever possible. Smith avoided the subject of marriage, which is often the focus of many of these lessons.

Small steps can be taken to further the feminist movement in the Mormon church. Smith and Peterson believe visibility for women is crucial. Smith also values hands-on fathers and hopes the church will honor women’s need for education and women’s skills by utilizing them.

“If we mean what we say about women, they need to be visible,” Peterson said. “It’s that sort of over-syrupy, benevolent praise that is used as a tool to keep the structure the same and to defend the status quo.”

Peterson is referring to a 2018 article by Salt Lake Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack. While interviewing the new all-male leadership about women’s roles in the church, Russell M. Nelson began by saying “We love ’em.” Leadership continued to praise women as mothers and daughters, but did not mention steps the church is making toward gender equality or “even hint at the word ‘feminist.’”

Similarly, Toscano said that feminism in the Mormon church comes in waves, and at the end of each wave a woman is excommunicated to subdue the movement. In the 1970s, it was Sonia Johnson, Equal Rights Amendment advocate. In the 1990s, it was Toscano herself. In 2014, it was Kate Kelly, co-founder of Ordain Women.

Toscano firmly believes that the movement will resurface again soon. “You can’t keep women down.”

 

Day of the Dead, celebrating and remembering our dead

IMG_9221Story By: CHRISTIAN GONZALEZ

West Valley City, Utah -The Utah Multicultural Center hosted its 4th annual Día de Los Muertos celebration on Saturday, October 28, 2017. The festivities included traditional Mexican dances and a large variety of family-friendly activities such as skull-face painting and a dress-up contest. There was also a specific area where visitors could observe altars created in remembrance of loved ones who had passed away. “We want to make sure we don’t forget all of the good things our loved ones did while they were alive, day of the dead is way to let their stories live on through our generations,” said Francisco Perez, an attendee of the event. The event highlighted various aspects of Mexican culture and served to represent loved ones who have passed away by remembering the lives they lived.

Although this celebration was held on Oct. 28, 2017, the actual dates for the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico are November 1-2. Beatriz Aguilera, now a 71-year-old woman, has been visiting the cemetery for el Día de Muertos, going as far back as she can remember. For Aguilera, it has become less a celebration and more a day of remembrance.IMG_9226 She still retains the vivid memories of her past when she would visit her great grandfather’s grave at age ten. “I remember helping my grandma prepare a table filled with things that were my grandpa Chema’s. At the center of the table we would always place portrait of them from their wedding,” said Aguilera. She recalls waking up early to help her grandmother prepare her dead grandfathers favorite food, along with pan de muerto (a spanish bread). “After preparing food all morning, we would use my grandmother’s finest silverware and carefully place the food on the altar along with belongings that represented the wonderful life he lived. It seemed as if for that night we were expecting him to join us for dinner,” Aguilera explained. As the years pass, the traditions of this holiday allow her to remember both of her grandparents, her older brother who passed away at a young age, and her mother who died a few years ago. Every November 2, she travels to the cemetery with her children and grandchildren to spend time with all of those who have passed on. Aguilera and her family use this day to celebrate the life of their loved ones and remember the legacy they left behind.

IMG_9461

 

Many of the altars at the Utah Multicultural celebration were similarly decorated. They use flowers, candles, food, and short paragraphs describing the lives of each individual on display for all to see. Also showcased on the altars were statues of the Virgin Mary, who it is said watched over the graves and protect the spirits of the deceased as they travel through the after life.IMG_9222 Many of the items displayed on the altars may only seem relevant to the individual but one thing we can learn about this celebration is that nearly every object holds a symbolic meaning.

The flower “cempasúchil”IMG_9462 or in English, the marigold, is known for its powerful scent and vivid bright yellow color. There is much speculation regarding the purpose of this flower. However, the common belief derives from the ancient Aztecs, who believed the bright yellow represented the sun, and that the flower could guide the deceased in the dark using its petals. Today the flower is used to decorate graves, with its bright color, as well as to guide the spirits of the deceased toward their families during the night.

The previously mentioned pan de muerto or in English, “bread of the dead” represents the human skull. It contains four intersecting protrusions that are shaped liked bones. They are said to represent the four corners of the universe. The circular shape of the bread represents the never-ending cycle between life and death. Finally, one thing you will notice at almost every cemetery when celebrating the Day of the

Dead is a very strong odor.IMG_9463 Copal, a resin made from tropical trees, fill the air with its strong aroma when it burns. “The smell is said to guide the spirits of the dead to their altars and purify them of any evil,” said Javier Peña, a local dancer familiar with Aztec traditions.IMG_9464

Peña explained that although many who attend the Day of the Dead celebration are not familiar with the symbolic meanings, he said, the most important thing to remember and celebrate our dead. “We want our children to remember the importance of our Mexican heritage and, although we no longer live in Mexico, remembering our ancestors is as equally important to us as the relationships we have with the living.” said Francisco’s wife, Fatima Perez. IMG_9223Both have been celebrating this holiday since they were children. The knowledge they have of their ancestors has helped them live better lives, said the Perezes.  Overall, Dia de Los Muertos is a day is to remember loved ones and the lives they lived, and the festival was designed as a celebration of life more so than one of death.

https://unewswriting.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/christian-gonzalez

https://unewswriting.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/reflection

 

 

The Mormon mission experience

Story and slideshow by ZACH DAVIS

The tradition of serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormon church) is rooted in the very beginning of the religion in 1830.

The first Mormon missionary to be called was the Prophet Joseph Smith’s younger brother Samuel Smith.

Following Samuel Smith’s call other leaders of the Mormon church were called, including Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson, who were tasked with teaching the American Indians.

Mormon missionaries were the leaders of the church who preached about their religion across North America.

Later the ones serving missions would shift to the younger members who would be called by the leaders of the Mormon church.

The first mission overseas in the British Isles was fulfilled by Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde in 1837. This led to many converts to the religion immigrating to the United States during the 1840s.

During the 1850s Mormon missionaries expanded beyond the British Isles to countries such as Chile, France, Germany, India, Italy, South Africa and Switzerland.

During this time men had served as Mormon missionaries.

Then in 1898, the first female missionaries, Inez Knight and Lucy Jane Brimhall, were called to serve.

Now the missionary force is comprised of single men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 serving in 422 missions around the world. Mormon missions are two years for men and one and a half years for women.

Preparing for a Mission

The process of being called as a missionary begins with the individual’s desire to serve a mission. If they so desire, they will meet with their bishop (leader of the congregation) to further assess if they are ready to serve.

Individuals must be physically capable of serving, mentally stable, spiritually prepared (believe in what they are preaching), and be morally clean.

Preparing to Serve in 1965

“As I was growing up, I attended all of the church meetings, and in high school they had a program called release time (seminary) in which a person could leave campus and for one hour study the teachings of their now particular religious beliefs, and get credit towards it being one of the student’s elective studies. I took advantage of this for gaining more knowledge of the LDS Church,” Ron Davis said.

When Ron graduated high school, he was unable to leave directly for his mission. Instead he worked for three years to save up enough money to finance his two-year mission.

After working with his bishop, Ron submitted his application to serve as a missionary. This led to him being assigned to the North Scottish Mission in Scotland.

He left for the Missionary Training Center (MTC) located in Provo, Utah, in February 1965, just a month before his 21st birthday.

Serving in 1997

Throughout her life Ron Davis’s daughter-in-law, Jemela Davis, knew that she wanted to serve a mission for the Mormon church. To prepare to serve she participated in the four-year seminary program and took missionary preparation courses offered by the Mormon church through the institutes of religion program.

Jemela was able to finance her mission by working and saving as much as she could. Her parents and close friends financed the rest.

After successfully completing her application for missionary service in 1997 she was assigned to the Chile Antofagasta Mission.

Serving in 2014

To prepare for her mission, Sam Brady said she attended a mission preparation class each Sunday. She also went to temple preparation classes to prepare her to receive her endowments.

When it came to financing her mission, Sam worked full-time to raise the funds with her parents supplementing where needed. While on her mission Sam also received donations from people from time to time.

Once Sam completed all the necessary paperwork to serve her mission she received her call to the Hungary Budapest Mission, in Hungary.

She left for the MTC in September 2014.

Missionary Training Center (MTC)

Scotland Bound

While at the MTC Ron found that it was a very structured place. His daily schedule began at 6 a.m. He said his personal prayers, dressed, ate breakfast, attended instructional periods, then practiced with other missionaries to lessen the feelings of uncertainty about telling people how he felt about the Mormon church.

One of the things he said he found most interesting while at the MTC was that it “seemed a little like role playing, because at times the teachers would all of sudden take a negative approach and then you had to change their outlook with your knowledge of the truths that you were going to present to the people once in the mission that you would be called to.”

When Ron left the MTC after two weeks he was “excited to be going on [his] first plane ride, and to be going to another country.” The plane stopped in London and then went to Edinburgh, where the mission home was headquartered.

Chile

Jemela’s daily schedule at the MTC was filled from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. From 6:30 to 9 a.m. she would do personal preparation, individual scripture study and eat breakfast. Then from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. she would participate in morning classes. After lunch, she would do further classes from 1 to 5 p.m. Dinner at 6 p.m. was followed by more evening classes from 7-9 p.m. At 9 p.m. she would return to her dorm for further personal duty until bedtime at 10 p.m.

The classes that Jemela attended focused on learning Spanish, the missionary discussions and cultural lessons regarding Chile.

She spent nine weeks in the MTC. Because she was assigned to a foreign language mission, she needed adequate time to learn the language in order to better teach the people of Chile.

“Hungary” for knowledge

Life at the MTC for Sam wasn’t all fun and games. In fact, it was very strict and rough, but she also found it very spiritually uplifting.

A regular day for her at the MTC consisted of waking at 6:30 a.m. to get ready and eat breakfast in the cafeteria. At 8 a.m. she did personal study in the classroom. This was followed by discussing what she had learned with her companions. At 10 a.m. she engaged in language study with the rest of the day being broken up by Hungarian lessons, devotionals and practice lessons.

Brady also spent nine weeks in the MTC in order to learn Hungarian.

When it came time to leave for Budapest, Brady said she “was extremely nervous and excited all at once.”

Mission Field

Life in Scotland

It was a very cold February when Ron arrived in Edinburgh. For the first time in 50 years the main rivers had frozen.

Ron said it rained often – sometimes daily for weeks at a time. He needed two overcoats: one to wear while the other dripped over the tub so it would be dry to wear the next day.

His normal attire was limited to dark-colored (dark blue, dark brown, or black) suits and pants to match. He wore white shirts, very conservative ties, hats and shoes.

Ron woke early each morning and said a prayer. Then he read and studied the Scriptures before eating breakfast. Then he and his companion left to go tracting (look for people interested in talking about the church). After doing that for a few hours the Mormon companions ate lunch.

When proselytizing Ron and his companion (fellow missionary) were often rejected with doors being slammed in their faces. This was done in the hope of finding someone who was willing to hear what they had to say about the Mormon church.

Occasionally during their tracting they’d set up appointments to talk with people in their home.

At supper time, the missionaries would return to where they were lodging to eat. After eating they would go out once more to meet their appointments and teach them about the Mormon church. When the day finally had finished the missionaries would return to their lodging, study and read the Scriptures some more, get ready for bed, say their prayers and retire for the night to be ready to repeat the cycle the next day.

The reason missionaries travel in pairs is because Scripture discusses going “two by Two” (Mark 6:7). It was safer to have more than one missionary together as it allowed them to keep each other out of trouble.

The biggest thing Ron didn’t like during his mission was knocking on doors to meet people as the process of street meetings and discussions weren’t used when he was serving. And during this time the Mormons weren’t very popular.

On Wednesdays Ron took his shirts to the laundry and washed the rest of his clothes at the cleaners or coin laundry.

When it came time to leave the country, Ron said he was “kind of sad” because he had devoted “two years of [his] life in an effort to bring the joy and happiness of the restored gospel here upon the earth and now it was coming to an end.”

Trials in Chile

Jemela arrived in Chile unaware of the trials and poverty she would be facing.

During her mission, she said she lost over 60 pounds and became frail. She and her companions had to boil their drinking water to avoid getting sick.

Soon after these hardships, Jemela said she was able to “set aside the life [she] knew to develop [her] spiritual self.” Instead of focusing on the hardships she focused on faith, prayer and fasting. When meeting people she and her companions would do anything to help make Chileans’ lives better.

The normal attire for sister missionaries in Chile was skirts and blouses. They “could not wear nylons because the fleas get caught in between the nylon netting and [their] legs, resulting in the fleas biting you repeatedly,” Jemela said.

When Jemela found out that she would be serving in such a poverty-stricken country instead of buying brand new clothes she bought clothes from a second-hand store to use on her mission. The reason for this she said was “[she] did not want to appear wealthy or to send a message that she was better than [the Chilean people].”

At one point, she only had two pairs of socks causing her to have to wash them at noon each day and hang them to dry so they would be ready for the following day.

“With the exception of the clothes on my back, I gave away all of my clothes to the Chilean people,” Jemela said.

The daily routine during Jemela’s mission was to get up at 7 a.m. to get ready, eat breakfast, do personal study and companion study. At 10 a.m. they would leave their apartment to either teach people, search for people to teach, or help reactivate members who were no longer attending. At 1 p.m. the companions would return home for “La Siesta” which is a Chilean practice where everything shuts down for three hours. Everyone goes home to eat a big meal and take a nap. At 4 p.m. everything would reopen and the missionaries would return to teaching until 10 or 11 p.m.

When it came time to return home Jemela said that “she was not disappointed, but saddened to leave the people [she] had grown to love.” While at the airport waiting for her flight home she was surprised by four of the youth she had taught who had hitchhiked a thousand miles to see her off at the airport.

To Budapest

Full of nervous excitement and a fear of the unexpected Brady arrived in Budapest.

Brady’s days consisted of rising at 6:30 a.m. to pray, exercise for 30 minutes and prepare for the day. Then she would eat breakfast from 7:30 to 8 a.m. After breakfast, she would study the Book of Mormon, other scriptures, the missionary library and Preach My Gospel until 9 a.m.

Brady and her companion then studied together and shared what they had learned during personal study.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. they proselytized with an hour taken for lunch and additional study and an hour taken for dinner, which was to be finished no later than 6 p.m. They continued proselytizing until 9 p.m., when they would return home, plan the next day’s activities, write in their journals, prepare for bed, pray, and retire at 10:30 p.m.

The standard attire that Brady wore on her mission wabutton-upn up blouse or a nice shirt tucked into long flowy skirts as well as flat shoes. She would sometimes accessorize with a belt or scarf.

One thing Brady disliked about her mission was tracting but she said that she would “absolutely, without a doubt” serve another mission if she could.

A couple mishaps that occurred on her mission was one of her companions got sick and Brady developed foot problems due to all the walking that was required on her mission.

When it came time to return home after 18 months of being away from home, Brady said she was “sad to go, but excited to return home and become human again.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The New Colossus: a glimpse on the values of Lady Liberty

Story and slideshow by REEM IKRAM

Photos courtesy of Somali Community Self-Management Agency

Integral, passionate and admirable: these can be the three words used to describe Abdirizak Ibrahim. Ibrahim is the founder of the Somali Community Self-Management Agency. The agency is a refugee help center located on 1361 S. State St. Established in 2005, the small organization continues making constant efforts in helping with refugees and those who are in need of assistance and support.

The focus of the service organization is to provide a smooth transition to refugees who are creating a life within the Salt Lake Valley. It offers monthly food drives, labor opportunities and classes on how to be self-sufficient.

“It was very important to me, to have an environment where you could feel safe in,” Ibrahim said. He pointed to his wall of certificates displaying his involvement within his community. “I was a refugee too, when I came into the United States, and after I was able to get on my own two feet, I wanted to help others who used to be in my position as well,” he said, while giving a tour of his department.

SCSMA helps over 100 refugees each month. And as it starts to grow, Ibrahim has begun to reach out to other nonprofits, churches, and organizations to discuss whether they are willing to share their resources with the Somali refugees.

According to PBS, there are 60,000 refugees living in Utah, all of whom are learning how to manage a lifestyle here within the state. But following Trump’s executive order 13769, most have begun to fear their prospects.

Refugees are under major stress due to the current political climate. With no routes to follow, most are wary of what will happen after resettling within the U.S.

“With this new political climate, everything is extremely polarized but that’s been happening for a long time. And specifically, in my expertise, in respect to immigration, there is a lot more fear and a lot more uncertainty within the refugee communities,” said Daniel Black, who has immigration law experience doing consular processing, asylum, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, U Visas, cancellation of removal, adjustment of status and other immigration cases. Black said he is very passionate about helping people and ensuring they receive the best representation possible, which is why he works at a firm that offers multiple resources for those in need, such as legal assistance and English classes.

“It’s very important to give people who are a part of your community a helping hand, that’s how you can ensure you have a functioning society,” Black said.

The United States is one of the few countries that is allowing refugees to come in for safety. But with more rules and rather strict regulations, it has become a hassle for refugees to feel secure and feel comfortable enough to live properly within the States. But with the increase of centers and agencies that help refugees, this hassle is slowly diminishing.

“It’s important to help and be involved because all refugees contribute to our society, whether it be by culture or perspective,” Christina Andino said. Andino is an intern for the Somali Community Self-Management Agency through the University of Utah Neighborhood Partners. “Refugees are just like us, they live life day by day. They’re a part of our communities. That’s why I enjoy spending my time with them,” she said.

Ibrahim, Black and Andino aren’t the only ones out there helping refugees cope with living within the state. There are approximately 21 other programming partners that also try to help out. Each partner offers various resources for the refugees. They successfully have managed to help an average number of 1,901 participants per month, all according to the Utah Refugee Services Office.

“Refugees are people who, rather than give up or give in, have chosen to take the higher and harder road and are grateful for the generosity of strangers who reached out with a willing and helping hand,” said Pamela Atkinson in a report to Gov. Gary J. Herbert..

Atkinson has been an advisor to the last three governors in Utah and has been a tireless advocate for the homeless and the refugees. She actively volunteers and personally engages within the community and is always trying to make a positive difference for those surrounding her.

Making a positive difference in the world is how we can rest assure that good things are still happening in this life.

To quote Emma Lazarus and the promise of the United States (as engraved on the Statue of Liberty);

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

For more than twenty decades, this has been the largely prolonged promise to those who come from near and far into the United States. And to have communities, agencies and organizations gather together to help those in need is a great tribute to that promise.

To be a part of keeping the United States’ promise alive while also helping with refugees, try to reach out to your local workforce department and resettlement agencies. They are always seeking out opportunities for aid either through volunteer work or generous donations.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

R. Ammon Ayres

MY STORIES:

MY RESUME

-Professional Experience

2011- Currently              Warehouse Manager, Age Sciences, Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Responsibility for preparing order shipments together.
  • Overlook the operation going on, and comply to management needs.

2011 Summer   Technician, Platinum Protection, American Fork, Utah

  • Responsible for installing new, and replacing pre-existing, alarm systems.
  • Often travel to clients homes replace a system, or complete service tickets.

2010-2011    Transition Trainer, Granite School District, Salt Lake City, Utah

  • I had a vast array of responsibilities, from supervising to creating documents.
  • The gifts program is a program working with special needs students.

2010 Summer   River Guide, Teton Whitewater. Jackson Hole, Wyoming

  • Guide Rafts down the Snake River safely.
  • Transport, and move deliver rafts from point A to point B

2009-2010                                 Delivery Driver, Hudson Home Health Equipment. American Fork, Utah.

  • Deliver beds, oxygen tanks, and other equipment to in home patients.

2009 Summer                                                                   River Guide, Boy Scouts of America. Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Give scout troops instruction on how to go down river in canoe, ensure safety of scouts, go over again and again on how to make it down the river.
  • Give tour of camp, give assistance to the troop I am hosting.

2007-2009                                        Volunteer Missionary – LDS Church. Eugene, Oregon

  • Gained leadership skills working with other volunteer missionaries.
  • Learned how to work with others, in such ways as how to change my way of working to make a better team.
  • Learned how to work hard, and serve others.

ABOUT ME:

I am a sophomore at University of Utah, and former student alumni of the Salt Lake Community College. Within the last year I have dedicated my studies and efforts to become a dentist. My efforts include taking prerequisite classes for dental school, and acquiring a degree in the communications department.

I am married to a wonderful woman named Abigail Ayres, we have been married for two years, and have been enjoying life. We met in Jackson Hole Wyoming, while working as river guides on the Snake River.There are currently no children in the picture, but hopefully they will come within the next couple years.

Over the past ten years, I have gained professional experience through many different companies. My professional skills came at a young age when I acquired a paper route. With that job I learned the importance of getting the job done right the first time, and the importance of punctuality.

Mormonism and the Gay Community

“Utah is a very LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) biased community,” said Alex Muzio, an dance major at the University of Utah. “I know there are a lot of areas where openly gay men and woman don’t even feel comfortable being themselves in fear of abuse. It seems as if in Utah the topic of homosexuality isn’t talked about openly as if it were a secret.”
Muzio was born and raised in California but he decided to come to Utah for college. Muzio is openly gay and came out to his parents when he was in high school. Muzio is from a very liberal state and now attends college in very conservative state. The Utah culture is strongly dominated by the Mormon Church. Muzio, having not been raised in Utah or in the LDS religion, has experienced and observed through his friends how being gay can affect being comfortable in who he is as a person in Utah.
According to M. Russell Ballard, an authority of the Mormon Church, the religion is firm on its position on condemning homosexuality as a sinful behavior. One of the principles of the LDS church is the law of chastity. It permits sexual relations only between a husband and wife who are legally married. Furthermore, the church believes that marriage between a man and God ordains a woman and that children are entitled to be raised by a mother and a father who honor their marital vows with complete fidelity.
Mormons believe marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations, but are an important part of rearing children. They teach that same-sex marriage undermines the purpose of marriage. The Mormon Church issued the document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” in 1995.  This official statement confirmed, “The sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
Increasingly, the church has had to deal with the issue of gay Mormons more and more as people identifying themselves as gay or lesbian.  Frequently, a gay or lesbian who has been raised a Mormon will disassociate themselves from the church because of doctrines, but a gay Mormon community is growing.  There are also many gay Mormons who wish to overcome their same-sex attraction.

In 2010, at the 180 semi-annual General Conference, president of church organization Boyd K. Packer, which is nationally broadcasted, gave a sermon to the saints of the LDS church. In his remarks, Packer said some would argue that gays “were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?.” Activists and allies of the gay community have called Packer’s statement to be hurtful and ostracize gay church members and can lead some to consider or attempt suicide.
“Religion, I feel, is an major part of youth suicide. Especially in Utah. Kids grow up with a strong sense of belonging to the LDS church. When they start to realize that they are not the perfect child, they turn to their religion for comfort and guidance,” said Kaden Kruse, a Speakers Bureau Coordinator at University of Utah – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resource Center.
Kruse, a former Latter-day Saint member and now openly gay; he has a person, didn’t have such hard time with his parents and church leaders when he came out as  he really felt about the same-sex. Kruse continued to talk about when gay and lesbian youth start to realize that they are not the perfect child they turn to their religion for comfort and guidance. They can begin to feel like they are immoral and wrong. Furthermore, it has an effect on our dating life. The conservative nature of Utah, due primarily to the fact the it’s mostly LDS, makes it hard for non-traditional couples to date.
While the Mormon religion is the majority in Utah, there will always be difference between these two groups. The gay community has harbored resentments towards the LDS Church because the church has donated to Proportion 8, “I cannot speak on behalf of the entire LGBT community but I feel that I feel that the LDS church plays puppet master with social issues such as marriage equality,” said Max Garrett , an student at the University of Utah; the Utah gay community has chosen to separate themselves from the religious culture.
“For my friends who were raised Mormon, there have been good stories and bad. Their families have embraced some. In those cases there parents have chosen selectivity in their beliefs altering their view of homosexuals,” said Muzio.

The experiences of a Scientologist

Story by MIRAZ RASOUL

Jeffrey Aylor was only 13 years old when he made the decision to join Scientology.

That decision changed his life forever.

Aylor was born and raised in a Scientology family in Los Angeles, Calif. Aylor was approached by Scientology’s Sea Organization when he was a pre-teen and joined shortly after. “They asked me if I was interested in helping people, and I was just a kid, it seemed like a good idea to me at the time,” Aylor said.

After joining, Aylor was introduced to the required training known as “Estates Project Force.” “The training and process of becoming entangled in Scientology is very organized and strict,” Aylor said. The Estates Project Force is a boot camp where new members learn how to perform manual labor work, march and salute.

“There is a lot of importance placed on physical work when in training because they believe it teaches a person to be stronger and more in control of their environment,” Aylor said.

The training definitely changed Aylor. “It was as if I could no longer go on without working long hours and doing what I was told every second of every day; I don’t know if it was fear or a desire to be accepted among my peers,” Aylor said.

After all the training, Aylor was assigned to be a receptionist at the American Saint Hill Organization for spiritual training. “I was paid $50 every week for working about 15 hours almost every day,” Aylor said.

Even when Aylor was not working or training, he was sharing his space with about 20 other boys and men. “Life surrounded around work and being committed to your faith, there was no time to really reflect and picture another future for yourself,” Aylor said.

A while passed and Aylor was awarded a “higher ranking” in the community. Aylor was no longer a receptionist, but a PTS watchmen. A PTS watchmen monitors certain Sea Organization members who wish to leave the order. “I was honored to be chosen to fulfill such a major role, but I later came to realize that my job was not ethically right,” Aylor said.

In the Sea Organization, there is no concrete rule that bans members from leaving anytime they desire, but there is a process that must be completed before being released.

The “route out” process usually puts a lot of pressure on members wanting to leave. “The church doesn’t really believe that a member may want to leave because they are unhappy, it’s usually assumed that the reason members want to leave is because they have done something wrong that is motivating them to get out,” Aylor said.

The route out process is taken very seriously and must be completed. So to make sure members who are in the process don’t leave before completion, they are placed under PTS watch.

The PTS watch job entails shadowing members who are in the route out process. Aylor describes this shadowing as a serious matter that can go to extremes at times.

“I was ordered to spend all night sleeping on the floor against the door of a member who was on watch many times. I had to know and feel when they opened the door and if they wanted to use the restroom in the middle of the night, I would stand outside the door for them to finish,” Aylor said.

Amongst all the madness, Aylor was still performing his duties as a good member with no intention of leaving anytime soon.

After six years of service for the Sea Organization, Aylor finally realized how unfair the organization can be to its members. Circumstances changed in 2004 when Aylor became very ill. Aylor has had asthma and other health issues since he was a child.

Aylor kept his health under control while in the Sea Organization, but when he became sick, there was no help in sight for him.

“It was just some serious chest pains in the beginning but it got worse and before I knew it after a few months, I could no longer work and get out of bed,” Aylor said.

All members in the Sea Organization are promised medical care, but no matter how sick Aylor became, he did not receive any medical attention. “For months, I was bedridden and had to keep asking for someone to take me to the doctor, but it never happened,” Aylor said.

Most Scientologists in the church view illnesses as something a person has created in their mind; in other words, they believe individuals bring illnesses upon themselves. Due to this notion, Aylor was sent to ethics counseling and when that didn’t help cure him, he was advised to start over with his Estates Project Force training to get better.

“I had no options left. I had no strength and ability to work because I was bedridden and needed a doctor,” Aylor said.

One night, Aylor was thinking when he made his final decision to leave and never go back. He decided to call his mother to tell her to pick him up and he left without any intention of ever returning.

Aylor managed to easily flee without any trouble whatsoever due to his PTS watch training. “I knew what to do and how to not get caught, the training I was taught to keep members from leaving later helped me get out,” Aylor said.

Now, Aylor is an assistant manager at a bank and lives a very normal lifestyle but there is no denying that Aylor is a little more different than everyone else due to his experiences. Aylor’s manager, Alan Denner describes Aylor as a very hardworking person. “He is definitely much better than most individuals at taking commands and always doing what he is told,” said Denner.

Aylor’s other co-workers describe him as a quiet man who at times can be socially awkward. Brenda Gourley, a teller at the bank says he is not easy to get to know. “It is very obvious to see that Jeff has a lot of walls and boundaries, it’s hard to become close to him personally at the beginning,” Gourley said.

Aylor realizes that his experiences have made him a unique individual that many may not understand. “I look around and see that I am different because I take certain things more seriously than others and find that I have a tendency to be anti-social at times,” Aylor said.

Aylor doesn’t regret his seven years of life with Scientology, but he regrets not being able to experience his youth. “If I could I would go back to tell myself to not make the decision to join because life is too short and every experience at every age should be cherished,” Aylor said.

University of Utah alumnus takes his talents to New York City law firm

Story by MATT ELLIS

Photo taken by Shanna Richmond

When James Clegg graduated from the University of Utah in 2006 he had a career plan. But he had no idea that, in a few short years, he would be working as a lawyer in New York City.

After the U, James spent years at two more universities before he ended up at Mayer-Brown, one of the leading corporate law firms in downtown New York City.

James, or “Jace” as he is known to family and close friends, was born in Farmington, Utah, in 1981 but spent three years in England while his parents fulfilled religious duties for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He graduated from Davis High School in 2000 and then served his LDS mission in Hong Kong.

James met his wife, Christy, after he got back from his mission. They had both spent time overseas while growing up, and having that in common led to almost immediate chemistry. They were married in August 2004, about eight months after they had started dating.

After earning a degree in English from the U, James attended law school at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Even as early as 7th grade, he knew he wanted to be a lawyer; at the time, though, he was partial to Yale.

“Growing up, I always thought that I wanted to be a lawyer,” James said. “People told me they felt like I had an aptitude for it because I like to argue.”

He decided to go to Cornell because it had the best international law program of all the schools he was accepted to. James learned one form of Chinese, Cantonese, on his mission in Hong Kong, and took six classes at the U learning Mandarin Chinese. He had originally hoped to return to China to practice law.

“When I was interviewing at different firms, that’s why I picked Mayer-Brown. … They have a large Hong Kong office,” James said. Along the way, however, he discovered that he might want to take a different path. “As I went through law school, I found that I had an aptitude for tax,” he said.

“In the legal world, if you want to do tax law, you have to have a specialization,” James said. So, after graduating with honors from Cornell in 2010, James decided to enroll at the tax law program at New York University, which is widely regarded as the “gold standard” of tax specialization. Tax law was something that really resonated with James, and he enjoys his current duties with Mayer-Brown. The firm handles contracts for loans, mergers and securitizations for multiple large companies, including BlackBerry.

He finished the program at NYU in 2011 and now works full time at Mayer-Brown. “I really like that it’s very cutting edge, very high-level legal work,” James said. “It’s really scary when you think about, ‘If I screw this up I could literally cost this person millions of dollars.’”

James’ wife Christy, also a University of Utah alumna, does social work in New York City. She does adoption work with adoptive parents, as well as counseling for adults. Though both are very serious about their career paths, things are not all business all the time.
Asked for one word to describe James, Christy responded, “He’s a jokester. He is kind of silly.”

James did concede that he tries to be funny, and that includes having a little fun with friends who are not very familiar with his Mormon faith. He once told a friend that Mormons believe that it is sacrilegious to eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

James is an avid follower of the U’s football team, and so far has been disappointed by the first season in the Pac-12 conference.

“I think that it’s pretty evident that we don’t have Pac-12 talent just yet,” James said. He misses going to football games in Rice-Eccles stadium, and was glad he could attend the Utah-Washington game on Oct. 1, 2011, while he was in town for the weekend.

While in New York, he catches the Utah games in the Flat Iron area of the city at a bar that is the official sports bar of the local chapter of the U’s alumni association. On any given game night, James said, between 70 and 80 Utah alumni show up to enjoy the game.

James has always had a plan for his next four or five years, but says that right now he is not sure where he wants to go. One option he has considered is going to work for a private equity firm, an area where he does have some experience from an internship he did while he was studying tax law at NYU. Although James would be open to opportunities overseas, both he and Christy plan on being in New York for some time to come. Christy even said she would like to start a family sometime soon.