When Miriam LaPine realized her boyfriend of six months was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she wanted to break up.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, we cannot date. You want to marry a lot of people. Like, I just want one husband and no wives,’ and he just laughed at me,” said LaPine, a convert to the LDS Church and a junior studying business management. “And I was so serious.”
LaPine said she grew up in the Catholic Church and was a self-proclaimed “Easter-Christmas Catholic.” She knew very little about the Church but lived in an apartment above the missionaries in Florida.
“They would always offer to help us with our groceries and stuff, but they were always smiling, so we thought they were super weird,” she said.
LaPine said she would hear the missionaries talking outside whenever she and her mother would go shopping, and they would hide inside their house until the Elders left.
“We didn’t want any awkward interactions of us saying ‘No! We don’t need your help with anything,’” she said.
While attending the University of Central Florida, she had a faith crisis and began exploring different churches. She said she explored the Presbyterian and Baptist Churches before deciding to take a class with her school’s institute program.
LaPine said she decided, after meeting the missionaries and getting baptized, to transfer to BYU-Idaho where she was exposed to a culture very different to what she was used to.
“Culture is so profound and so pervasive to us that we can’t even see our own culture, so we often don’t see it until we come up against something different from that, and then everything about it can be such a huge difference,” said Matthew Whoolery, a faculty member in the psychology department.
Culture is constantly changing due to people accepting new inventions and discoveries in their societies, according to Cross-Cultural Research Methods, a book by Carol R. Ember, an American cultural anthropologist.
For students at BYU-I, there is a culture that is unique beyond that of being a member of the Church: The Spirit of Ricks.
Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, discussed the Spirit of Ricks, a unique spiritual aspect that makes BYU-I stand out from other universities.
“The Spirit of Ricks suggests the spirituality, the desire for obedience, the personal caring and warmth, the humility and modesty, the friendliness and genuine concern for others, the bright smiles and cheerful hellos and so many other elements that make this university an unusually inviting and supporting and nurturing institution,” Elder Bednar said.
Whoolery said the Mormon culture at BYU-I has both positive and negative effects on those attending the university, including attitudes and lifestyles of the students.
He said the positive aspects are the friendly nature of students and the similar lifestyles students lead.
“You know, certainly at BYU-Idaho, people live pretty clean lives,” Whoolery said. “It’s nice to just not have all that stuff around me to turn down or keep away from. I don’t really have to think about it. Nobody around me drinks or smokes or does drugs or that kind of stuff, (and) it’s nice at BYU-Idaho to be around people; that’s pretty rare on a college campus for that kind of lifestyle.”
LaPine said she felt the university offers a strong support group for students of the LDS faith, especially those who are recent converts to the Church.
Some of the resources available to students are student associations, which cater to students of different backgrounds — one which is specifically for converts to the Church.
LaPine said the students at BYU-I have been supportive and helpful, especially when she was a new member of the LDS Church.
“I had awesome friends that were always around, and if I had a question, they explained it,” she said.
Whoolery said while there are positive impacts within the BYU-I culture, there is also a downside, such as judgmental comments and a ‘better-than-everyone’ attitude, especially when comparing to other universities, even other Church-run universities.
“They can be very pharisaical, where people are going to look at how long your jeans are and whether your flip-flops have a strap around the back so now they’re sandals instead of flip-flops and how you dress and how you talk, so there can be a lot of judgment about people who are different,” Whoolery said.
Whoolery said he recently had a student who was told “You just don’t belong here,“ because she did not look like the typical BYU-I student because “she’s not white.”
LaPine said she has never seen any students be discriminated against for their background.
Whoolery said the culture at BYU-I will always change as administration and students continue to adopt and change trends.
“BYU-Idaho culture has changed even in the nine years I’ve been here,” Whoolery said. “I’m thinking especially among the faculty; that part of my university life has certainly changed a lot. And I think mostly for the better.”
He said students and faculty have the ability to change how the culture of BYU-I is. Some of the changes can come from different administrative actions and attitudes toward the university.
“Cultures are always in movement and always changing,” he said.
LaPine said overall, she loves BYU-I and believes it is a great change from the party-lifestyle of her old university.