Student Review, Redux

The 0--SRBenchannouncement this week that a group of BYU students is starting a new Student Review raised a lot of memories for me. Twenty-five years ago I was one of the group “tired of the universe” which was doing the same thing—starting an off-campus student newspaper for BYU students.

When I heard recently that this effort was underway, I didn’t remember initially that these events happened twenty-five years ago. Somehow it doesn’t seem that long. I remember that summer like it was yesterday. I remember the efforts that summer of 1986 to get the administration to allow our newspaper to be published and distributed on campus. I then remember how deceived and led on we felt when we were told at the end of the summer that operating on campus had never been an option. I know we then realized, just weeks later, that we were clearly better off not being on campus.

Student Review later was one of the driving forces behind the successful fight against BYU’s effort to require “resident assistants” in off-campus housing, just like it provided for on-campus housing. This move would have raised rents for students living off-campus, and brought a level of oversight that students generally found unacceptable. For those of us at Student Review, this success was empowering—we realized that we could represent the feelings of the student body in a way that previously hadn’t happened.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that students could get whatever they wanted. In many areas the administration wouldn’t change no matter what students wanted, and in other areas the majority LDS and overwhelmingly conservative student body was likely to agree with the administration, especially when issue somehow involved gospel principles. And then there were also issues that students simply didn’t care about.

That apathy on some subjects became apparent months later when the BYU administration mandated a change in student government. Student Review reflected the student body and showed little interest in the mandated change. But the result was a student government that was little more than an activities committee. In particular, a program I invested a lot of time in, the then 25-year-old student-run traffic court for on campus violations, was eliminated in favor of a hearing officer employed by the University Police (costing the University more and reducing independence from those who issued citations.

In the end, Student Review didn’t have any agenda except giving voice to BYU’s students, and as long as its efforts were limited to that, instead of some other agenda, it had the ability to stay successful. So most of Student Review’s content was simply what the students in its audience wanted to hear—a lot of humor, arts coverage and discussions of campus life.

I don’t know how much of a lesson or example this story might be for others or other situations. Student Review was media, and I don’t think that it was very different from anything else. If nothing else I hope this shows that communities and groups need some kind of media and need to feel that they are represented somewhere. I hope that the new Student Review can also find success in providing a voice for BYU’s students.

33 comments for “Student Review, Redux

  1. I remember Student Review. Though I fit more in the conservative mainstream on campus, I was enough of a rebel to enjoy reading the alternative snark. Even submitted a piece, though it was deemed too dark to publish as-is, and was heavily edited. I was irked that the changes went in without my input, but oh well.

  2. I was a freshman in 92-93 and took an honors seminar taught by guy named BJ Fogg, who I’m guessing you know. I think he was involved with the original Student Review, though the picture above is too small for me to tell. Enjoyed the class a lot.

  3. BJ was the impetus. He was the one who spread flyers around the campus that read “Tired of the Universe?” and asked those interested to come to a meeting.

  4. I’m in the process of moving right now, and last weekend found an old box from my byu years (starting in 87) and there were several articles/issues of SR I’d kept. Great memories!
    My freshman year I even went to an editorial meeting to try to help with proofreading, etc. but quickly found I was in over my head with my own studies and had to quit before I’d ever really begun. I loved the Review; it was a great comfort to be shown regularly there is more than one way of thinking and being LDS. Thanks to the original group, and best of luck to the new set!

  5. We’re stoked to be part of this effort on BYU campus. It represents a much-needed independent voice.

  6. Great piece, Kent. I’m going to have to write up my own reminiscences somewhere. As for that photograph, I love it–unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to enlarge, so I’m not able to recognize many faces. But that’s almost certainly Gary Burgess standing up in the middle of the back row, yes? Send me the original, if you can; I love artifacts from the past like that.

  7. one of the first articles i read in SR when i arrived at BYU in fall of 1992 was a piece by RAF about feeling alienated from the manly men working on the new MOA on the other side of the construction fence and expressing a desire to bond with them by helping pour cement, (paraphrasing) “that much, at least, i think i could do”.

    needless to say, i knew right away this paper was meant for me. i later became a marginal contributor to the paper myself. sadly though it did *not* reflect the vast majority of the student body.

    another piece i remember admiring was Joanna Brooks’ defense of Chelsea Clinton in which she posted an unflattering grade school picture of herself beside the article in solidarity with a nice young kid who was being critiqued (it’s still hard to believe) by certain ugly, bloated, balding middle-aged conservatives.

  8. I only wrote or edited for the SR for 18 months or so towards the end of its life. The experience was quite educational, and it provided an interesting perch from which to observe, in a somewhat less limited way, the events at BYU in the early 90s. Russell embodies all that was good and true in the SR, by the way: a capable writer discussing BYU-related issues with wit and generosity from a fresh perspective.

    One thing I learned is that getting good copy regularly is hard. The SR at its best published some strong writing and some really funny satire. Sometimes it was whiny and juvenile, my own contributions included.

    I’m not sure how I feel now about the internal critiques of BYU and the church from people who subsequently moved to a position of external critique. It gives me the nasty feeling that I was aiding an agenda I wasn’t aware of at the time and wouldn’t have been entirely happy about.

  9. Russell (8), it isn’t my photo. Found it through a google search — I’ll try to send you a link.

    palerobber (9) wrote: “sadly though it did *not* reflect the vast majority of the student body”

    Perhaps that was true when you knew the paper. During the first two years when I knew it, I think it at least reflected a large portion of the student body.

    Jonathan (10) wrote: “I’m not sure how I feel now about the internal critiques of BYU and the church from people who subsequently moved to a position of external critique.”

    Good point. I remain friends with several that took that path, but I remain uncomfortable with critiques of the Church. But, I don’t think that in the first two years we were very critical of the Church.

    On the other hand, I have no problem with critiques of BYU, as long as those critiques keep in mind other universities, which often are as bad or worse than BYU. Over the years I’ve seen BYU’s administration make several mistakes. Nothing I would characterize as fatal or destructive for the majority of students, but mistakes nonetheless. Many critiques of BU are both valid and needed. And since it isn’t the Church, I don’t see any need for acting differently than I do for the other places I have attended.

  10. At the risk of putting words in BJ’s mouth (and at the risk of overly relying on my own memory), I seem to recall BJ commenting during winter semester 1993 that he thought Student Review had gone too far on a few items. Apparently when he was in charge he didn’t allow the SR to print things that would get the paper or the authors in *too* much trouble with the Church or the University. After he left, it seems the management was more liberal with the proverbial rope.

  11. Mike D. (12) I’m not at all surprised at that sentiment. Almost all of us had that view during the first few years, mainly because we were very aware of the issues that the Seventh East Press faced and the perception that it was critical of the Church and not faithful. Our perception (right or wrong) was that SEP had lost its audience because of that issue.

    Regardless of what SEP did or didn’t do, I do think that this is always possible, and something that the current group must avoid.

  12. “It gives me the nasty feeling that I was aiding an agenda I wasn’t aware of at the time and wouldn’t have been entirely happy about.”

    All these years later, the takeaway is that twenty-something LDS kids tainted an otherwise worthy project with their “agenda”? Is it any wonder where the surveillance culture comes from?

  13. No, Chino, one observation among several concerning my own experience as one of those twenty-something LDS kids is that now I’m not sure if all the active participants in the SR really did have at heart the best interests of BYU or the church. The reactionary take that the SR writers were a bunch of carping apostates would be easier to dismiss if none of the SR staff had gone on to become carping apostates.

    You’re right about the surveillance culture part, though. Just now after thinking about my experience with the SR, I went back in time 60 years and suggested the idea to Ernest Wilkinson. He thought it was great.

  14. Palerobber (#9), I remember writing that piece; it was one of my first steps towards articulating a kind of mature political and personal belief (a project which, I suppose, I’m still engaged in). I think I was told once that it was reprinted, and used in some BYU composition manual or some such, but maybe I’m misremembering, and in any case I have no copy of it today. Too bad; it’d be interesting to see how much of it I would agree with today. Anyway, thanks.

  15. Jonathan, thanks for the kind words. They’re much kinder than I deserve.

    I’m not sure how I feel now about the internal critiques of BYU and the church from people who subsequently moved to a position of external critique. It gives me the nasty feeling that I was aiding an agenda I wasn’t aware of at the time and wouldn’t have been entirely happy about.

    For myself, I find it rather hard to believe that SR was any kind of crucial catalyst for or enabler of individuals whose personal faith trajectory have led them outside of and/or into opposition to the church. It was a big part of my and many others’ BYU years, and even was important to us in trying to express doubts/complaints/concerns/annoyances with BYU’s rather homogenized monoculture, but as I consider what I know about various complainers and critics whose backstories overlapped mine at BYU, it seems that SR was just an available venue for them, not a sponsor of their ideas. But really, who knows? The most radical, church-baiting apostate I’m aware of with whom I have some BYU connection was a guy in my major who I was tried to get involved in the Review, and who refused; he said he wouldn’t write for a “rag” like that. For whatever that data point is worth…

    I’m not sure if all the active participants in the SR really did have at heart the best interests of BYU or the church.

    Oh, you and I both know that you could go much further than that; it was absolutely clear that, at least during the years 1991-1994 (I don’t think such was the case in 1987-88, my freshman year, and I can’t really speak for after 1995), there were a handful of people who circulated through SR who truly hated BYU, and at least a couple who hated the church as well. Given that I, probably at least once or month or so during my last couple of years in Provo, could have probably been included amongst them, I cut them a little slack. For better and/or for worse, Provo and BYU are a hothouse that intensify the conservative western American Mormon experience to the nth degree; if you’re in that environment and you happen to discover, for whatever reason, that you’re a convinced atheist or a liberated homosexual or a liberal Democrat or whatever, the odds are decent that you’re going to end up frustrated about stuff, and look for uncorrelated environments to express that frustration. SR provided that–usually not openly, I think, but it did provide it, nonetheless. I actually think that’s a not unimportant thing: giving mixed-up folks (and remember, I was sometimes one of them) a chance to feel like they matter and are heard, until such a time they can get out of BYU/Provo and straighten themselves out. Which most of them–most of us–did (see my above point). As I explained on Times and Seasons years ago, I have several real regrets about my years at BYU–but Student Review isn’t one of them.

  16. Many of us faculty greatly enjoyed Student Review. It had a lot of fun stuff, and certainly was a creative outlet for multiple perspectives on political issues of the day, as well as BYU and the Church. I used various pieces to enliven class discussions and debates. SR had enough rebellion to generate thinking, yet not enough to set the campus on fire.

    During those years I was working with various economic change strategies and trade union movements in Eastern Europe. Once when returning from one of those wild and crazy countries that were just beginning to develop a free press and independent thought, I was shocked to arrive on BYU’s campus and find SR defunct. What a contradiction.

  17. Russell (17), if you know what year it was or some identifying title, I probably can find it for you. I think my personal collection covers most of your years on SR. And I think there are enough other collections among former staffers that we should be able to find it. BYU special collections also has a complete run, I believe.

    And as for (18), I agree Russell, that there have always been those at SR who disliked BYU and often the Church. [Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with BYU] We certainly saw some during the first couple of years. But I suspect that these attitudes developed over time, and as a result I can’t tell if SR facilitated developing attitudes or actually retarded them. I like to think it was the latter.

  18. All I can speak for is my experience after 1997 – I though Student Review seemed like a good idea when I first heard about it, I even considered volunteering.

    Unfortunately, the first issue I picked up was so full of nastiness and uncharitable attacks on BYU and the church, I never gave it a second chance. Perhaps that’s my loss – I don’t know. I understand it was past its golden age and on its last legs around then, anyway. It would be nice if this new version can maintain faithful dissent, rather than what I experienced.

  19. I wrote for the Student Review for several years in the early 90s (just a few album reviews and the occasional snarky article attacking preppies) and I found that it actually helped my commitment to the church. I met people at SR meetings who were unafraid to ask difficult questions about church culture, history and doctrine. I began to understand how social justice fits in the framework of the gospel. On a personal level I saw how *I* could fit in at BYU despite my frustration with some aspects of Provo life. I’m glad to see it revived.

  20. a late note…

    Jonathan (#10), i think you have the cause and effect reversed. i came to BYU already holding certain beliefs and values that drove both my interest in a counter-cultural enterprise like SR and my eventual resignation from the church (about 10 years after graduation). SR did not start me down that path, nor did it accelerate my progress — just the opposite.

    SR at its best (and incidentally i thought you were one of its better editors) was one of the points of light i found within BYU’s prevailing culture of stultifying social, political, and spiritual conformism which suggested to me there might be a way in which i could retain both my faith and my intellectual integrity.

    even at it’s worst SR was probably more of a relief valve for discontent than it was a vehicle for some apostate agenda.

  21. Palerobber, I’m fond of the release valve explanation, and that’s one of the things I thought about at the time. In hindsight I’m not as convinced, but peoples’ religious identities are far too complex to think of the SR as the primary cause of anything.

    One more thing I learned from the SR that hasn’t been mentioned yet is that the business side of things is just as important as the editorial side, or maybe more important. One good business manager and ad salesperson is probably worth ten good editors.

  22. I was a BYU student 83-87 and loved the Student Review. I anxiously awaited each new issue and even saved several in my box of “memories.” My ultra-conservative roommates thought I was quite the radical for reading it and feared, I think, for my testimony! Alas, I have now left the LDS church, and can say it had nothing to do with the Student Review. Good luck to the new version!

  23. The best thing in the SR was that parody piece about BJ coming out of the closet as a communist – dressed in full Red Army regalia. I often wonder what happened to most of the people – I know quite a few ended up leaving the Church.

  24. BJ Fogg is now a Stanford Univ. professor, specializes in web credibility studies. He’s easy to find with a web search.

  25. The first issue looks quite focused on not offending anyone. I was genuinely shocked to see them recommend Matthew Brown’s book, Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons as a reliable explanation of the topic. I get that some BYU student who happens to be a Mason actually made the recommendation, but the reporter could have learned a little by reading the reviews on amazon. (Full disclosure, I was asked to review that book, and my lengthy review is posted there–the book is seriously flawed, and not just in my opinion.)

  26. I remember reading a few issues my freshman year (1986-87) and looking for it after my mission. I first wrote for SR in winter 1991 and was Religion Editor during the 1991-1992 school year, and Assistant Editor for awhile after that, but dropped out and declined the proffered paper editorship when others at the paper started getting more political and took a more hostile stance towards the school administration. I had spent a lot of energy trying to make the religion section alternately informative and funny, and making sure any criticism was of Mormon culture or hypocrisy rather than church doctrine or leaders. I was sad, but not surprised, when the more activist stance led to an evaporation of ad revenues and ultimately the shuttering of the paper. Hopefully the new crew can find a voice that works there for the BYU community. Best of luck!

  27. Great memories of SR and all the issues all over the hallways in the Maeser building. Most of my stories I gave in the post you linked to Russell so I’ll not repeat.

    I am intrigued by how this one will turn out. Publishing really has moved on and now everyone have smart phones and can read the internet instead of stay papers while waiting for class.

    Between this and the Pearl Jam post at BCC I’m waxing very nostalgic about my BYU days. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. I never could understand how my parents said time flies. But seriously part of me just can’t believe it’s been that long.

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