The Experiences of Religiously Diverse Student-Athletes at BYU


BYU attracts student-athletes from around the world to play for its teams, many of whom are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Whitney Johnson is the Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, Diversity and Inclusion at BYU. Part of her job is to help student-athletes from diverse backgrounds feel welcomed, wanted, and included, especially those who are of diverse races and religions.

“We’re cultivating a culture of belonging in BYU athletics, and a big part of that is honoring the intersectionality of identity,” Johnson said. “We never want our student-athletes to feel like we only care about one aspect of their identity when everything they bring to the table is incredibly valuable.”

Fousseyni “Fouss” Traoré is a freshman forward for the BYU men’s basketball team in Bamako, Mali.

Traoré was featured in a BYUtv deep blue video that showed his trip to BYU. He talks about his experience as a Muslim at BYU and he is happy with his choice to come to BYU.

“It was one of the best things in my life,” Traore said. “It feels like a real family.”

On January 19, Kamaal S. Ahmad, coach and former football player tweeted“BYU is the best university for Muslim athletes to attend” in response to the Deep Blue video about Traore.

Several other BYU student-athletes who are not members of the Church shared what it is like to be in the religious minority on campus.

Haley Pitou is a BYU gymnast studying exercise science. When she arrived at BYU, it was “a little uncomfortable” because certain religious practices caught her off guard, including prayers before meetings, practices and classes as well as students attending college meetings. church on the BYU campus.

“It’s pretty interesting,” Pitou said. “When you think about it, you just go to your neighborhood church.”

Pitou said his experience at BYU started off a little rough, but has “improved markedly over the past four years.”

BYU gymnast Haley Pitou trains on the balance beam. (Rebeca Fuentes/BYU Photo)

Miles Davis is a second running back on the BYU football team who studies exercise and wellness. He grew up a Christian and felt like BYU was the best choice because “God (brought him) here.”

Davis said he appreciates being at a religious school that allows him to “stay focused” while being close to his hometown of Las Vegas. The experience at BYU has been good for Davis. He appreciates the chance to learn more about the Church and “hasn’t had a bad experience yet.”

“It’s so peaceful,” Davis said of BYU. “Everyone just cares about each other. Everyone supports each other. »

Miles Davis, right, at the 2020 BYU Football Fall Camp. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Jack Barnett is a junior male tennis player studying psychology. He said his experience as a student-athlete of various faiths has been great, but just like Pitou, it didn’t start that way.

“It was tough meeting a lot of people and making new friends,” Barnett said of his early days at BYU.

He was placed in a Book of Mormon religion class during his first semester at BYU and “had no idea what was going on” in the class because he didn’t know much about the Book of Mormon. Mormon before coming to Provo.

Although the start of his BYU experience was difficult, Barnett said he was grateful for the experience. “It’s really interesting to learn about a different culture, history and religion that is relatively new to the world,” he said.

Barnett said he wanted Church members to better understand why he and other nonmembers choose to come to BYU.

BYU recruited Barnett and he decided BYU was the best fit because “the team is really good, the school is really amazing, and the academics are really good”.

Taryn Lennon is a sophomore pitcher and outfielder for the BYU softball team. Lennon considers herself a non-denominational Christian and attended a religious high school in California, so taking religion classes in school was not a new concept.

As a religiously diverse student-athlete, Lennon said she never felt left out because of her different religious beliefs and always felt supported and uplifted at BYU.

When deciding where she should go to college, Lennon determined that BYU was the right fit. “It was everything I was looking for in a college,” Lennon said.

For her, it was the academics, the scenery, the softball team and the atmosphere that made BYU the right fit.

While some might be reluctant to come to a religious university like BYU, “you won’t find the same kind of support and kindness for student-athletes as you will at BYU” anywhere else, Lennon said.

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