We imagined ourselves into a beloved community

Thinking this morning about Cecilia Konchar Farr and our years (too few of them) together at BYU. After she and Tracy moved on to Minnesota and Saint Catherine University, she published a wonderful book about Oprah’s Book Club, another book about Rethinking Standards of Literary Merit, and several edited books…all while being the liveliest and most inspiring teacher on the planet. I knew she also skated for a roller derby team in Minnesota, but learned just this morning some of the details as she and her former BYU student Joanna Brooks shared their derby names. Cecilia said she went by “Professor Hardcastle,” formerly of the Minnesota Debu-taunts recreational team with MN Roller Derby.

All this as a lead-in to a couple of paragraphs from Cecilia’s preface that take me back to a wonderfully hopeful time:

As I read through Scott’s moving collection of essays, I was taken back to that time with a vivid awareness of how much those first four years as a professor taught me. BYU was clarifying. I learned to define my values as I embraced opportunities to stand up for them. I left knowing who I was, what it meant to “profess,” and what I would sacrifice to do that with integrity. Like Scott, I also learned what it meant to be a stranger in our Promised Land. 

And I realized as I read Scott’s words how much I came to define academic life as he did. Together, in our community of strangers, we imagined a BYU that would never be—“an open space of democracy” to use Terry Tempest Williams’s phrase, a university that cherished the free exchange of ideas, that treasured its fierce, and fiercely loyal, critics and embraced its feminists, gays and lesbians and “so-called scholars or intellectuals”; one that could see and nurture potential equally in its women students as in its men; a place where questioning was encouraged and curiosity ignited. We pictured a diverse and multicultural Zion, imagined ourselves into a beloved community, and, for a moment, there it was. And in that landscape, I learned how to be professor. 

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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2 Responses to We imagined ourselves into a beloved community

  1. alex caldiero says:

    was there ever a time when byu was all that yu all imagined it to be? 1850? 1950? 1975? yu were all indeed strangers but in your homeland. ive had that experience..
    but i as a convert indeed had. imagined coming into a beloved community…imagine i feel…a true stranger in a strange land.


    • Scott Abbott says:

      slightly different from your experience, Alex, but similar too. i hoped to join a community in the making and to do my part to help it develop and flourish. byu was never and will never be everything we hoped for. but it could be more welcoming that it is, more open to new ideas, less controlling, and so on…and maybe at some point just the right group of people will help it move in that direction. the fact that i found dear friends while doing my best at byu was/is a reward i hadn’t quite envisioned…


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