The view through the lens of nonmembers at a Church school

The temple of the main religion at BYU-I Photo credit: Elizabeth Oveshkova

Approximately 98% of BYU-Idaho students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to Timothy Belnap, the university chaplain. This university creates a perfect atmosphere for them because everyone has similar life values and morals. However, 2% of students are nonmembers — what do they think about being a part of the Church culture on campus?

“Many come from different walks of life, but they all share the same desire to receive an education in the environment that is spiritually rewarding,” Belnap said. “They want to feel that they can get an academic knowledge in an environment that allows them to grow spiritually as well.”

This university provides students with quality education, opportunities for spiritual growth and high moral standards.

Artur Kharlamov, a sophomore studying construction management, is an international student from Ukraine and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. He explained the reason why he chose BYU-I.

“I was looking for a safe environment to study abroad,” Kharlamov said. “This place was one of the best colleges in the United States with reasonable price, great level of education and friendly atmosphere.”

BYU-I is a good place to start an American journey and create a positive first impression of the country.

However, for those students who are not members of the Church, it can be tricky to understand some rules and principles represented in this college.

Annie Hernandez, a sophomore studying business management — marketing, is a nondenominational Christian from Texas. She mentioned some of her thoughts and feelings about when she first came here.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into coming here,” Hernandez said. “I knew nothing about Mormons. I didn’t know what the culture was like and what the people were like, so I didn’t have any expectations. When I came here, and I found that Mormons are Christians and their basic moral principles aligned with my church, I wasn’t surprised a lot.”

Kharlamov shared his impression of living in a new society.

“I received pretty good experience in communication with people, especially with professors who are really supportive,” Kharlamov said.


For the vast majority of students, there is nothing special about interacting and making new connections at BYU-I. However, for individuals with such a different background, it can be a challenge to become a part of their new environment.

Fortunately, these nonmember students did not have serious struggles that made them feel uncomfortable in this new situation, but they did experience some things that were unusual when they first arrived.

“It was a little weird for me that people get married at such a young age,” Hernandez said. “Also, no coffee and tea was a cultural shock for me.”

Everyone has a different background, so things that are normal for some people can be strange for others, but exploring new cultures and traditions helps individuals understand one another better.

Garrett Moody, a junior studying accounting, did not follow any specific religion earlier in his life. He started studying at BYU-I in Fall Semester 2020. After going home for the winter break, he felt that he wanted to meet with missionaries. In January, he got baptized and finally found his religion. But he started his road at college as a nonmember which influenced his first impressions here at school.

“I did my first year of college in San Diego,” Moody said. “When I came here, there was nothing like partying and anything that was related to that. That was a cultural shock for me. And Sundays, nothing to do on Sundays. That was so weird that nothing was open on Sundays.”

People who grew up in societies with different traditions will pay attention may be impressed by new habits when they join the new culture. For many nonmembers at BYU-I, it takes some time to get used to the new rules and traditions. But the idea that unites everyone here at BYU-I is to make new friends and connections.

“I like that all the professors here really enjoy their job,” Kharlamov said. “They try to provide students with all the necessary skills and knowledge that will be useful in the future. I know that they are willing to support me with any questions, even if they are not related to the course materials. I believe that they have such a warm attitude because of their religion. And that is cool that they can implement the ideology of the Church in the classroom.”

Feeling accepted and supported when adapting to a new culture is important for those going through the transition. The atmosphere of this university is friendly, and everyone can become a part of it. Due to the professionalism, professors can create a favorable environment for studying so everyone can enjoy this process.

“One of the most amazing things here is how much the professors care about the students,” Hernandez said. “I have gone over to my professors’ houses for dinner and met their families. They really like what they do, and they love their students.”

Teachers are a reflection of the college. Professors can make studying fascinating, so students’ years can become the most memorable ones, whether they be members of the Church or not.

Nonmembers may be scared of coming to BYU-I because they think their peers will force them to change their religious views. Moody, who started as a nonmember on campus but decided to be baptized, addressed that concern.

“No one forces you to join the Church,” Moody said. “It is kind of up to you. People may encourage you to learn more about it, but they are not going to make you do it.”

Everyone has the right to decide which road to follow. Everyone has agency, and it is important to respect different perspectives. Because we are all different, it’s beneficial to interact with one another and learn more about various backgrounds. Life would not be so thrilling and versatile if we all had the same stories.

Unfortunately, there is an exception to every rule. Even in the friendliest place, there are some narrow-minded individuals.

“I had one friend who was not okay with me not being a member, and he would tell me every single time that I needed to get baptized and that I needed to join the Church,” Hernandez said. “That was hard because he was a nice friend, but he didn’t want to accept me the way I was.”

Acceptance and respect of the beliefs of others, rather than trying to force our own on them, is a better way to create a supportive and understanding society. Everyone deserves to enjoy this life as they choose. As long as we try to understand various perspectives without the pressure of changes, there can be a sense of peace around us.

BYU-I is a university where students can get not only academic education but also learn how to be a better person. Every teacher trying to bring the principles of the Gospel into their lessons should urge the students to become better versions of themselves.

Even some nonmembers said they would recommend this university to their other nonmember friends.

“I totally would,” Hernandez said. “I think this school is amazing. I like how it is selective about the future students. The administration makes sure that people who come here are quality people. It is more than just your grades; it is about, are you a genuinely good person?”

We are all imperfect, but everyone has a chance to become better, and BYU-I standards focus a lot on that principle.

According to Elder L. Whitney Clayton in a 2020 General Conference talk, “Daily repentance is a transformative tool that enables us to grow a little kinder, more loving, and more understanding.”

There are many different religions, nationalities, races and other groups that make us unique. Let’s leave our minds open for new perspectives to create a society where everyone can feel respected and supported.