Religion at the U: LDS Church has a presence

Every day hundreds of students can be seen walking to and from the LDS Institute of Religion across from the business loop.

The institute has been offering religious classes and social opportunities to U students since 1934.

Some students praise the Institute as a welcome relief to the daily classes they take at the U.

“It’s a good break from the rest of my school work,” said Sara Whipperman, an undeclared freshman. “In high school seminary, you recognize the spirit more. Institute is just like that.”

At the U, classes were originally held in a building on University Street. Gordon B. Hinckley, late president of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, dedicated the present institute building in 2002 after it was built.

“Enrollment increased by 65 percent within the first four years after it was dedicated,” said Gary Poll, executive associate director of the institute.

Unlike the U’s rival in Provo, Brigham Young University, the U does not require enrollment in institute as part of the curriculum. Students find their own motivation for enrollment, ranging from spiritual education to a free parking pass in the institute parking lot upon enrollment.

Since the new institute building was dedicated, enrollment surged from about 4,000 students to 7,000 each semester for a few years. Enrollment numbers have stayed the same for the past few years.

Despite the number of U students who participate in institute and are members of the LDS faith, many consider the U to be the non-LDS school compared to BYU.

“There are many people in Utah who think of the U as hostile to the LDS faith,” said Fred Esplin, vice president for institutional advancement. “The university wants to be…a welcoming, friendly place for all people, no matter their religion.”

Poll, who has taught seminary courses at both BYU and the U, said he believes the U has made efforts to be accommodating to LDS students.

“We not only have the largest institute program in the Church, but the U is one of the top research universities in the country,” he said. “Students here have a great opportunity for an education.”

Just because students are enrolled in an institute class doesn’t mean they necessarily attend regularly. The free parking permit is an enticing reason for some U students to sign up for a class, but if students don’t attend class approximately 75 percent of the time, the institute can take the parking permit away.

On average, 70 percent of enrolled students attend class about 75 percent of the time, which allows them to pass the class they take, according to the institute.

“If they don’t like the class, they don’t have to come,” said Jack Marshall, an associate institute director. “They come because they want to. They’re not in seminary anymore, with mom or dad telling them to go. They make the choice on their own.”

Institute is not just a place for classes — the building contains five stakes and 47 wards that hold church services every Sunday. Members of a university ward are required to take an institute class if not enrolled as a U student to continue attending that ward.

The LDS Institute also offers activities for students. About 1,300 students participate in the LDS fraternity Sigma Gamma Chi and sorority Lambda Delta Sigma. The fraternities and sororities meet at the institute once a week. The only requirement for membership is being enrolled in an institute class, said Russ Lindsay, inter-chapter president for Sigma Gamma Chi.

Institute committees plan activities every week, including the Spirit of Place Committee, which offers refreshments on a regular basis.

“The average institute teacher gains 7 pounds a year because of the extra food,” Poll said.

All students are invited to enroll in an institute class, regardless of religious affiliation.

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