Stance: Studies on the Family

Brigham Young University Student Journal

Category: Politics & Society (page 1 of 4)

Alexa Canady—First African American Woman Neurosurgeon

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to do an article about an important African American figure in history from the realm of families, whether it be science, education, research, etc. I found a woman whose biography touched me, and she has touched the lives of many through her work.

Alexa Canady started with normal, American beginnings like most of us. While growing up in Michigan, her parents instilled in her a love for learning and a need for working hard. These attributes helped Canady reach the achievements she made throughout her life. After attending the University of Michigan for college, she continued there for medical school. Although she faced difficulty on her path to becoming a neurosurgeon, including discouragement from her advisers to pursue that career, she persevered using the same desire and hard work that her parents had taught her. After completing medical school, an internship, and a residency, Canady became the first African American woman neurosurgeon.

Canady specialized in pediatric neurosurgery and worked with various neurological illnesses including issues such as trauma injuries. In 1987, at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, she became the director of neurosurgery. Her accomplishments and contributions were great throughout her life as a pediatric neurosurgeon. She retired in 2001, moved to Florida, and continued to work as a part-time neurosurgeon at the Pensacola Sacred Heart Hospital in Florida. She never stopped giving of her amazing talents and abilities, which blessed the lives of many families and children.

If you would like to learn more about Alexa Canady, you can visit her biography on, which is where the majority of the information for this article came from. You can also visit various other websites that commemorate her marvelous contributions to improving the lives of children.


Faith Counts: New study looks at religion by the numbers

In a video called “Faith by the Numbers,” Brian Grim discusses the amount of social programs that religion offers to the public, adding up to about 1.5 million. (Faith Counts YouTube)

This graphic details the expenditures of religion and religious-affiliated businesses. (Faith Counts)

A recent study quantified the economic impact of religious institutions and religion-related businesses throughout the U.S.

The study, entitled “The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis,” is the first of its kind and was conducted by Brian Grim of Georgetown University and Melissa Grim of the Newseum Institute. They held a panel event at the National Press Club on Sept. 14, 2016 to reveal their groundbreaking study.

“For the first time, we have been able to quantify what religious institutions, faith-based charities and even businesses inspired by faith contribute to our country,” Grim said at a Sept. 14 panel. “In an age where there’s a growing belief that religion is not a positive for American society, adding up the numbers is a tangible reminder of the impact of religion.”

This pie chart shows the socio-economic contributions of religion to American Society. (Faith Counts)

According to the study, religion contributes nearly $1.2 trillion to the US economy. Congregations and religiously-oriented charity groups contributed 130,000 programs for alcohol and drug abuse recovery, 121,000 programs for support or skills training for unemployed adults and 94,000 programs to support veterans and their families.

“People at various times have various needs,” said church history professor Richard Holzapfel. “You have church that is relieving the pressure on state institutions.”

Holzapfel said religion offers a substantial amount of support for character development, which cannot always be calculated. However, he said this development can be seen in the LDS Church through missions, the counseling offered to individuals through bishops and church programs addressing various struggles.

This chart shows the number of programs religious organizations put on for various social issues. (Faith Counts)

“What would that cost the state if the church didn’t provide those services?” Holzapfel said. “It would be massive. We would overwhelm the welfare department, the juvenile court systems; the impact must be tremendous.”

Faith Counts, a multi-faith non-profit organization promoting the value of faith, sponsored the study. According to the “Faith by the Numbers” video on their website, religion institutions are not just houses of workshop, but the “nucleus of many communities, centers for education, job training, charity, childcare and social events.”

The video also states that religious institutions fund over 1.5 million social programs. Hunter Buxton, an economics major, was surprised by the findings.

“I had no idea,” Buxton said. “That’s not something you hear about a lot in economic circles of news.”

Buxton said this study and influence on religion should be talked about more because it could “definitely benefit the way America sees religions in general.”

More information about this study can be found on the Faith Counts website.

Sister, Sister

Nikki 174

We had just taken second place at a volleyball tournament


Thus far in our voyage through the waters of society and the family, we have looked at the family’s role as a whole: the reasons, both small and large, that society is essential for the benefit of society. Of course, there are numberless reasons why the family is critical to our civilization, but for now we are leaving those shores and journeying to a smaller island, in which we will consider the family in parts. By parts, I mean we will consider the family by each of its members.  May we first consider the role of sister. As with my other posts, the sister’s role
will be based on my own experiences. If you have others, please share.

The Spirit of Contention

Experience 1: In my youth, I religiously went to bed by 9:30 pm. I must have had a phobia of fatigue or something, because what normal child would ever go to bed that early? Anyway, I shared a room with my older sister, Nikki. Night after night, after I had already been snuggled in my covers for at least half an hour, Nikki would barge into our room, flip on the light, and cry, “Jessica! Wake up! It’s time for school! You’ve overslept! Get up!” She apparently thought it was really funny to try to make me think it was the next morning, when in reality I still had eight hours to sleep. Never did this deceitful ploy work (well, maybe once or twice). Because she did this so often, I remember these encounters vividly from our childhood. I did not particularly enjoy them.

Experience 2: My sister and I never argued…well, except about clothes. In fact, it’s the only thing we ever argued about: if I could wear her clothes, if she could wear mine, why didn’t I ask if she had caught me wearing them without her knowledge. It was the main source of our contention. It was a blessing when I grew too tall to wear most of the things in her wardrobe. Because of its regularity, fighting about clothes is something I can recall vividly from my youth, just like my sister’s waking-me-up-for-school pranks. These roles—as mischief maker and wardrobe withholder—shaped had an influence on how I viewed my sister’s role. She was someone to roll my eyes at and also someone to fear.

However, as we grew older, the influence for good that Nikki was in my life has greatly eclipsed the bad, as you will see with the following experiences.

Love One Another

Experience 3: My sister always looked out for me. We had the opportunity to play volleyball together in high school. When some of the older players didn’t include us lowly freshman in their activities, my sister wielded her power as Senior captain and invited them to change.

Experience 4: My sister, who worked all through high school, would always treat us to shakes or hamburgers. She showed me what it meant to be generous.

Experience 5: Once when I was in elementary school, I got hurt on the playground. Fortunately, my sister was at recess at the time. She and her friends made sure I was okay. I don’t think I’ve ever told her, but I really appreciated that.

Experience 6: On my eighteenth birthday, Nikki insisted that I do something crazy. I am pretty reserved, so I didn’t really want to do anything out of the ordinary. But with seemingly no effort at all, she rounded up some friends, and we were headed to jump off a nearby bridge at midnight. My sister helped me break out of my shell.

Nikki 143

Back when we were Aggies together. (Don’t worry, I’ve converted to the Cougs.)

Experience 7: I am most grateful for my sister, however, because of the trail she blazed in serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If she had not chosen to serve, I am not sure if I would have had the courage to do so. Serving a mission helped me become the person I had always wanted to become.  It has given me the tools to know how to continue to reach my potential. I don’t know if I would have felt empowered enough to step so out of my comfort zone if it hadn’t been for my sister.

I am really grateful that I have a sister. Even though our relationship isn’t perfect, she has really changed me for the better. Her role has been to empower me, push me, and protect me. What a blessing to have a sister.

—Jessica Neilson, Stance

To Save or Not to Save

cottage cheese containers

Don’t throw away; or you can if you want

Early on last Fall semester, my roommate asked me a question: “Does your family save cottage cheese containers?”

“Uh, what do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, did your mom ever save cottage cheese or sour cream containers to use as Tupperware?”


“Oh. My mom never saved containers. She just always bought Tupperware. I thought it was really weird the first time I saw one of my old roommates save one.”


You might be thinking that this is an absolutely pointless experience. It’s possible that you are right. However, while discussing potential food containers is pretty uninteresting, this story does illustrate a point about the role families play in society: our families shape our behavior.

Think of any differences you’ve experienced with roommates or friends: You choose the cheapest meal at a restaurant; your roomie chooses the most expensive plus dessert. Your other roommate leaves on all the lights in your apartment all the time, no matter how long he or she is away from the apartment; you compulsively flip lights off, whether there is someone in the room or not. Your friend hugs everyone he or she comes in contact with, while you won’t sit in a chair if a human being is sitting in the chair next to it.

Admittedly, some of these behaviors are unique to the individual. But many of them stem from the culture of a person’s family. The religious beliefs, financial choices, health practices, political associations, and social behaviors of parents and siblings largely affect us, even if we don’t realize it. It took me three years of living away from home to realize that I could get dessert if I wanted to (my family is morally against getting dessert at restaurants).

Our families help shape our behavior. Part of that behavior might be saving cottage cheese containers to store food. Some of it might not (ask my roommate).

—Jessica Neilson, Stance

The Role of the Family in Society: Safeguarding Nations and Cultures

summer 2013 340

A shot from the Bluffdale Cemetery

I grew up just a few houses down from our town cemetery. Both my great-grandparents are buried there, plus a few other relatives. My grandfather is in the American Legion. For the past eight or so years, he has organized the Memorial Day program in my hometown and the surrounding communities. My extended family—aunts, uncles, and cousins—attend the Memorial Day program in the cemetery in the morning. After the program, our whole family runs across the street to my grandparents’ house and we have a special breakfast. The Memorial Day program is something in which many Americans participate. It is part of our culture. The breakfast is something unique to our family culture.



So what does this have to do with you?

According to a member of the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dallin H. Oaks, the depreciation of the family has led to the “lowest birthrate in [US] history.” Furthermore, “in many European Union nations and other developed countries, birthrates are below the level necessary to maintain their populations. This,” he says, “threatens the survival of cultures and even of nations.”

How do families safeguard cultures and nations? It is obvious that if no one has children than nations will eventually disappear. It seems a little extreme to think about, but who says it can’t happen?

Perhaps a little less dramatic but still concerning is the danger of losing cultures.  Posterity is a safe hold for culture, both on a macro and micro level. While one family celebrates a birthday by going to Chuck E. Cheese, another might have a family party. This is a family tradition and part of a family culture. Have you ever talked to one of your friends and discovered that one of their traditions is to have a cookout on the Fourth of July? This family tradition contributes to a nation’s culture. Families create and perpetuate traditions. Traditions create culture, both within families and on a larger scale in society. Without families, who would continue these traditions?

Families are imperative for saving cultures and nations.

—Jessica Neilson, Stance

The Fundamentals

Nikki 070When I was in third grade, I started playing Jr. Jazz. I was pretty excited—I’d get a cool jersey (that fit like a dress), a trophy for participation (gold!), and treats after every game. Those were the things that initially motivated me to play. As I continued to play, however, I realized that I actually really liked basketball.

And not just because of the Rice Krispy treats after every game. I genuinely enjoyed running and shooting and dribbling and passing and defending and blocking and rebounding. Which meant I kept playing. For seven years I played competitive — okay, and non-competitive — basketball. Throughout these years I had several different coaches, all of them superb. They each had a different coaching style, but invariably they each had us work on our shot every single day.

Those of you who play sports, perform music, or practice another such hobby won’t be surprised at this: “Of course, you would practice your shot every day,” you say. “It’s a fundamental. If you can’t shoot, you can’t win.” Right you are, my friend. Shooting is a fundamental skill in basketball. It is foundational. It is critical. It is required if you are to win.

The same might be said about families.

It has been said that families are the building block of society. I must be honest — I have no expert social scientist’s exact words to back up this assertion, but in the next series of posts we’ll look at why families might be considered foundational, critical, even required for the success of society. In this particular post we’ll look at one reason why families are so important for society:

Families teach about and help you develop attributes that build society.

I remember growing up in a home where if I said I was going to do something, I had better do it. Church activities, sports practices, piano lessons, cleaning my room – if I had committed to go or do I had better do and go. I watched my siblings experience the same thing because I had parents who expected us to fulfill our commitments. They taught by example. I learned that reliability is a precious attribute.

I have a friend who remembers that her mother never just sat around. She was always doing something productive: making meals for others, weeding, cooking, cleaning. She would spend quality time with her family, but the rest of her time was used in an active, positive ways. She inspired her daughter to do the same. Because of her mother, my friend learned the value of hard work. That is a great strength to society.

Another friend of mine spent her summer vacations with her family; they traveled the world together with only each other for company. She learned the value of building strong relationships. Helping others can only contribute to a strong society.

I am sure many of you learned and developed tons of other attributes that might contribute to society. Of course, a person can gain these attributes through other avenues, but the family is ideally positioned to facilitate this growth. The family is absolutely critical for the positive growth of society.

—Jessica Neilson, Stance

Dives and Dads

volleyball pic blog

Picture found here


Last January, I was playing volleyball in the Richards Building. I leaped to block a player with a particularly pernicious swing, but as I came down (with not even a touch of the ball, darn it!), I landed, not on the hard wooden court, but on someone else’s foot. I felt my ankle touch the floor before any other part of my body (not good) and landed in a heap on the court. Of course, everyone rushed to my aid, tried to help me up, asked if I could walk on it. Trying to affect an unconcerned air, I told all that I was fine and valiantly hobbled off the court, trying to downplay my limp and telling my teammates I just needed a few minutes. A sainted RB employee offered me a chair and rushed to get me ice. While I waited, averting my eyes from my ever-swelling ankle and threatening my tears with horrors untold if they slipped passed my eyes, I thought, “Wow. I just really want to call my dad.”

Have you ever had an experience like this? You go through something scary, painful, or otherwise traumatic and all you can think about is getting in contact with someone you love, with someone you know will empathize with you, take care of you, protect you?

Is the person you think of in those experiences a member of your family?

Let me tell you the rest of the story.

After getting my ice, I decided that I needed to call my dad (Dad is the one to go to for medical emergencies in my family). I grabbed my cell phone and wobbled to the girls’ locker room, where I found the furthest, darkest, most secluded corner, and called my father.

Thank the heavens, he answered on my first try.

“Hey, Jess. What’s up?” he asked.

I struggled for maybe three-fourths of a second to stop those blasted tears – But, good grief, but my ankle hurt! – and then I let it all out. “Dad,” sniffle, sniffle, “I was playing volleyball,” gasp of air, “and I landed on someone’s foot,” sniff, “and I think I sprained my ankle, or broke it, or something–”


“And tomorrow morning I have an interview for a job I really want,” more sniffs, “and I had been planning to walk to it, but I can’t now–” gasp, “–and if I get the job, how am I going to get there with my ankle? I don’t have a car! And I have to walk to campus — how am I going to get to class? And I have work tomorrow after my interview and then I have that date tomorrow night and then the next day I’m supposed to give a talk in church and I haven’t even started working on it…” I started blubbering into the phone unintelligibly. I realized that it wasn’t so much my ankle but these other stressors that were causing me to bawl.

“Alright, Jess. It’ll all be okay. Where are you right now?”

“In the girls’ locker room…”

“How do you want your mom and me to help?”

“Well…” I had been thinking about this since I’d made it to the locker room. What I really wanted was for my parents to pick me up (they lived about a half hour from Provo), take me home, coddle and comfort me for the night, drive me back down to Provo for my interview in the morning, and then immediately after drive me back to my hometown for work. That was what I wanted. But that was a lot of driving for them. And a lot of gas. And a lot of babying of their 22-year-old daughter who supposedly had been living on her own for almost four years. That was a lot to ask.

But I did ask, because I needed some comfort right then.

And what I had wanted them to do is exactly what my parents did — happily.

So why did I share this story with you?

I am no expert on family relations. In reality, I know very little about why the family is so vital to a functioning society. But I do know that family is critically important to me. It is because of experiences like the one above, when my family deals with mountainous inconvenience to help me, that I realize why I need my family: for help, for comfort, for love.

In subsequent posts, I’ll focus more on why families are needed on a wider level. It will be as much a learning process for me as it will be for anyone else. Together, we can discover why families are central to society. And perhaps help keep them that way.

—Jessica Neilson, Stance

No One Is Alone: The Implications of Non-biological Family in “Into the Woods”

*This article contains spoilers for the musical “Into the Woods.”

Since I’ve joined the Stance crew, I’ve become hyperaware of family relationships in everything I read and watch. So it’s no surprise that I had family on the brain when I watched the movie version of “Into the Woods” and the stage version at my little brother’s high school.

There are loads of different types of families in “Into the Woods.” There are stepfamilies, absent fathers, adopted children, helicopter parents, ghost parents, infertile couples, bloodthirsty grandmas… Pretty much anything you could ask for. (I could write a whole essay on the relationship between the Witch and Rapunzel alone.)

Picture from here.

Picture from here.

However, what struck me during these most recent viewings (I have seen this musical A LOT OF TIMES) is the non-biological, found family dynamic. By the end of the second act, most of the characters are dead, killed by the giant or by each other, and most of the families have been dissolved. All four surviving main characters have lost someone—the Baker lost his wife, Cinderella lost her husband (and mother too, sort of), Little Red lost her mother and grandmother, and Jack lost his mother. It’s both haunting and beautiful, then, when they sing “No One is Alone,” because at that moment, each of them is probably feeling the loneliest they’ve ever felt.

In the end, the Baker, his son, Cinderella, Little Red, and Jack all decide to live together and try to help each other recover from their trauma. Even though they aren’t related by blood and even though they’ve seen each other at their nastiest (like viciously blaming each other for all the bad things that have happened), they still care about and want to protect each other.

This is family.

Yes, family is the fundamental unit of society, and yes, that is usually referring to biological family, but your non-biological family can be just as important.

Loving your family is wonderful. It can be hard, but in the end, you share blood, so you might as well stick together.

Choosing to love people you’re not obligated to love is scary. They can leave at any time. They might not come from the same background as you, or they might see the world from a completely different perspective. Sometimes it might seem like it’s not worth it. You’re not bound to them, so why bother?

Learning to love people unselfishly is part of why we’re here on this earth. What is more unselfish than seeing someone’s flaws and loving and supporting them anyway? Than sticking around even though you don’t really have to?

Because if everyone you’ve ever known has left you halfway through the woods, finding someone who is on your side is precious and sacred.

No one is alone.

—Becca Barrus, Stance

Emma Smith: How Much Could One Heart Take?

Emma Smith is a source of contestation and conflicting viewpoints for many within the LDS community. A popular song (at least amongst missionaries I served with) about Emma Smith has the refrain “How much could one heart take?” as it’s main theme. The popularity of the song concerns me. Not because of hatred or ill-will towards Emma, but because the theme of the song seems to be justifying actions that move us away from the Church as long as our lives are hard. A sentiment that does not seem to be scripturally supported (God will not suffer you to be tempted above that which ye are able, anyone?) and is potentially damaging.

image from here

This is not to say however that we should shift the pendulum to the other side and judge Emma or anyone else for their choices, because we do not understand what they are going through and what experiences led them to make the choices that they did. We should strive for a middle ground, where we seek to understand and empathize with others, without judging or justifying their behavior, two-sides of the same coin. Both of these place us in a position where we make a final determination about someone’s intentions or worthiness, which is well beyond our place as mere mortals, flawed and trying to find our way in this crazy world.

Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants is revelation specifically for Emma, however it closes with the following verse: “And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all. Amen” (D&C 25:16). All can draw from the counsel given to Emma and apply the principles in our own lives.

“And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10). We can “lay aside the things of this world” by ceasing to justify or judge ourselves and others and “seek for the things of a better” by seeing the potential that we all have. We must look past the flawed choices that others make to find the intentions and motivations that drove them. We must seek understanding, so that we can love one another.

—Conor Hilton, Stance: Studies on the Family

Moroccan, Islamic Women and Latter-day Saints

When I first read the title “Moroccan Women’s Integration of Family and Religion,” I was at once piqued. I am always eager to learn new insights into other cultures and religions, and Donna Lee Bowen gives an insightful account of her findings from the women’s lives she submerged herself in.

image from here

Islam is the dominant religion in Morocco, making the majority of its population Muslim. As I continued to read the article, I was presented with facts about Islam, and the people who follow it, that I had never heard before in a history class.

A controversial topic in Western Society is the inequality of Muslim women. But as Bowen points out, when laws and customs are taken out of their social context of course they seem unequal. One law gives twice the amount of a wife’s inheritance to her husband than vice versa. To members of Western society this screams of gender inequality, but the purpose of this law is to give male family members more of the inheritance so that they can take care of the women. Not unequal, but a check to make sure everyone in the family can support each other. Pondering over this example, and other examples that Bowen gives, I began to see parallels between Islam and Mormonism.

Moroccan, Islamic Woman (image from here)

How much anti-Mormon literature takes quotes and statements out of context, using them to slander our religion? How many people have been turned away from the Gospel of Christ because of a misconstrued myth about Mormon culture? It happens all the time to Latter-day Saints, and reviewing what I hear on the news and other media sources it happens to Muslims, as well.

Now I am not saying that every Muslim custom is misunderstood, but I believe that a religion that champions family and equal family roles deserves understanding. Ignorance is the main cause of misunderstanding, but knowledge can bring enlightenment. After reading this article, I believe that as a Latter-day Saint who seeks to enlighten those who misunderstand my beliefs and culture, I must first enlighten myself to my misunderstandings of others.

—BrookeAnn Henriksen, Stance: Studies on the Family

Grande Mosque Hassan II, a mosque in Casablanca, Morocco (image from here)

Older posts