NY Universities Agree: Mormons are Weird

It’s not everyday that NYU and Columbia see eye-to-eye.  But within a day of each other, they seem to have come to a consensus: mormons have arrived in New York, and they’re an odd bunch.  Read the Columbia article and the NYU article.

Question for those in the know: was this a coordinated effort of some kind?  The similarity of the articles and the timing seems a little too neat to be coincidental.  Just curious.


  1. It’s interesting to me to see the difference in terminology- how they describe things differently than I would. I’d classify some as “incorrect” (like the columbia references to the LDS students’ activity in church as their activity in the “mormon temple”) and others is just different. Is Institute really an “educational facility”? That phrase conjurs up images of a community college or something similar.

  2. those who come from the Midwest schools, like Brigham Young University.

    Are New Yorkers truly this myopic?

  3. J.: yes. Because NYC RULES! Have you never seen that famous New Yorker cover?

  4. J Stapley, Yes. Remember, We are “flyover country” and Utah is the same as Iowa is the same as alabama.

    I thought the articles were interesting. While trying to be fair, you could certainly see them playing up the “different culture” angle. Besides, if these papers are like most College rags, they are being written by 20 year old journalism students for a class. So lets not expect too much out of them

  5. J Stapley, Yes. Remember, We are “flyover country” and Utah is the same as Iowa is the same as alabama.

    I thought the articles were interesting. While trying to be fair, you could certainly see them playing up the “different culture” angle. Besides, if these papers are like most College rags, they are being written by 20 year old journalism students for a class. So lets not expect too much out of them

  6. john fowles says:

    Jay S., I actually thought the articles were very good. They were much better than the recent article confusing Latter-day Saints and polygamous fundamentalist Mormons in one of Germany’s top news magazines, Der Spiegel.

    The Columbia article was very fair in its brief intro to the origins of the Church; the NYU article similarly took a neutral stance. Both articles portrayed Latter-day Saints as Christians. Neither article really focused on the old “JS just started Mormonism so he could have sex with many women” approach.

    And the focus on the “wierdness” is, I would suggest, exactly what our standards are meant to achieve. This was what informed the “different culture” angle that you observed (WoW, law of chastity, missionary work) rather than any cultic mystery that the media often tries to imbue the Church with.

    Two very good spotlights.

  7. Davis Bell says:

    That’s really strange. I had 10 or 15 fellow students come up to me and talk to me about the article. Ben, the reference to the temple is confusing b/c the chapel those students attend also happens to be in the same building as the temple.

  8. I found the articles to be accurate and certainly not histerical about the details of our religion. Curious maybe – but not suspicious. Let’s face it. We’re different. I’m glad the church is getting this mostly positive publicity.

  9. Davis:
    Ah. I’ve seen the mistake made before and assumed it was the same thing.

  10. When I said we shouldn’t expect too much, I was reffering to the fact checking, and detail work which you often don’t even get from more professional magazines.

    I thought overall they were pretty good.

    the one quote I thought was odd was in the Columbia article

    ““There is no doubt that the [LDS] Church is growing and is growing from the proselytizing seal of its missionaries,” Barnard Professor of Religion Randall Balmer explained. “[The program] was a strategy devised by [seminal early Mormon] Brigham Young to keep the children within the faith and as a means to keep Mormon adolescents and spread Mormonism around the world; it was a stroke of genius.”

    This line of reporting struck me as odd for a few reasons
    1) Although I’m sure they were interviewing a Barnard professor to get a “neutral” take, I would have liked to seen a response on why we have the missionary program from the “Mormon” Side.
    2) This isn’t quite accurate. While the aims of the missionary program today might be to keep adolescents involved and spread the word, I don’t think his comment is correct. Any RM would be able to tell you the missionary program started with Joseph Smith (as BY was one of the early missionaries), and wasn’t something placed on the young as a “rite of passage” in its initial stages.
    3) The inference in the quote is that this was some master plan to take over the world. While this may be true in some respects, I don’t think this compelete reflects church doctrine.

    Again this is a minor issue, and coincides with the level of journalism expected at a College level. Overall this is a positive thing.

    And Jordan, this is much better coverage than the Der Speigel

  11. I’d have to agree with John Fowles (this doesn’t happen very often :) that it was very fair, even a positive portrayal in both articles. Hey man, Mormons are the least of the weird people here in NYC.

  12. Rusty, but you see — this is what makes us so strange: Who is the weirdest among you? He that seemeth the most normal.

  13. I, too, will take this opportunity to agree with John Fowles. The article I read gave a balanced, even sympathetic, view of the young LDS students who decline alcohol and drugs but say yes to going and doing something churchy for a year or two.

    There are literally millions of US college students who have similar aspirations, but many of them have elected to go to smaller Christian colleges over the last forty years or so, much like many LDS students opt for BYU. The mainstream media, as well as the mainstream college campueses, has largely ignored that sector for many years. I suspect the more assertive presence of Evanglical students on mainstream campuses over the last few years is actually forcing universities to be more diverse and tolerant, resulting in (for example) a fairly balanced view of something so strange as LDS students leaving school for two years to serve a mission.

  14. “those who come from the Midwest schools, like Brigham Young University”

    When I lived in eastern Massachusetts, people thought Worcester was the midwest.

  15. New Yorkers have thought that Utah was in the midwest for decades–at least as long as I’ve been here. I wondered for a while if it was due to the Jazz being in the Midwest Division of the NBA, but even the non-bball fans make this same mistake. The explanation: New Yorkers are, for the most part, like the rest of their US cousins, geographically ignorant. Tell them that it’s twice as far from Chicago to SLC as it is from NYC to Chicago and they’ll look at you as if you just “growed a foot, right out the top of your head.” Tell them that it’s as far from Denver to SLC as it is from NYC to Cleveland and they’ll be equally amazed.

    Of course, their counterpart in Utah is the guy in SLC who says, “Yeah, I was back east once. I went to Vernal.”

  16. Count me among those who think these articles weren’t bad at all.

    And Mark B. is absolutely right. Anything between New Jersey and California is “the midwest” to a New Yorker. And my frends in Utah think my family lives “back east” — even though they’re in Wisconsin. Only those of use with true Midwestern roots seem to actually know where and what the Midwest is.

  17. Nothing like three winters in Hyde Park, with a cumulative 180 inches of snow, to help one remember with clarity, even at 25 years on, just where Chicago is.

  18. a random John says:

    Where is the Midwest anyhow? Somewhere between Colorado and Ohio? And what is the southern border? All I know is that people look stuned when I tell them that Utah isn’t in the Midwest. The inevitable question is “Well where is it then?” My response is usually, “Right next to Nevada.” That doesn’t go over well. I then explain that in Utah the region is called the Mountain West, but if you simply call it the West, that would be fine. I think that southern Utah qualifies as South West, but central Utah certainly doesn’t.

    We are all ignorant in our own ways…

  19. ARJ, try explaining to a Guatemalan where Washington state is. I eventually just said, “it’s north of Los Angeles.”

  20. Jared Jensen says:

    ARJ: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, northern Ohio and Wisconsin are the only areas that are pretty much always called the Midwest.

    Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas are sometimes called the Midwest and sometimes the Plains states.

    The exact location of the southern border would be impossible to say. Many people in Cincinnati, Kentucky and Missouri would probably be insulted to hear anyone say they live in the Midwest.

    The point is that “Midwest” is a somewhat vague term. As originally used I believed it referred to everything west of the Appalachians but east of the Rockies.

    I think most people in general are fairly geographically ignorant. I had a conversation recently with a young Brit who was planning a trip to the USA with some friends. They wanted to see NYC, Chicago, Aspen of all places, San Fransisco, Los Angeles and San Diego if there was time. Their plan was to rent a car in NYC and visit all these places in a week. I explained to him that driving from NYC to Los Angeles would probably be like driving from London to Moscow. He was shocked.

  21. D. Fletcher says:

    I don’t see why Utah couldn’t be the “mid” west. California being the “far” west. It’s just a descriptive term — everybody should get over it.

    P.S. Detroit is due north of Atlanta. Don’t we normally think of Atlanta as being on the East Coast?

    P.P.S. Reno is west of Los Angeles.

    P.P.P.S. Salt Lake and New York are exactly the same north parallel.

  22. Jared Jensen,

    I have a good friend from the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City and he would take issue with your exclusion of Kansas from the list of states that solidly midwest.


    You’re such a New Yorker.

  23. Jared Jensen says:

    Kansas City is solidly Midwest, but St. Louis still has more of a Southern feel to it.

    Your post, however, does prove my point that the southern border of the Midwest is a disputed issue.

    -end threadjack-

  24. D.,

    Most (at least native) Atlantans would balk at the suggestion that they live on the “East Coast.” Instead, they live in the South. Only Yankees live on the East Coast, and there ain’t many here (unfortunately).

  25. Frank McIntyre says:

    Having grown up in Kansas, lived in California, and now living in Utah, I can say that:

    California is on the “West Coast”, I never hear Californians refer to it as the “far west” because that would be bizarre. Who thinks of themselves as living in a “far” place.

    Kansans consider Kansas the Midwest, of which the plains states are a subset.

    Utahns don’t consider themselves Midwesterners any more than China thinks it is part of the Mideast. Utah is in the intermountain west or just in the west. Mostly though, Utah is just Utah. In that way, I suppose it is similar to New York.

    What New Yorkers think these places should be called is cute, but says more about NY provincialism than about the places themselves.

  26. Hey folks, thanks for the midwest threadjack. Fascinating though it is, I have to go back and agree with John Fowles (hooray, I finally got to type that!) :o) I think that the articles were amazingly fair minded and about as positive as they could be. Especially considering that they were probably written by 20 year old journalism students. I found myself thinking that I hope they manage to keep that level of journalistic rigor when they enter the mainstream media, but somehow I doubt it….It is weird that both articles were written so close to each other. Perhaps an example of the nascent media copying each other’s scoops just like the big leagues? If so, kinda funny. We’re not exactly a scoop.

  27. a random John says:

    C’mon Karen, you can say it. It was POACHING!

  28. I’d rather go back to geography!

    When I was a kid in Utah, I was confused about the Northwest Ordinance, since it didn’t have anything to do with Oregon or Washington. And why on earth did they put Northwestern University in Chicago. Well, Evanston.

    And, if St. George is in the Southwest, what about Texas. Texas is the Southwest, for New Yorkers. Maybe the Southwest could be stretched as far as Arizona, but it surely isn’t going to include southern Utah or Southern Colorado.

  29. a random John says:

    Mark B.,

    C’mon, from a climate standpoint St. George has more to do with Arizona than Salt Lake.

    For all those trying to educate me, Google image search has proved my ignorant intuition to be right! Remember, Google says so, so I am right!


  30. danithew says:

    Man those Mormons are weird. Especially the ones in New York.

    Soon there will be two more and the universal balance between chaos and order will be upset permanently. Worlds without end.

  31. The only problem with that Google picture is that it doesn’t include Ohio which has always been considered part of the midwest. I learned this lesson very well with lots of maps when I lived there during the second grade.

    Here’s more geographical fun:


  32. a random John says:

    C’mon Bill, you know Google is right!

  33. Not according to the US Census:


  34. HL Rogers says:

    The census has both Maryland and Delaware in the south. I know some residents of those states that would find that demarcation not only innaccurate but also offensive.

  35. Interesting, since although the Mason-Dixon line separated them, both were slave states. Although Delaware never considered secession, martial law was declared in 1861 to prevent Maryland from doing so.

    They were both blue states last November, however.

  36. Frank McIntyre says:


    Problem 1: The map you link to is for a health care consulting firm. They divide the country for their employment groups into 5 regions. Looking at the five maps, Nebraska and Kansas are in none of those regions. Neither are the Dakotas. This is a problem for your theory. It is not a legitmate argument that Kansas is not the midwest because Kansas does not exist. That just won’t do.

    Problem 2: A google image search brings up lots of maps. You seem to have picked the single worst one based on the fact that it was first. Perhaps you were “feeling lucky” like the google phrase says. In this case, you were “not lucky”. You were deceived by the man!

    Problem 3: Google is run by a bunch of Computer Science geeks out of the Bay (CSGOUTB). CSGOUTB are not going to have a clue about what makes up the midwest. You’d do as well to consult cat entrails.

  37. Frank,

    I think you messed up the acronym.

    Computer Science Geeks Out Of The Bay = CSGOOTB.

    Computer Science Geeks Out Of The Bay != CSGOUTB.

    I realize that we lawyers are johnnies-come-lately to the feild of acronymn creation, which has long been a redoubt of economists. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to put up with sloppy acronymizing.

  38. a random John says:

    C’mon Frank! You know that I was joking. I would hope that you would also think that I know enough about how Google works to know that it is not infallible.

  39. Frank McIntyre says:


    Point Taken. Misspelling is also a forte of economists. Also, it’s weird that you would check that…

    John, I was joking. I just couldn’t find the smiley face key on my keyboard.

  40. Christina says:

    As a Delawarian (by upbringing, not current habitat), I feel impelled to speak up for the Small Wonder. It is NOT in the south. Culturally, however, you might argue that the two counties south of the canal are southern, as they are much more rural than New Castle County and industry is driven by agriculture and military as opposed to the north, which has the university and major corporate headquarters such as Gore and DuPont.

  41. I’ve lived in Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and California. The only one that clearly warrants inclusion in the Midwest category is Ohio — from Toledo to Cleveland, from Camp Perry and Mansfield to Stubenville, and from Dayton to Columbus, it’s manifestly a culturally midwestern atmosphere. Sections of Michigan qualify, but huge swaths simply do not (culturally, Detroit reminds me more of New Haven than St. Louis)

    And the articles were awesome. If it were the OSU Lantern, there’d be lots of rumor mongering about the school of Dentistry (I was one of two Mormons in Political Science my junior year, and the other was inactive — the school of Dentistry has two LDS professors and between 7 and 20 LDS men in the program at any given time, plus one or two LDS girls) and a lot of stuff about what the local pastors think about us. Especially the guy who runs the annual guilt-inducing House of Horrors for Halloween.

    The only thing I thought was funny, was putting the word “sin” in quotation marks in a headline. It was like “we’re not sure this concept is legitimate, but it’s what they say, so we’ll put it in quotes just to be safe.”