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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 64
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Location: Long Island, New York

29 Nov 2021, 7:17 am

Email after schoolgirl’s suicide reflects Mormon Church leaders’ increased willingness to confront racism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called on its members to “be inclusive, not just accepting” in an email it sent out this month.

The email came three days after the suicide of 10-year-old Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor, a Black and autistic Davis County student, and included resources for parents to help them talk to their children about embracing diversity.

The girl died after what her mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, described as relentless bullying over her race and autism. School district officials are in the process of launching an independent investigation of the matter.

Kimberly Applewhite Teitter, a Black Latter-day Saint who works as a Salt Lake City-based licensed psychologist specializing in racial trauma and child psychology, believes the church’s email represents both a response to Izzy’s death as well as a recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal investigators found “systemic failures in the school district’s handling of complaints of racial student-on-student and staff-on-student harassment.

Even more than these two events, however, Teitter believes the email represents an ongoing shift under President Russell M. Nelson’s leadership in the way church authorities address “inclusion and diversity issues.”

For instance, this colorblind language is how many Latter-day Saint leaders have responded to the 1978 revocation of the priesthood and temple ban on Black members, evoking a verse from the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, that “all are alike unto God.”

By contrast, the recent email linked to a Black Latter-day Saint’s story in which the author describes her own experience as the target of racism and other forms of discrimination in South Africa, where she lives.

“Seek to understand all perspectives,” stated the link to the article.

Janan Graham-Russell, a Mormon studies fellow at the University of Utah, said this pivot toward highlighting diversity reflects church leaders’ sensitivity to the increasingly international nature of the faith.

Noted: Despite all the inclusivity and diversity discussion, neurodiversity is nowhere to be found. Izzy was bullied because she was autistic also.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman