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Toscano: From BYU to Utah (Part 1 of 8)

Dr. Margaret Toscano is the Dept Chair at the University of Utah, but she got 2 degrees from BYU and taught there as well.  In our next conversation, we’ll learn more about her time at BYU, and see her perspective on male privilege for scholars at the university.

Margaret:  I started out from BYU, but I’ve always loved literature. That was sort of my first love, being an English major. Then when I was at BYU, I got interested in language, studying Latin and Greek, because I became very interested in Biblical studies and I wanted to be able to read the Bible in the original languages. So I first took Latin and I like to tell my Latin students, this little story. I was an English major and a History minor. I had a boyfriend who I met in a history class, and he persuaded me to take Latin, and I did. Well, that boyfriend is long since gone, but Latin lasts forever. I still teach Latin. I love teaching. I teach both Latin and Ancient Greek and all kinds of courses dealing with religious topics and literary and cultural topics. I teach a big Introductory to Classical Mythology. Sometimes I’ll have 250 students.

I did my masters at BYU in Classical Languages. I started out with literature and then I got really interested in the ancient world in doing Biblical Studies. I did some work with Hebrew, too. I finished my master’s there. Then I got married. In that time period, I became really interested in Mormon theology and history. So it was while I was at BYU in the early 70s, that I began to meet people who were really digging up documents.

I have to say that, for me, the two things that really made me feel like I was a feminist during that period was I began to see these gaps between men’s–what would I say? Not just, in large, about the sort of gender gaps between how men were privileged over womenut , bwithin the context of the church. I began to ask questions about gender equality. For me, it really came very much, at that time, from a place of believing, where I felt like, “Here I am, a Mormon woman. I believe in God, I believe in the idea of the restoration. But I feel like that there are these inequities that strike me, not just wrong, but somehow go against my own feelings of God’s love and what I want as somebody who is committed to spirituality, and to the sort of basic ideals of the gospel.” So, maybe I could just give a couple of examples. So, for me, it didn’t start out with the idea of kind of focusing on priesthood or even the Heavenly Mother, which are two things I’ve written about. I think for me, it started out from the idea of–and maybe this was in a sense connected with priesthood, but I think it was at BYU, that I saw so much male privilege, that as a woman, I felt like I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male counterparts. I was working on my Masters in Classical Languages. I was obviously smart and did a good job. But, it was the idea that my professors were encouraging all of my male colleagues to go off and get PhDs, so they can come back and be these great scholars. But I was seen as somebody where, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to get married, you’re going to have children. We’re not going to take you seriously as a scholar.” So I think that was the first area where I felt it, was the difference in expectations or the way in which I was valued. I began to see that I didn’t feel like I was valued as much as men at BYU, that I was not encouraged to write or to be a scholar or to do anything… “Oh, yeah, we are happy to have you as a teacher, you’re a great teacher, but you’re going to fill this little spot in teaching until one of our male stars comes back from a big PhD program, and then, oh, yeah, then they’ll take your role, and, of course, you’ll be having kids, so you won’t care.”

Find out more about Margaret’s experiences at BYU.  Check out our conversation…

Dr. Margaret Toscano is professor of Classics and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies here, and also the department chair of this World Languages and Cultures.

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