My name is Alessandro Perego and I am a recent graduate of Brigham Young University (BS in Chemical Engineering, class 2018).
First of all, I apologize for any grammatical errors as English is not my native language. However, I hope to clearly convey my story.
I am originally from Italy, but I was born and raised in the church as my parents were converted before I was born. I did everything a good Mormon kid was supposed to do. I graduated from seminary, served a full-time mission in Manchester, England, got accepted to BYU, and married my sweetheart in the temple. Life was great and I was loving my time at BYU. I had amazing teachers and made lifelong friendships. During my Junior year, I decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD after graduation and I applied to a few schools, BYU being one of them.
My faith crisis started around the same time. I took my last religion class, “world religions” from an amazing professor. I absolutely loved that class, however during the semester, doubts started to rise inside me. The more I was studying other religions, the less I was convinced of the claim of the LDS church being, “the only true and living church” on this planet. I studied lot of different sacred texts of different religions and attended services of different faiths. I came to know a God that was different from the “Mormon God.” At the beginning it was hard. I almost hated myself for having those doubts and I was scared that I was going to ruin my marriage and my relationships with my family and friends. So I tried to carry on hoping that things would resolve by themselves.
Then the time of graduation came around coinciding with the time to choose my graduate school. Because of how I was living my faith, I wanted to leave Utah, however a professor in the mechanical engineering department reached out to me and made me a great offer to pursue a PhD in his group. He is a very respected professor in his field, doing research I thought was really interesting. However, I knew that to continue at BYU, I needed to keep an ecclesiastical endorsement every year for the next 4-5 years of my PhD. My endorsement was valid for another year, but at the same time I was aware of non-members attending BYU and I thought that if I just kept the honor code, I could be endorsed by the chaplain.
So after a lot of consideration, I decided to take the offer from BYU and start my PhD in the spring of 2018. As I expected, I loved the research I was doing, and I was very excited to work with my professor. However, my faith in the LDS church was diminishing by the day. I talked to my wife about it and I was surprised to hear that she was going through a lot of doubts herself. I was relieved to be on the same page with her and together we decided that I should go to the honor code office and talk about my situation.
The following week I went and talked to the honor code office and told them honestly that I was still living the honor code and I was still planning to keep it for my entire PhD program, but that I could not see myself attending LDS church services anymore. I asked how I should proceed and still be able to attend BYU and finish my PhD. They thanked me for my honesty and asked me if I was considering leaving and pursuing a PhD elsewhere. I told them that when I accepted BYU I turned down offers from other schools and leaving now would mean losing a whole academic year. They then told me that the Dean of Students can sign an exception form for special cases, but that this rarely happens and he was not aware of anyone that has received this special exception form since he was in office.
I thanked him and convinced that I had a good reason to get an exception, I went to the Dean of Students office in the Wilkinson Center. The Dean was not in the office, so I spoke to the associate dean Sarah Westerberg (who I believe is the dean now) and recounted my whole story again. After I spoke she asked me the same question that the honor code office asked me, if I have considered leaving BYU and pursuing a PhD elsewhere. After explaining again the reason why I wanted to stay, she told me that this exception form was barely given and that considering I was just starting my program, there were no chances that I was going to get it signed. I asked the reason of this unfair treatment to a member of the LDS church as I knew that members of different faiths could change their religion without going through any trouble. She answered me by saying that one criterion for my acceptance to the program was my religion. I did not understand why she said that because 1) I was accepted to a PhD program with a direct offer from a professor due to my skills and not my religion and 2) my religion was not a minority at BYU where +90% are Mormons.
I saw that the conversation was not going anywhere and with my heart broken, I left. I was desperate. I didn’t know what to do; I was told that I either had to be honest with everyone and accept to leave BYU, or that I had to keep living a lie and continue following a religion that I didn’t believe in order to finish my PhD. I was really depressed, so depressed that for the first time in my life I decided to use in the Psychological Support at BYU. I met with a therapist who helped me talk all of these things out, but at the end she didn’t give me any real solutions to the problem. These were dark times for me. I could barely sleep at night and my days were hunted by the thought of how I was going to live the next five years of my life. Since my research was being affected too, I decided to talk to my professor. He was very supportive and almost angry for the way they treated me at the Dean of Students office. He did not understand how a church that preaches the principle of, “leaving the 99 sheep behind to help rescue the one” could do something like that. He told me that he was going to personally speak to them and this gave me some hope.
After a week, however, he got back to me with the news. The Dean of Students personally told him that the covenants I made were very serious, and to stop attending church services was going to break these covenants and BYU would have to let me go. So that was it, there was no way around it. Luckily, during that week, I tried to reach out to one of the schools that I had rejected once I accepted BYU, and explain my situation to them. They were very kind to me and re-offered me a PhD position at their school starting this fall.
So now I am here in Ohio, doing my PhD and away from BYU. I consider myself lucky because I was able to leave BYU without any serious academic consequences like expulsion, but I know that there are students on campus that are living or have had much worse experience than me.