Southern Utah University is facing backlash after they announced the keynote speaker for the 2023 commencement ceremony. On March 16, the university announced they are welcoming Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints, as a speaker in this year’s commencement ceremony. Almost immediately after, members of the Southern Utah University (SUU) community created a petition demanding that the university rescind the invitation to speak.
The online petition claims Elder Holland has “disregarded the achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals” and indicates he is not the best speaker for the entire student body. Garn Hughes, the creator of the petition and president of the school’s Pride and Equality club, also alleges that Elder Holland “opposed the recent statements of the LDS church regarding the acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals.”
Jeffrey R. Holland grew up in Southern Utah and actively participated in the community. He attended BYU, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English, as well as a master’s degree in religious education. He also attended Yale University, receiving both a master’s and a doctorate in American Studies.
Elder Holland spent most of his professional life in the educational field, working as a teacher within the LDS Church Education System before his attendance at Yale. After graduating from Yale, he served as the Church’s commissioner of education and later as the dean for the College of Religious Studies at BYU. He spent nine years as the president of BYU before he was called to be a member of the Seventy and eventually an Apostle.
In addition to his work as a university president, he was president of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities and a member of many other educational and civic organizations, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
University president Mindy Benson shared that his Southern Utah roots and his experience in and dedication to the field of education make Elder Holland the perfect fit to deliver the 2023 Commencement speech.
In response to the backlash, President Benson held 2 “listening sessions” on March 20. The details for those listening sessions were posted on the university’s social media pages. SUU also made a recenty statement on the matter, saying, “Much of the tension we are experiencing on our campus is due to the perceived clash of two of SUU’s core values: our staunch support of freedom of expression and our strong desire for inclusion and belonging.”
“In that spirit, we will honor the invitation extended to Dr. Holland to speak at commencement,” the school continued on social media.
While the voices of those opposed to Elder Holland delivering the commencement address are very prominent, not everyone thinks his invitation should be revoked.
Equality Utah, an organization dedicated to securing “equal rights and protections for LGBTQ Utahns and their families,” released a statement explaining that while they disagree with some of Elder Holland’s past statements, they do not believe Elder Holland’s invitation should be revoked. The statement emphasized the importance of freedom of speech and declared that “even those with whom we disagree are entitled to express themselves, especially in an academic setting.” The statement reflects the sentiment that creating a dialogue between disagreeing parties is much more productive than blocking any speaker from sharing their ideas with the public.
Written by: Reagan Sumrall
Senior Contributor at The Cougar Chronicle
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.