Latter-day Saint apostle Jeffrey R. Holland will speak at Southern Utah University’s commencement ceremony next month, the university’s president announced Thursday, despite calls from students, faculty and thousands online to rescind Holland’s invitation because of his controversial comments asking members of his faith to take up metaphorical arms against homosexual marriage.
President Mindy Benson explained the decision Thursday afternoon in an email addressed to the campus community, saying, “[Holland’s] deep roots in southern Utah will help us honor our 125th anniversary.”
“As Thunderbirds, we are interconnected in ways that extend beyond our differences. We have made progress together over the past eighteen months, and I ask you to stay engaged,” she continued. “Important University decisions and directions will emerge because you made your voices heard, including reevaluating how we involve our stakeholders in decision-making processes.”
The campus community has been divided since the university announced Holland as the commencement keynote speaker on March 16. In a talk at Brigham Young University in August 2021, Holland told faculty and staff to take up their intellectual “muskets” to defend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its “doctrine of the family and … marriage as the union of a man and a woman.” He also criticized BYU’s 2019 valedictorian, who declared himself a “gay son of God” during his graduation speech.
As of Thursday afternoon, nearly 19,000 had signed an online petition that said having Holland speak “would fail to serve the student body, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community and students who do not [ascribe] to the religious teachings of the LDS Church” and called for SUU to choose a different speaker. The university also held listening sessions where student, faculty and alumni discussed the decision.
Those opposed said that having Holland speak was akin to the university’s endorsement of his views, and that it made members of the LGBTQ community feel unsafe and unwelcome. Others voiced support for Holland.
Equality Utah, a LGBTQ civil rights organization, issued a statement last week saying SUU should let Holland speak, calling for “freedom of expression” and despite “vehemently” disagreeing with his past comments.
Benson acknowledged the uproar in the email, writing that she has heard perspectives from “students, faculty, staff, community members, alumni, friends, donors, and public officials” in the wake of the announcement.
She said that the “tension” on campus since then “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.”
“We must continue to operate from the critical intersection where freedom of expression and inclusion converge,” Benson wrote. “There are few things more important on a college campus than what we have experienced over the past several days: an allowance for the expression of differing viewpoints and ideas.”
“In that spirit,” she continued, “we will honor the invitation extended to Dr. Holland to speak at commencement.”