President Worthen announces new Office of Belonging, Elder Holland encourages unity

President Kevin J Worthen addresses faculty and staff during University Conference on Monday, Aug. 23. He said BYU will be introducing the new Office of Belonging to help root out racism and achieve a community of belonging. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

BYU will introduce a new Office of Belonging to help root out racism and achieve a community of belonging, President Kevin J Worthen announced during University Conference Monday morning.

“The office will focus primarily on coordinating and enhancing belonging services and efforts on campus, including through providing subject matter expertise and ideas,” President Worthen said.  

The President’s Council reviewed the recommendations of the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging and decided to establish a framework for evaluating them, President Worthen said. He expressed his appreciation for committee members and their time, talents and hearts in their efforts.

The new office will be guided by a Statement of Belonging derived and grounded in gospel concepts and insights, which include fundamental scriptural truths, President Worthen said.

It is not only a guide for evaluating and implementing the recommendations, but also a framework for addressing the needs of marginalized individuals on campus, he said.

“We are united by our common primary identity as children of God and our commitment to our truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ,” the statement reads. The goal is to create a “community of belonging composed of students, faculty and staff whose hearts are knit together in love.”

The full mission statement is seen below:

BYU’s Statement of Belonging is seen here, which will guide the new Office of Belonging in creating a community of belonging composed of students, faculty and staff “whose hearts are knit together in love.” (BYU University Conference)

The office will be led by a vice-president level official who will be a member of the President’s Council. More details about the office and further response to other recommendations from the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging will be announced in the future, President Worthen said.

“As a result of having our hearts knit together, the community is one where all relationships, not just the relationships with those with whom we agree, but all relationships reflect devout love of God and a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor,” he said.

Following President Worthen’s remarks, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve expressed appreciation for BYU and emphasized the importance of unity within the campus community.

“My beloved brothers and sisters, a house divided against itself cannot stand. And I’ll go to my grave pleading that this institution not only stands, but stands unquestionably committed to its unique academic mission and the church that sponsors it,” he said.

The university’s trustees are not deaf or blind to the “feelings that swirl around marriage and the whole same-sex topic on campus” among other topics, he said.

“I and many of my brethren have spent more time and shed more tears on this subject than we could ever adequately convey to you this morning or any morning,” Elder Holland said, adding that Church leaders have spent hours discussing what the doctrine of the Church can and cannot provide to individuals and families struggling with this issue. He said they hope all will try to avoid language, symbols and situations that are more divisive than unifying.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland addresses the audience and shares his appreciation for BYU. He encouraged the campus community to avoid conflict and to hold onto its uniqueness. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Elder Holland also emphasized maintaining a balance in the process of helping others. “For example, we have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy. Or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people,” he said.

Confusion and conflict shouldn’t be on campus, he said. There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding to everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and Church doctrine.

Elder Holland reminded the audience of President Spencer W. Kimball’s admonition for BYU to be unique and special when he spoke at the university’s centennial anniversary in 1975. BYU will become an “educational Mount Everest” only to the degree it embraces its uniqueness and singularity, Elder Holland said.

If BYU’s mission means forgoing some professional affiliations and certifications at a future time, Elder Holland said the university will pursue its own destiny.

“We must have the will to be different, to stand alone if necessary, be the university second to none in its role primarily as an undergraduate teaching institution that is unequivocally true to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.

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