In 1975, when President Spencer W. Kimball spoke at the centennial anniversary of the founding of Brigham Young University, Kevin J Worthen was serving a mission in Mexico. The future BYU president did not realize then how deeply impacted he would be by President Kimball’s prophetic vision for BYU in its second century. At this morning’s annual University Conference, President Worthen described that impact.
President Kimball shared a vision that BYU would become an “educational Everest,” said Worthen, and “a place where things would be done in a way and at a level unlike anywhere else in the world.” Worthen said President Kimball repeatedly emphasized that a higher view would require that BYU deviate from established norms or patterns in some respects.
This counsel has particular relevance to challenges the university faces today. One example, Worthen said, is the challenge that “BYU and the rest of the United States are facing with respect to racism and other forms of bigotry in our society.”
To that end, Worthen shared with the campus community plans for a new Office of Belonging at BYU, to be led by a vice-president level official who will be a member of the President’s Council.
Speaking on efforts to improve belonging at BYU, President Worthen expressed appreciation to the members of the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging (CoREB) who gave so much of “their time, their talents and their hearts” in responding to the joint call of President Russell M. Nelson and leaders of the NAACP for “educational leaders … to review processes, laws and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.”
In February, CoREB released its indepth report and recommendations to the President and campus community. President Worthen described how the President’s Council has “carefully and thoroughly” considered this information.
“We determined that a necessary first step was to establish a framework within which — and by which — we would evaluate the various recommendations,” Worthen said. “The framework would not only provide guiding principles for evaluating the recommendations and measuring our progress, but also set forth a vision of our end goal — what we hoped our campus community would become.”
Worthen continued that the resulting statement on belonging “will provide the constitution, if you will, for our efforts. It is derived from, and grounded in, gospel concepts and insights, including foundational scriptural truths. It will provide guiding principles for evaluating and implementing the recommendations provided by the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging. But it will also be the guide for addressing the needs of all marginalized individuals on campus.”
The Statement on Belonging
We are united by our common primary identity as children of God (Acts 17:29; Psalm 82:6) and our commitment to the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ (BYU Mission Statement). We strive to create a community of belonging composed of students, faculty, and staff whose hearts are knit together in love (Mosiah 18:21) where:
All relationships reflect devout love of God and a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor (BYU Mission Statement);
We value and embrace the variety of individual characteristics, life experiences and circumstances, perspectives, talents, and gifts of each member of the community and the richness and strength they bring to our community (1 Corinthians 12:12–27);
Our interactions create and support an environment of belonging (Ephesians 2:19); and
The full realization of each student’s divine potential is our central focus (BYU Mission Statement).
The new Office of Belonging will help campus members achieve the community of belonging outlined in the Statement on Belonging by using the guiding principles it sets forth, Worthen said, emphasizing that the office will be core to BYU’s efforts to not only root out racism but also to combat “prejudice of any kind, including that based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief and sexual orientation.
“This is a unique approach to addressing one of the most pressing issues facing all U.S. universities,” Worthen said, noting that it is, “for me, an example — and possible fulfillment — of President Kimball’s prophetic declaration that ‘gospel methodology, concepts and insights can help us to do what the world cannot do in its own frame of reference.’”
President Worthen also shared how important it has been this past year to counsel together as a campus community — whether it is on “race relations, or mask or vaccine protocols” — and stressed the need for civil dialogue free of contention.
He concluded his remarks by sharing a video of President Kimball’s address, asking the audience to pay particular attention to the expectations shared: "'Remain a unique university in all the world.’ Then in the process of time, this truly will become the fully recognized university of the Lord about which so much has been spoken in the past.”