What President Worthen taught during BYU’s University Conference about belonging, revelation and avoiding contention

Speaking in 1975 during the centennial anniversary of the founding of Brigham Young University, Church President Spencer W. Kimball shared a prophetic vision that the university would become an “educational Everest” in its second century.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen told faculty and staff gathered at the annual University Conference on Monday, Aug. 23, that President Kimball envisioned BYU would become “a place where things would be done in a way and at a level unlike anywhere else in the world.” 

President Kimball emphasized that a higher view would require BYU to deviate from established norms or patterns in some respects. “His was not a call to flee the world, but to engage it on our own terms, with the goal of improving the world,” President Worthen said.  

President Kimball stated: “Gospel methodology, concepts and insights can help us to do what the world cannot do in its own frame of reference. In some ways the Church Educational System, in order to be unique in the years that lie ahead, may have to break with certain patterns of the educational establishment. When the world has lost its way on matters of principle, we have an obligation to point the way.”

This counsel has particular relevance to challenges the university faces today, President Worthen said. One example is racism and other forms of bigotry. 

In June 2020, BYU created the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging to answer the joint call of President Russell M. Nelson and leaders of the NAACP for “educational leaders … to review processes … and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.”

The university released key findings in February from its national diversity and equity campus climate survey that included data from nearly 20,000 respondents. The committee outlined recommendations to enhance belonging at BYU. 

As the president’s council carefully considered the committee’s report and recommendations, “we determined that a necessary first step was to establish a framework within which — and by which — we would evaluate the various recommendations,” President Worthen said. 

The resulting statement on belonging will provide “the constitution, if you will, for our efforts” and also be “the guide for addressing the needs of all marginalized individuals on campus.”

The statement on belonging reads: 

“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).”

President Worthen announced the formation of a new Office of Belonging at BYU, led by a vice-president level official who will be a member of the president’s council.

“The office will not only be core to our efforts to root out racism, it will also help us combat prejudice of any kind including that based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief and sexual orientation,” he said. 

The statement on belonging “is a product of counseling with councils,” President Worthen said, then citing teachings from President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency; President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon in a recent Church News series on councils

“Let me testify that I have felt that spirit of revelation as I have participated in councils concerning our efforts to increase belonging on this campus,” he said. 

President Worthen warned that contention will undermine any effort to create belonging. “As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught us so powerfully last week, ‘conflict is inevitable; contention is a choice.’ … If we truly want to be a Zion-like belonging community in which councils facilitate revelation, we must avoid contention.”  

He concluded his remarks by sharing a video of President Kimball’s address, asking the audience to note 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.”