Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy Devos both gave commencement speeches and were booed while some students walked out of the ceremonies.

According to The New York Times, the receptions that greeted both Pence and Devos were due to their controversial backgrounds and opposing views.

On May 23, Arizona State University President Michael Crow was the first speaker of another faith to deliver a speech at a devotional in the 129 years of BYU-Idaho’s history. Crow was raised a Methodist.

Ian Johnson, a junior studying accounting, said he appreciated how Crow’s religious differences showed that people of different “backgrounds and faiths” can present inspiring messages.

Despite Crow’s difference in religious belief, BYU-I students decided to applaud the speech, unlike the rejection Devos and Pence faced.

Who college campuses elect to speak has been hotly contested recently, due to the rise of incidents in which students reject guest speakers with opposing or different views.

In 2016, Business Insider published a list of speakers who had been uninvited to speak at college campuses across the country due to their controversial nature.

Speakers ranged from conservative writer Ben Shapiro because of his negative views on microagressions, Black Lives Matter and safe spaces, to Palestinian human-rights advocate Bassem Eid, because some of his comments were seen as “pro-Israel.”

Dr. Edison Jackson, president of Bethune-Cookman University, addressed the student body, acknowledging the concerns of the students several days before the graduation ceremony where Devos spoke.

“I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.”

Dr. Edison Jackson

President Bethune-Cookman University

“I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community,” Jackson said in his letter. “If our students are robbed of the opportunity to experience and interact with views that may be different from their own, then they will be tremendously less equipped for the demands of democratic citizenship.”

Despite the rise of protests at colleges regarding guest speakers, a majority of college students oppose limiting the kinds of speakers allowed on campus.

According to Morning Consult, a national poll by Politico, many college students around the United States like having guest speakers on campus, “even if the guest’s words are considered to be hateful or offensive by some.”

The April 2017 poll reported students ages 18 to 29 are among the least likely to support banning speakers from campus, with just 27 percent of the age group saying they do support banning speakers.

Fifty percent of students ages 18 to 29 say universities should allow guest speakers with opposing views to appear on campus, according to the survey.

Andra Hansen, a teacher in the BYU-I Department of Communication, told Scroll about the importance of guest speakers on campus.

 

“We had two individuals who had been in prison and had been out for a while. They went to prison due to substance abuse problems. They helped reinforce the reality of change and the students were moved by it.”

Andra Hansen

Faculty BYU-I Department of Communication

“There are so many opportunities to increase the diversity and to bring more textured, rich conversations and insights in a manner that is consistent with gospel standards and with the university through guest speakers,” Hansen said.

Hansen shared a story of when she invited two individuals who were ex-convicts to speak in her classroom.

“We had two individuals who had been in prison and had been out for a while,” Hansen said.

“They went to prison due to substance abuse problems. They helped reinforce the reality of change and the students were moved by it.”

The lives of the convicts were very different as they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had to “reinforce the reality of change” through another branch of Christianity.

“The speakers created an opportunity for us to extend an outreach of empathy and to think about Christian principles in our daily interactions with individuals,” Hansen said.

This opportunity is not always available, as Eliza Butikofer, a junior studying sociology, found in her attempt to get guest speakers from an organization to address a controversial topic.

“Several semesters ago, I spoke with a member of the dean’s office about the possibility of allowing the local representative group of Operation Underground Railroad to meet on campus, addressing sex trafficking,” Butikofer said.

Butikofer went on to say the meeting with the dean’s office was not helpful, and she was discouraged from raising awareness of sex trafficking among students via formal events.

“There are no official policies regarding public speaking on the BYU-I Campus,” the BYU-I policy office told Scroll.

However, Trish Gannaway, the Institutional events coordinator in charge of guest hosting on campus, said the process of choosing guest speakers for events like devotional is not simple.

“For devotional, if a speaker is not a general authority or a member of the faculty at BYU-I, then they must be cleared by the (LDS) Church Board of Education,” Gannaway said.

Hansen said instructors need to fill out a form to notify the department chair to get speakers in class.

She said she loves BYU-I and the more opportunities for diverse speakers there are on campus, the more the students will benefit.

“As we do that, we will enhance student experiences in such a way that they are better able when they leave (BYU-I) to retain their faith, but not be thrown by the diversity that they encounter. They will be more equipped to communicate with people of different backgrounds,” Hansen said.