Brother Of Jerry
Date: September 04, 2021 05:30PM
I was just catching up on reading, and read the WaPo article about Mr Holland's Fiasco. Author Jana Reiss brought up an interesting point I hadn't thought of.
>Holland said it was inappropriate “if a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation.” The apostle said this choice set a precedent for the triumph of “individual license over institutional dignity.”
It has been pointed out many times now that the student did not "commandeer" the podium. But Holland's charge that the student had an obligation to represent everyone getting diplomas gets interesting when you look at who Holland quotes in his speech.
The following is an extended quote from Reiss' essay. I'd try to summarize, but she hits so well the patriarchality of his speech, plus both the implicit and explicit sexism. It shows how Holland is a creature of his own culture (we all are) and how that deeply colors his speech and thought patterns.
What I take from his remarks is that people speaking at (or on behalf of) the university aren’t supposed to let their personal experience or cultural framing run the show. Rather, they should aim to represent everyone. If they don’t, “we simply end up with more divisiveness in our culture than we already have — and we already have too much everywhere.”
However, Holland’s speech is about his own very personal experience of BYU, which he has loved for more than 70 years, from his childhood through his time as a student and eventually its president. The speech is also clearly shaped by Holland’s own race, gender and sexual orientation — important facets of his social location.
We all do this. Some people, like the BYU valedictorian, are just more conscious of it and transparent about it.
Let me explain what I mean by doing something people learn to do at a university: analyzing a text for its cultural assumptions and social location. By doing this, we learn to examine our own assumptions and location, which can be humbling and eye-opening. Through the years, my readers have pointed out to me (sometimes even politely!) where my words have revealed my blind spots. Seeing how narrow and culturally conditioned my outlook can be has been eye-opening.
Let’s look at what Holland’s speech tells us about gender. At least 15 men are cited in the speech, from Holland’s fellow church leaders (Russell M. Nelson, Spencer Kimball, Dallin Oaks, etc.) to past and present BYU professors and administrators (Kevin Worthen, Hugh Nibley, C. Wilfred Griggs, etc.) to some of the greats of English literature (John Milton, Robert Frost).
Since women make up half the general population, and are more common than men among the membership of the church, we would expect their citations to be equal or greater than the citations of men — especially if the goal of a speaker at BYU is to represent everyone.
Yet women are wholly invisible, unless you count Holland’s jab at a much-married Hollywood star of the 1950s (“As Elizabeth Taylor said to her eight husbands, ‘I won’t be keeping you long’”) or his brief mention of his mother, who taught him what the “Y” symbol stood for when they passed by the university in his childhood.
The speech closes by referring to BYU with a feminine pronoun. In a bygone era, inanimate objects such as ships, storms and nations were commonly assigned a gender in the English language; universities, though, were typically not, so this is an interesting departure. I think this unusual practice makes more sense in the context of the entire speech, which is about protecting something Holland perceives as vulnerable.
It is a “pedestal” speech, of the kind women in the church are used to hearing: Women are special, women are unique, women are to be cherished and safeguarded in a changing world. Here, BYU is special, BYU is unique, BYU is to be cherished and safeguarded in a changing world. Of course the university is coded as feminine.
Now let’s look at other social locators. Every individual who is named in the speech is white; there is not a single person of color. As well, every person is American or northern European. And as far as we can tell based on their marital history, every person is heterosexual and cisgender.
Meanwhile, racial diversity is rapidly increasing around the world. In the U.S. earlier this month, census data revealed more than 40% of the population are people of color, and the white population declined for the first time in any census taken since 1790.
In the LDS church today, roughly 6 in 10 members live outside the United States. Its most promising area of membership growth right now is West Africa; membership growth in the U.S. is basically flat and in northern Europe it is actually declining in some areas.
In short, to only mention white male heterosexual church members from the U.S. and northern Europe doesn’t meet Holland’s own standard of BYU speakers needing “to represent everyone,” as he put it. Instead, the speech is an homage to an idealized university of a bygone era.
[no paywall here]
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/04/2021 05:31PM by Brother Of Jerry.