Packer center aims to offer support to families, attracts controversy

Boyd K. Packer

Weber State University is now able to offer more streamlined assistance to individuals and families through the new Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer Center for Family and Community Education. However, the naming of the center has inspired a degree of protest.

Some individuals feel the center shouldn’t be named after Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Donna S. Packer, his wife, saying Packer’s viewpoints aren’t in line with what a WSU family center should be about.

Valarie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, said that, as a member of the LGBTQ community, naming the center after Packer felt like a betrayal by WSU.

An online petition protesting the center’s name has circulated and now has more than 2,000 signatures, citing both that Packer is a religious figure and shouldn’t have a state educational institute-sponsored center named after him and that Packer has created controversy around homosexuals and homosexuality.

But Jack Rasmussen, the dean of the College of Education, said the Center for Family and Community Education is important because of the programs it assists.

“The center itself is not about making a statement about what families should be,” Rasmussen said. “It’s about supporting individuals and families without regard to religion, ethnic background, gender or any of those things. The center itself is not a political entity. It’s a support entity. That’s been the case with these programs, and it won’t change.”

Rasmussen said the center came about because of the variety of different community and family education programs on campus and the need to offer ongoing support to these programs. Rasmussen said offering these programs under the same center allows help where needed.

“The notion of the center was to put together an entity that would provide support for all these different outreach kinds of programs,” Rasmussen said. “It’s going to make things run smoother and hopefully take some pressure off some individuals who have occasionally done them as kind of a one-man show.”

The family center consists of eight programs: the WSU Charter Academy; the Melba S. Lehner Children’s School, an early childhood lab supporting parents and children in addition to WSU students and faculty; WSU’s annual Storytelling Festival, now in its 17th year; Families Alive Conference, a conference intended to enhance and strengthen familial relationships; the WSU Family Literacy Project, a community program designed to help increase the literacy skills of children who come from less privileged backgrounds; the Teachers Assistant Pathway to Teaching program, a program designed to assist teachers’ assistants; the Teachers of Tomorrow Project, a program designed to recruit and assist high school students interested in education, and Child Care Resource and Referral, a program helping families find quality child care and assist child caregivers in their work.

“Many of these programs have been around for years,” said Chloe Merrill, the director of the Center for Family and Community Education. “It’s just really additional support and help to sure up these programs. Our true keywords here are organization and support.”

Both Rasmussen and Merrill said they felt like the Packers were a good choice for naming the center. Rasmussen said the Packers are both graduates of WSU. The two also met and courted at WSU and have shown an interest in families and education over the years. In addition, Rasmussen said the name wasn’t intended as a political statement.

“Each one of these programs has, over time, proven their worth in terms of providing services, either to the community or to our students or also to our faculty as a place to do research,” Rasmussen said. “In some cases, some of these programs do all three of those.”