College Leader Has No Regrets About Riley Gaines Speech

Adrian College president Jeffrey Docking | Image by Adrian College
Adrian College president Jeffrey Docking | Image by Adrian College

Despite backlash from various civil rights groups, church leaders, students, and parents, Adrian College president Jeffrey Docking has no regrets about his decision to invite former collegiate athlete Riley Gaines to speak at the school’s May 5 commencement.

Gaines, a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer for the University of Kentucky who holds five Southeastern Conference titles, has gained public recognition for her advocacy of single-sex sports. She has actively campaigned against transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.

She was the keynote speaker at the private United Methodist liberal arts college’s graduation ceremony in Adrian, Michigan. She spoke about courage, faith, and freedom of speech. Although many in the audience applauded and cheered her remarks, others were critical of her stance against transgender athletes participating in women’s sports.

The backlash started before the commencement date, with the college receiving petitions and “hateful” letters from transgender individuals in the community and from parents who said they would not be sending their children to the college, Docking told The Dallas Express.

“I had several reporters reach out to ask if I planned to disinvite her. I never considered uninviting her,” Docking said.

“We received a lot of pushback from folks in the United Methodist Church,” he noted. “I did receive a letter from the church saying that they disagree with my positions.”

One of Docking’s “positions” is that the topic of single-sex sports should be discussed openly, especially since Adrian College has a large student-athlete population. He said students should be challenged with ideas they may not support.

“There has been a backlash against civil discourse,” Dockings said, attributing it to the political leanings of many universities, especially those with “liberal faculties.”

“Young Americans are more sensitive than in the past because they have been raised in a society that increasingly encourages victimhood. Embracing a victim mentality makes people search for evidence and opportunities that will serve that narrative, either real or imagined. This is why we see students rush to create ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses and in corporate America, to shelter themselves from perceived threats,” Dockings said.

He claimed that more college leaders and professors in the country do not advocate for civil discourse because they fear losing their jobs.

Docking said he agrees with Gaines that transgender people should not compete in women’s sports due to biological differences.

“Men have larger muscles and better bones,” Docking said, adding that it was a disservice to women who have been training for their sports only to have biological men take away their work.

“You begin to realize how much effort it takes to excel at that level,” Docking said. “What if it was my daughter?”

“As I read the polls, it appears most of America supports separating genders in sports,” he added.

Despite the backlash, Docking said the commencement was “beautiful.”

“We were very happy we had a beautiful day,” he said, noting that the turnout for the ceremony was so great the college ordered 500 additional chairs to accommodate all the guests.

“I thought it was one of the best commencement speeches I have ever heard,” Docking said of Gaines’ address. “She received a standing ovation from much of the audience. Her three-part message spoke to the importance of courage, faith, and freedom, three elements of a free and open society, three elements of what made our nation great.”

When DX asked Docking what advice he would offer other university and collegiate leaders, he said they should “speak up” and “support civil discourse.”

“In order to be a fully developed and mature human being, one must expose him or herself to new ideas, free speech, challenging opportunities, and various mentors who can help them discern the best life to live. New ideas help us discern the elements of a meaningful, impactful, happy, and fruitful life,” Docking said.

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