The Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville may be keeping few friends and doing itself few favors.
The office made news for releasing problematic holiday guidelines, which most notably contained anti-Christmas sentiments. While the guidelines have been replaced, state lawmakers reacted by calling for defunding.
With the replacement, the office likely did not gain new support. And, it may have found a new enemy: students. As the Knoxville News Sentinel reported, students had initially stood by the office:
Tuesday began with a “study-in” in solidarity with UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion after nearly a week of nationwide controversy over UT’s alleged “war on Christmas.” But the mood shifted and many students and faculty demanded answers when the administration backtracked from the online post that led to the uproar — a list of suggestions on how to make “holiday parties” more inclusive and less religious-themed — and announced the office’s chief, Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall, had been “counseled” and would no longer control his office’s website, which will now be overseen by Vice Chancellor for Communications Margie Nichols.
Motivation for the replacement is not so encouraging, as Chancellor Jimmy Cheek mentioned the guidelines contained contradictions. It resulted from thinking “about ways that we can better control the messages that we put on our website.” While Cheek is proud of the office overall, he was disappointed in the guidelines.
The explanation from Hall also was problematic. “We are deeply disappointed that the Web posting has become divisive; certainly that wasn’t the intent,” he mentioned. “My intent has been to include.” It is hard to imagine how the posting could have been anything but divisive.
Students seemed to be satisfied in the response, however, who renewed their support after Tuesday’s meeting. Hall also enjoys “100 percent” support from Josh Oliver, a sophomore who is the secretary of the Black Student Union. Oliver explained that Hall has supported students, which involved helping the group to form last spring. Oliver even provided excuses, as he says the controversies “drained” and “exhausted” Hall.
When it comes to Cheek, support is mixed. His resignation has been called for, but the faculty senate has stood by him.
At the meeting, both Cheek and Hall encouraged students to meet with lawmakers. Time and votes will tell if the office efforts work, or if they’re only digging themselves into a deeper whole.