Anger. Sadness. Disappointment. Shame. These are all things I am feeling during the ripple effect of the Tennessee state legislature's recent decision to defund the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Office for Diversity and Inclusion.
This is my first year as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I came to Tennessee to experience the South, the southern hospitality and southern charm I had heard so much about. As a big fan of country music and family ties, the South was always a place I saw myself experiencing.
Before Tennessee, I grew up in a conservative Northern California family with loving hearts and strong opinions I did and did not agree with. I consider myself a very “middle of the road” political thinker. I like to consider both sides of an argument. I like to put myself in the shoes of decision makers on both ends of the spectrum.
However, I cannot for the life of me understand the decision and message the Tennessee state legislature is sending by completely defunding a department that works to make all students feel included and comfortable on campus. I cannot understand the reason asking people to be mindful of how they are perceived can be so harshly criticized. I cannot understand why they wish to suppress and censor the voices of the already marginalized and mistreated.
If you are unaware, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has been under some harsh scrutiny for more than a year relating to suggested inclusive practices for students, staff and faculty. First, Tennessee legislature and lawmakers were upset that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville wanted to educate their students on bodily functions and sexual acts during “Sex Week." Teaching students who already have sex how to have consensual, fun and safe sex! Oh no!
Finally, the same office upset lawmakers once again because the Office for Diversity and Inclusion sent out a newsletter around the holidays suggesting that on-campus holiday parties (the same campus that puts Christmas trees on top of their buildings) not be “Christmas parties in disguise." Being inclusive of all spiritualities and religious practices at a state school! Oh no!
This is what the Tennessee state legislature chooses to focus on. Obviously, they do not have enough to do over in Nashville.
I have so much privilege in my life. I have a bachelor's degree from a California state higher education institution. I have a laptop in order to write this article. I have the ability to disregard the bigotry and cowardice shown by many lawmakers in our country if I would like, but I will not.
I will not stay quiet and let my friends, coworkers and students quietly (or not so quietly) suffer. I will not go about my day as usual because this is not a usual day. This is a day that matters. This is a day when I have the choice to be a coward or an advocate. I choose advocate. I want my friends, coworkers and students to know that I will fight for them. I will stand by them. I will not let this go unpunished.
I am furious. If you are unwilling to hear the voice of the students who need the services offered by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, you will hear mine. You will hear the voice of a graduate student staff, middle class, cisgender, white female. You will only hear my voice so that I can give others a chance for theirs to be heard.
If this infuriates you, do your research. Educate those around you. Donate. Send the state legislature a letter. Call Nashville. Show Tennessee lawmakers that #DiversityMatters and #UTDiversityMatters.