Diversity at What Expense?

By Joe Rector

Everyone seems to be piling on in regard to the UT situation and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s handling of it. I’ve read the clippings from most of the major players involved, and after having done so, I’m adding my “two-cents worth, whether it’s needed or not.

Folks, we all do dumb things in our lives. Too often, I’ve done something and then wondered what took possession of me and produced such a goofy, moronic idea. I’d say the same thing happened with Chancellor Cheek. He has the best of intentions but put into action some things before thinking them through. I believe the man has the success of UTK at heart, and he wants to make it a top-ranked institution. Cheek also wants the university to be one that draws students from all walks of life. That means that it must actively acknowledge differences in cultures and belief sets of thousands of people. The question is how to do it without creating a firestorm of criticism.

I’d say that the source of the problem might well be in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall’s ill-advised approach to Christmas parties has created plenty of angry feelings. The man’s background screams that he is not necessarily an ideal fit for UT. Whether or not those in power agree, an individual who has spent his time in Minnesota and Iowa is not equipped to deal with the culture of the area. No, I’m not saying that “foreigners” aren’t welcome. I’m just saying that it might be better if Hall had taken time to understand that some ideas have been pushed too hard for people here.

Now, what I won’t do is in any way agree with Scott Desjarlais or Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Their knee-jerk reactions are typical from them. “Throw the bums out” is their standard answer. What about working out a compromise instead of threatening to withdraw funding to the university? Oh yeah, they pride themselves on never compromising We know that’s not going to happen; it’s just grandstanding in an attempt to garner support. Some of these folks are quick to condemn, even though they aren’t without their own mistakes.

As for the Christmas dilemma, I am not so sure what diversity proponents are expecting. This is one of the two most special seasons for Christians. The coming of Christ is only surpassed by his resurrection. For the most part, this country is a Christian nation. It has been that way for most of history and has overcome attempts to remove Christmas celebrations. It is absolutely ridiculous to ask the Christians to forego their Christmas celebrations so that others don’t feel excluded. If the Jewish people want to celebrate Hanukah, they have every right to do so. If Muslims want to celebrate Muhammad’s birthday, I encourage them to do so. However, I feel sure that in either case, the groups have no plans to alter their celebrations to include those outside the faiths.

How ridiculous it is to suggest that Christians change their celebrations to include those who don’t want to be part of them. I say all are welcome, but that doesn’t mean traditions and other important parts of our celebrations should be abandoned to please others.

Perhaps what all of us are weary of is the political correctness that is growing like a cancer in the US. Folks are scared that the slightest act will offend some individual or group. We have to use the correct words, act in the correct way, and refrain from anything that might hurt another’s feelings. The fact of the matter is that what makes our country great is the diversity that already exists. We should celebrate the ability to believe what we choose and to act accordingly. My rights end where another person’s begins, but that doesn’t mean that I must change my beliefs to avoid offending someone else. Of course, this doesn’t include acts of racism from any and every group.

Let’s hope that all involved with this latest brouhaha take a few steps back to rethink their positions. Then perhaps they can be more accepting of the other’s views. Otherwise, we’re in for plenty of arguing and demagoguery. As for these suggestions not to disguise Christmas parties, I can only say a Christmas party is not ever intended to exclude; all are welcome. That message came loud and clear from the sad stories of Jesus’ exclusion by others and his ability to continue forgiving and loving in spite of it.

One last thing: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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