UT Torchbearers Speak Out Against Diversity Defunding

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An open letter to Tennessee legislators:

As University of Tennessee alumni and Torchbearers, we write with concern and unease as the Tennessee Legislature attempts to restrict personal, intellectual, and social growth through the defunding of campus diversity initiatives (HB 2066/SB 1902, HB 2248/SB 1912, HB 2629/SB 2653). We applaud UT students and our former teachers who have come together to protect a campus, state, and future in which people of all identities can thrive with equitable resources, security, and representation. This letter expresses our strongest opposition to any legislation that limits UT’s ability to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment to all students, faculty, and staff.

In our time on campus, we experienced and witnessed acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, religious intolerance, and other forms of oppression. We were also exposed to scholarship and dialogue on race, class, disability, sexuality, gender, religion, and other identities. We lived and studied on a campus where we could hone our critical thinking, learn to recognize our privileges, and openly oppose prejudices. This has prepared us for lives and careers that require us to consider the safety and quality of life of all people.

Our University of Tennessee equipped us with life skills essential to responsible social and civic engagement. We have integrated these skills into our professional lives as architects, lawyers, CPAs, community organizers, and public health scientists. We have also brought these skills into our personal lives as family members, community members, and participating citizens. We are disappointed by the Legislature’s attempts to deprive the students who come after us of the same social and educational opportunities. With the threat of funding cuts to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, individual and institutional discrimination will go unaddressed. 

A flagship university, UT attracts scholars, athletes, faculty, and partnerships from all over the world. The proposed bills and the ideological archaism that enabled them would permit a university culture that condones the structural and overt discrimination we have seen and continue to see across our country. Defunding UT’s diversity initiatives jeopardizes the reputation of both UT and the state of Tennessee as places for scholarship and social progress.

We thus urge our state legislators not to advance any budget cuts or limitations to UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. More fundamentally, we call on our legislators to be proactive in supporting a university culture that fosters an open exchange of ideas without the threat of censorship.

In solidarity with our alma mater, we also ask Chancellor Cheek and President DiPietro to denounce HB 2629/SB 2653—which would amend the state budget to strip funds from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion—and any future legislative actions that intend to restrict campus diversity initiatives. We also urge UT administrators to improve efforts to address the demands put forth by the UT Diversity Matters Coalition and prioritize the campus perspective of marginalized students.

Finally, we call on UT alumni, fellow Torchbearers, and all Tennesseans to support students, faculty, and Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall, who are actively working to maintain an inclusive and enriched UT community. Most urgently, we encourage individuals to contact their state legislators.

We remind legislators of their civic duty to serve all who live and work in Tennessee, regardless of identity.

Kelly S. Absher, ’05

Daniel Aycock, ’13

Erin Bernstein, ’09

Jenny Bledsoe, ’11

Gregory Cox, ’95

Elliott DeVore, ’11

Lisa Dicker, ’14

Eric Dixon, ’13

Amanda Fortner, ’10

Mamar Gelaye, ’96

Chandra M. Hayslett, ’97

Mike Hodge, ’89

Dr. Lynn Liao Hodge, ’89

Stephen R. Kennedy, ’97

Catherine Harrison King, ’96

Lindsay Lee, ’14

Samuel Mortimer, ’10

Terry Nowell, ’14

James Pizzirusso, ’98

Monica (Harper) Reckley, ’05

Kenna Rewcastle, ’15

Taylor Reynolds, ’09

Boyd Richards, ’99

Julia Ross, ’15

Nia Sherif, ’13

Maria (Williams) Tackett, ’09

Jayanni Webster, ’12

Akshitha Yarrabothula, ’13

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