Students petition against defunding the Office of Diversity, Inclusion

#UTDiversityMatters, a coalition of concerned students on campus, asked students to sign a petition that will be given to state legislators in response to the planned defunding of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

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Members of #UTDiversityMatters, a coalition of students who advocate for campus diversity, asked both students and faculty to sign a petition and participate in a phone bank in Hodges Library on Thursday, March 3.

This action comes as a response to Tennessee lawmakers’ unanimous vote on Wednesday, March 2, to defund UT’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The vote stems from Tennessee Republican leaders calling on state lawmakers to defund the office back in December of 2015 and comes days after concerned students met with President Joe DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek about diversity on campus.

“This is about my existence on this campus,” said Kristen Godfrey, a graduate student. “I’m tired of people asking me ‘why is diversity important to you?’ ‘Why should there be an office of diversity and inclusion?’ This is 2016, it’s time to move away from that. It’s time to say ‘Why isn’t there more diversity and inclusion?’ ‘Why isn’t there more funding?'”

Godfrey and the members of #UTDiversityMatters intend to get as many signatures as possible from students and faculty. They also participated in making phone calls to members of the state legislature, senators and state representatives.

A pamphlet distributed by members of the group states, “The Office of Diversity and Inclusion includes support for students of color, LGBTQ+ students and student veterans.” It also explains that #UTDiversityMatters is “comprised of and represents students of color, disabled students, LGBTQ+ students and all marginalized students on campus.”

Their plan is to take the signature sheet to Nashville on Tuesday, March 8, for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. To do this, #UTDiversityMatters is teaming up with the United Campus Workers and the Tennessee Equality Project.

The proposed defunding of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion comes weeks after the University of Tennessee made national headlines for being named in a sexual assault lawsuit.

“I think it all has to do with an unsafe campus. An unsafe campus for women, for sexual assault survivors, for marginalized students, and I think that UT is not showing that they are representative of a diverse and inclusive campus.” said Godfrey.

Godfrey said that to her, students generally feel that UT does not try to promote a safe campus, and there is fear among women, minorities and LGBT members.

“I think at this point in time, we all really need each other,” Godfrey said. “All marginalized students really need each other to support each other.”

Featured image by Ben Webb

Edited by Courtney Anderson