June 20, 2024

DiPietro, Cheek discuss campus diversity issues with students

UT President Joe DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek met with students at the Pride Center to discuss diversity and inclusion.

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On Friday, Feb. 26 University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek stopped by the Pride Center to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion on campus.

The concerned students and faculty members brought up instances where the LGBT community feels invisible and silenced on campus. Cheek emphasized his dedication to making the university a safe environment for every student of every background.

“I have spent time every day, usually that’s including weekends, talking to people about the importance of diversity on this campus,” Cheek said. “We want to be welcoming to all and hostile to none. We have had instances on campus that this has not been upheld… and that concerns me a great deal.”

One of the most popular items of discussion was in reference to the gender-neutral pronoun post written by the Pride Center Director Donna Braquet last year. Braquet encouraged the use of gender-neutral pronouns like ze or xe on campus to be more inclusive to students who do not identify as men or women.

After the post went live through a UT newsletter, backlash came from people across the state and nation. The university defended the post, then ultimately made the decision to take it down.

Many students, like Thomas Tran, felt the removal of this article was erasing the identities of LGBT students on campus.

“This gender neutral pronoun post was meant to educate people, however, taking it away made non-binary and trans students feel unsafe,” Tran said. “This post had nothing to do with the majority of students on campus, students that identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth. So, it was essentially their hurt feelings versus minority safety.”

DiPietro emphasized that this was not the intent of the administration, but that they were trying to combat the widespread misconception of this post being absolute policy.

“You can say it’s our elected officials, but it’s also a greater part of the population across the state that needs to be educated and helped to understand why inclusion of all people on our campus, whether you be LGBTQ or straight, or you have a religious preference of some sort… it’s important that we include everybody,” DiPietro said.

President DiPietro ensures students of his commitment to diversity and inclusion on campus.
President DiPietro ensures students of his commitment to diversity and inclusion on campus.

Another matter of interest was the presence of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Students cited that before winter break, anyone could search a map of gender-neutral bathrooms, but these have now been changed to “family style” restrooms. Students called for the administration to stand up for them and to prove they are on the side of minorities on campus.

“Understand that I am pushing as hard as I can to make our campus more diverse and more inclusive,” Cheek said.

As the talk concluded, DiPietro praised the open environment and talking about these controversial issues.

“This is the beginning of a conversation that we need to continue to have. I think that’s probably the most important thing that I’ve learned today,” he said.

For more information about diversity efforts on campus visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s website. To stay updated on events hosted by the Pride Center visit their Facebook page.

Featured image by Ashley Sharp

Edited by Courtney Anderson