University of Tennessee group in Nashville to rally for Office for Diversity and Inclusion funding

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Dozens of students with the group UT Diversity Matters lined up on the steps of the Tennessee State Capitol protesting a bill that would strip all state funding from the University of Tennessee Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

Chanting “UT Diversity Matters,” the students held signs with signatures of students who support the office. “It’s what makes UT a home for us and if we don’t stand up and talk with our legislators and let them know we’re here, then we could lose what we very much have and we don’t want that to happen,” said Ann Tharpe, a student at the university.

Last week a senate panel voted reassign $8 million from the university’s budget for diversity and it to the extension and rural outreach through the University of Tennessee’s Martin and Chattanooga campuses. Students are also concerned about another bill from State Representative Martin Daniel that would limit spending on diversity, multi-cultural or sustainability programs and cap it at $2.5 million dollars, about half of the current funding.

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“I have a class with 80% white male and I think that as a university we should be encouraging diversity for all,” said University of Tennessee student David Marsh.

Representative Daniel issued a statement saying “I don’t believe the legislature opposes diversity. I expect that it opposes unnecessary publication of messages that offend Tennesseans and embarrass the state on a national and international stage.” He pointed to the controversial gender neutral pronouns and holiday party guidelines.Previous story:Lawmakers call for UT chancellor’s resignation over inclusive holiday celebration suggestions

The group says the Office for Diversity and Inclusion increases both the enrollment and retention of students of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, students with disabilities, women, student veterans, working-class students, students from rural backgrounds and first generation college students. UT Diversity said defunding the office would be counterproductive in a modernized world, where corporations and the university’s peer institutions are increasingly demanding diverse students and employees from all backgrounds.

“The University of Tennessee is the flagship institution of this diverse state, and as such has a responsibility to welcome students from all backgrounds and prepare them for a diverse world,” said the group in a statement. “In order to do that, we have a obligation to work harder on diversity, not cut funding to it.”

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