Lawmakers propose Office of Intellectual Diversity at UTK

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – State lawmakers think the University of Tennessee needs a new diversity office, different from the one that closed last year. They propose an Office of Intellectual Diversity, surprising UT President Joe DiPietro with it during a budget hearing Wednesday in Nashville.

One lawmaker said she’d gotten complaints from students who said they’d been harassed over their conservative views. Another said that traditional American values could be seen as a black mark against staff in the hiring process.

The College Republicans is where Alex Swisher found home.

“My first two years here I kind of took a backseat a little bit. It wasn’t until I found the community in with other Republicans that I felt that I could really share my opinions.”

State lawmakers hope to create a place for students, like Swisher and others, to share their opinions. It would be through the Office of Intellectual Diversity, where $450,000 would be set aside for programs allowing students to debate and discuss ideas.

“I’ve definitely been in a situation where I’ve wanted to ask a question but had reservations about it,” said sophomore Kendrick Young.

Understandably students fall on both sides of this possibility.

“That’s really what this campus needs to come together, is a facilitated discussion and more civility through that. And that’s the only way we can grow and see each other’s side,” said Swisher.

“Conservatives and liberals alike do feel scared sometimes to voice their opinions in class and if there’s a designated area for that, that’s great. But whether that opinion actually gets taken seriously and goes somewhere. That’s a whole different question,’ said senior Jay Malone.

Many students, like Young, say they want to learn more.

“Just the title Intellectual Diversity, it sounds like a great idea,” said Young.

While on the other hand, Malone has concerns.

“They seem to be very into silencing anyone that doesn’t believe what they believe in.”

One thing students can agree on is that their opinions and foundations are being set.

“This is where we’re learning about the world and this is where we’re forming those opinions that are going to shape who we are for the rest of our lives,” said Swisher.

During the Senate Education Committee budget hearing on Wednesday, protocol was discussed on what a student could do if they feel a professor or class isn’t welcoming to other ideas. If a student has an issue, they can file a report online under the Bias Education and Response section. Forty reports were made last fall, but these reports cover a number of different matters.

On top of that, students can also fill out evaluations at the end of the term, reach out to a professor’s supervisor, or call the Office of Equity and Diversity. The next step is for UT’s budget to go to the finance committee.

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