UT Students Protest a Proposed Bill to Cut Diversity Funding

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On Tuesday, University of Tennessee (UT) students lined up on the steps of the Tennessee State Capitol building, protesting a bill that would strip all state funding from UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

The bill, proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam, threatens the funding for  UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Earlier this month, the Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to stop state funds to the office and urges the office to use federal funds as an alternative.

However, UT’s Office for  Diversity and Inclusion does not receive federal funding. Its budget comprises .25 percent of UT’s budget. The bill will next go before the state General Assembly for a vote.

The senate panel’s decision took $8 million from the university’s budget and rerouted it to UT agricultural extension services and rural outreach through UT’s Martin and Chattanooga campuses.

UT students have been protesting the bill in hopes of increasing on-campus diversity.

“[Diversity] is 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 have and we don’t want that to happen,” said Ann Tharpe, a UT student.

Another student, David Marsh, said he sees the racial imbalance in his classes and believes the funding is necessary for classroom equality.

“I have a class with 80 percent white males, and I think that as a university we should be encouraging diversity for all,” said Marsh.

The Office for Diversity and Inclusion says their programs increase both 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.

They say to strip  the funding would be counterproductive in this modern world where the job markets are increasingly demanding diverse students and employees from all backgrounds.