After ‘Holiday Party’ Suggestions, University Chancellor Should Resign, Legislators Say

What’s the difference between a holiday party and a Christmas party? According to suggestions made to staff on one college campus, it’s simply that a “holiday party” is more general, without a focus on a single religious or cultural tradition.

In other words, a Christmas party might include religious carols, a nativity scene, religiously themed decorations, and aspects of the more secular Christmas, such as a decorated tree, Santa hats, and reindeer. A holiday party, instead, might eliminate some of these and stick to things appreciated by all cultures, like refreshments and fellowship. Alternately, it might include some Christmas traditions, but also include traditions that welcome those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

In fact, suggestions from the University of Tennesee at Knoxville included keeping workplace relationships as the central focus of a workplace holiday party, including foods that represent a variety of cultures (a potluck style was suggested), and generally “celebrat[ing] religious and cultural holidays in ways that are respectful and inclusive of our students, your colleagues, and our university.”

Before outlining these suggestions, the memo makes clear that there is no official policy regarding holiday celebrations or decor in the workplace, and that these are merely practices to consider in order to make celebrations accessible and enjoyable to all colleagues and students.

The school’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion also offers a year-long holiday calendar, listing celebrations and noting in which cultural or religious group each one originates. For December, this includes Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Hannukah. The December portion of the calendar is reproduced below.

Holiday party -- calendar notes when various celebrations fall [Image via University of Tennessee Knoxville]However, for Tennessee Representative Andy Holt, this sounded like a “war on Christian values,” and he’s calling for the resignation of Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.

On his website, he posted a call to action, saying

“I am absolutely disgusted with my alma mater for discouraging staff from expressing their Christian values for fear of ‘offending someone.'”

Despite the quotes Holt uses around the phrase “offending someone,” no reference to “offending” or “offense” appears on the University’s site, only references to inclusiveness and welcoming others.

“Now, we have news that the University is telling students and staff that they should not have Christmas parties because they will offend non-Christians. Unfortunately, Cheek did not put a stop to this. Therefore, I join Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Sen. Mike Bell and Sen. Delores Gresham in calling for the immediate resignation of Chancellor Cheek.”

That’s right — Representative Holt isn’t alone in decrying inclusiveness in holiday parties. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey spoke out on his Facebook page, saying such policies might be alright for liberal arts colleges in New York and Massachusetts, but that it simply wouldn’t fly in Tennessee.

“If this post was approved by Chancellor Cheek, he should resign. If not, the entire staff of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion should be dismissed. The reputation of Tennessee is at stake here.”

Holiday parties -- inclusiveness disturbs politicians [Image via Facebook]Two state senators have also agreed that this notion of holiday parties that are inclusive to staff and students of different religions and cultures is simply unacceptable.

Holt took it further in comments on his Facebook page, where a constituent argued that cultural sensitivity and war shouldn’t be conflated. Here, Holt fired back, suggesting that the policy was somehow similar to the recent mass murder in California, which is being investigated as a terror attack.

Andy Holt says holiday parties are like terrorism. [Image via Facebook]Chancellor Cheek has already responded to the controversy, saying that inclusiveness is in no way intended to diminish the Christian celebration of Christmas.

“First let me say that we honor Christmas as one of the celebrations of the season. We are in no way trying to dismiss this very important Christian holiday. As a diverse campus, we do promote ways to be inclusive of all cultures and religions. I am disappointed that our efforts to be inclusive have been totally misconstrued.

However, his response was three days ago, and the politicians in question have not ceased to decry the “holiday parties” as an attack on their beliefs and customs, so it may not have been very effective.

[Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images]