By Travis Cooper and Jared Champion
Dear President O’Brien,
We write to you regarding Carson-Newman University’s decision to seek and accept a waiver to the provisions of Title IX. In a moment when division and hate abound, we were heartbroken to learn that Carson-Newman University missed an opportunity to show love and acceptance, values that are actually taught by Jesus. We have chosen to address this issue in an open letter because we want the world to know that the values you label “Christian” are not held by all, and there are plenty of Christians who accept everyone without qualification.
In an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel, you were quoted saying, “The spirit of the exemption was to clearly identify each school as a Christian institution ….” This statement is at best myopic, particularly given that the Bible — especially the New Testament teachings of Jesus — is so very clear that we are to show love and acceptance (Philippians 2:3-4, Romans 15:7, etc). When people gathered to hear Jesus teach, can you imagine anyone being excluded? Of course not! So in the same way that a person cannot eat a turkey sandwich and claim to be vegetarian, we contend that CNU cannot claim to be a “Christian college” while securing the ability to discriminate. Somehow, your advising attorney, whose advice you and the board of trustees trusted, read the New Testament’s story of unwavering love and acceptance by Jesus and walked away believing the Pharisees were the heroes. Heartbreaking.
Our concern is furthered by the clear failure of the administration to understand the scope and reach of Title IX. By successfully petitioning for the waiver, you have shown that the college has no interest in protecting those who have been persecuted (sadly, often by those claiming to be Christians). Rather than using your power to fight discrimination and to demonstrate the strength of Christ’s love, you have taken a stance of weakness and argued that your rights to exclude people should trump those of the persecuted. Make no mistake: acquiring the legal ability to discriminate will lead to discrimination. If not by your administration then by another in the future. As such, we cannot rely on your judgment alone to make sure this waiver is not used against those Title IX is designed to protect.
We ask that you revoke Carson-Newman University’s waiver so the CN community can be a beacon of love for those who suffer at the hands of the same misogyny, homophobia and bigotry that Title IX seeks to combat. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35. Also see 1 John 4:11-12). We suggest that you and the board of trustees follow this commandment from Jesus and “clearly identify” CNU as a “Christian institution” by loving and accepting all people, especially the vulnerable.
You must choose, President O’Brien. Will CNU be an institution that organizes itself according to the teachings of Jesus — by not dividing people into those worthy or unworthy of inclusion — or will you maintain the legal authority to exclude some of the most vulnerable in our society? Carson-Newman has an opportunity to be a light in this world, and to reclaim a Christian narrative that has become fearful and exclusionary and weak, and to reinstate one of acceptance, love, and strength.
We were once proud alumni who believed strongly in the institution of Carson-Newman. We hope to be again, President O’Brien.
Travis Cooper, M. Ed.
Social Science Department Chair
The New School of Northern Virginia
Jared Champion, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English
Young Harris College
Young Harris, Ga.