Thursday, September 21

Gov. Lee’s visit sparks discussion on campus; officials hope experience will help prepare campus for civil discourse before next election

By Maria Monteros, Kayla Williamson, Kallie Sohm and Naomi Overby

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s visit to campus generated multiple conversations and meetings in the weeks leading up to his appearance in chapel.

As word spread that the governor would be speaking in chapel it garnered mixed reactions from students and faculty on campus. Some said they were looking forward to having the Republican governor on campus and others questioned why he would have a platform in chapel.

Some students and faculty expressed concern about how the governor’s visit impacted students of color or students with DACA status.

Earlier this year, Lee signed the proclamation establishing July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Nathan Bedford Forest was a Confederate Army general and an early member of the Ku Klux Klan. Students also expressed concern about anti-immigration rhetoric and policies from the governor.

Prior to Lee’s scheduled chapel, Boone met with two clubs on campus, Walden, a student organization for African American students, and Futuro, a club designed to engage middle Tennessee Latino college students in professional development.

He also spoke at the SGA’s first Town Hall meeting of the semester which was open to all students.

“I believe that we have student groups that have been negatively affected by some of the choices the governor has made. They are wondering, ‘Is this an endorsement by Trevecca of some of the things he has done?’ I wanted to meet with our students to say very clearly to them, no this is not an endorsement.” said Dan Boone, university president.

Boone said that during those meetings with Walden and Futuro, he addressed that there would be people brought to campus who have been “champions” for them, and that the same standards will be held when they attend. Other students will be asked to respect those visitors as well whether they disagree with them or not.

Aside from immigration and the Nathan Bedford Forrest proclamation, Boone said students may be wondering his position on the equal tuition act for DACA students.

Mariam Fawzy, treasurer of Futuro, said she isn’t opposed to healthy conversation about differing views, but that some of Lee’s rhetoric, particularly during his campaign for governor, felt like an attack to several Latino students on campus.

“This is a human rights issue. This is no longer ‘I’m a conservative or a liberal.’ What message are we passing really because he will be coming here to talk about the love of Jesus…but is he really putting that into his work life?” she said.

Several students said they were excited to hear the governor’s testimony and thank him for his work on prison reform and pro-life measures.

Lily Moll, a junior, said it was an honor for Trevecca to host the governor. She’s followed his career as the founder of the Lee Company and then governor.

“His testimony is moving, powerful and worth taking a listen to,” she said. “I was encouraged and excited to hear that he was coming to campus to speak because I believe his message reaches beyond politics by inspiring those of the Christain faith.”

Some students told Boone they were eager to thank the governor for his work with Men of Valor, a Christian prison ministry and mentoring program. Additionally, students have told Boone that they appreciate the pro-life position Lee holds.

Trevecca is a non-partisan campus and doesn’t endorse political candidates, said Boone. Had Lee wanted to talk about any political topics, he would have said chapel was not the space for him to come and speak. However, since Lee wanted to share his testimony, Boone said it was appropriate that he speak in chapel.

“It’s where the people of God gather to hear the stories of the people of God,” Boone said.

Several Trevecca students intern with politicians, both Republican and Democrat, and Boone said having politicians on campus is an educational as well as a networking opportunity for students.

“I want our students to go into politics. I want our students to be open about the way that God might speak to them about going into politics. I want them to see examples of people for whom that is their story. I’m hoping that many of our students who feel like they can serve God in that field will hear (Lee’s) story and it will inspire them to go into politics,” Boone said.

The bigger picture of the visit with Lee, Boone said, is that it is the “toe in the water of how we’re going to deal with the [2020] presidential election.” Ideally, he hopes to establish a culture of respectful dialogue, hospitality to those who will come to visit on campus, and enriched opportunities for conversation between students. Boone wants to get ahead of the campaign.

“When we get to the presidential election, then we’re able to enter it at the level of ‘Let’s talk about the issues, why particular candidates attract or don’t attract you.’ Let’s try to get ahead of that this time instead of it just hitting us in the face,” said Boone.

Ultimately, Boone hopes Lee’s visit and visits from other politicians in the future, give Trevecca a chance to show that followers of Jesus can show a different way to handle discussion and debate around political issues.

“I think the divide comes because our world has taught us to divide… The world we live in is enemy centered, shame based, divisive, and very mean spirited. Anytime you get into politics in the world you find that’s the mind set people rush to all the time. We have been affected living in that kind of world,” Boone said. “One of the opportunities Trevecca has is that we could give the world a very different picture of how you deal with someone whose ideas may be totally different than yours.”

Find more coverage here and here.

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