University President To Discuss Cotton Stalk Controversy

A Tennessee university president will meet with offended African American students to reassure them that the school is racially sensitive after he hosted consecutive dinners last week — one for black students featuring centerpieces made out of cotton stalks and another for Latinos that offered fajitas.

Lipscomb University President Randy Lowry said he would "lean in" rather than ignore students who were offended by the decor and the dinner he hosted last week for black students enrolled at Lipscomb, the Tennesean reports

The latest comments come a few days after Lowry apologized to the students on Facebook.

“The content of the centerpieces was offensive, and I could have handled the situation with more sensitivity. I sincerely apologize for the discomfort, anger or disappointment we caused and solicit your forgiveness,” said Lowry in the post.

Students had taken to social media to criticize the centerpieces and the menu at the black student dinner, which consisted of consisted of macaroni and cheese, collard greens and corn bread around the racially insensitive centerpiece, Instagram user nakaylayvonne posted.

“As we arrived to the president’s home and proceeded to go in we seen cotton as the center pieces,” she wrote. “We were very offended, and also the meals that were provided resembled many ‘black meals’ they had mac n cheese, collard greens, corn bread etc. The night before Latinos also had dinner at his house and they had tacos. They also DIDN’T have the center piece that we HAD tonight.”

When Lowry was questioned about the centerpieces, he claimed he did not know and had nothing to do with them, nakaylayvonne posted. The school is 77 percent white.

“He kind of thought it was ‘fallish,’ THEN he said ‘it ISNT INHERENTLY BAD IF WERE ALL WEARING IT’ then walked off,” the Instagram user wrote.

Some called the dinner “offensive” on social media, but others are saying the university president doesn’t deserve the backlash.

“I’m sorry, but as a lipscomb alum I find this completely ridiculous,” one person wrote. “That is a popular style of decorating in the south right now, and has NOTHING to do with race. You can’t do anything now without someone being offended.”

“They served cornbread and collard greens. And had cotton plants as the centerpiece when the guests were invited specifically because they were African American. Yes. That's offensive. And to overlook that was poor judgment."

Racial insensitivity remains in the news even decades after the Civil Rights era. Recently, a South Carolina teacher was suspended after instructing fifth-graders to justify the actions of Ku Klux Klan members after the Civil War. Students of Oak Pointe Elementary School were asked in their homework: "You are a member of the KKK. Why do you think your treatment of African Americans is justified?" and “You are a freedman. Are you satisfied with your new life? Why or why not?”

At Oak Pointe, about 67 percent of the students are white and 19 percent are black.