Last year, during the holiday season, there were many decorations put up all over campus. One such decoration was a 14-foot-tall tree that was placed in Fields Dining Hall (the Bon). To many, this appeared to be an attempt from the Bon to celebrate Christmas. On the surface, this seems to be a simple problem to fix: take the tree down or add decorations representing other religions so that no one feels excluded. But that is not where issues like this end, because the problem is not one tree or one decoration. The debate surrounds how Lewis & Clark decorates during holidays and how all community members can feel welcome.
The most important thing is to ensure that decorations, in general, are welcome and accepted on campus. Decorations are something that will raise everyone’s mood as long as everyone feels they are represented. The trick is making everyone feels represented — in theory, this may seem easy, but the execution requires plenty of forethought and effort.
After speaking to Ryan Jensen, general manager of Bon Appétit at LC, I am convinced that the intent of last year’s decorations was not to celebrate Christmas. In reality, students who were passionate about helping those affected by the northern California fires approached Bon staff. Together, they decided that it would be appropriate for the Bon to do something to make sure people were thinking of those in need, and in the course of around one week, they developed a plan. They decided to have cards that people could write in to support those affected by the fire, which could be placed on a non-denominational ornament on the tree.
Unfortunately, because of how little time this plan had to be made and implemented, there were some mistakes. For instance, a star was used on the tree, which is something that is fundamentally Christian. I would also argue that the tree itself is so associated with Christianity that even if everything on it was non-denominational, it would still be viewed as Christian in nature. It is also important to note that there were other holiday decorations set up, but none were as prominent as the tree.
In the future, I have faith that decorations on campus will be considered more thoughtfully, though they may not be perfect. It would be ideal if students helped decorators by telling them exactly what the problem is and how they can move forward to make people feel included.
One such person who I know is very receptive and enthusiastic about decorating is Jensen. If you have any ideas about how your religion could be represented this holiday season, it would be helpful if you went to him or other members of the Bon Appétit crew. What is most important at this point is to continue to think and talk about how we can be as inclusive and respectful as possible while maintaining our ability to express the positivity that is so often needed during the holiday season.