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Articles / Preparing for College / Exclusive Inclusivity

Exclusive Inclusivity

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Dec. 22, 2015

Tis the season …

Christmas is just a few days away and most, if not all,  college students are home for the holidays. It’s a welcome break after a semester full of hard work, play, and (for freshmen) new experiences.

It’s also been a divisive start to the school year. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the PC (Politically Correct) wars have raged across the land, with various organized groups taking action, both rational and irrational, to promote their causes regarding diversity, inclusiveness (re: my title above), racism regarding campus buildings’ names and even in the kinds of foods served (or not) in college cafeterias.

In keeping with the season, then, I thought I would highlight one Christmas-focused issue that has taken the issue of exclusive inclusivity to new heights (or depths, depending on your point of view). The epicenter of this particular judgment comes from the Ivy League’s Cornell University. One headline reads:

Cornell University Warns Mistletoe Isn’t ‘Inclusive’ Enough And Students Shouldn’t Use It

A guide to “inclusive” Christmas decorations created by Cornell University warns that any decorations that remotely evoke religion, which includes stars and mistletoe, are incompatible with the school’s commitment to diversity.


The guidelines are buried inside a Cornell publication concerning fire safety guidelines for holiday decorations, and were first noticed by the website Campus Reform. The first half of the document concerns certain banned fire hazards, such as candles and metallic Christmas trees. …

As a parent of former colleges students, I think these safety precautions are more than prudent. I applaud Cornell for having a cautious and conservative approach to fire safety. However, administrators also felt the need to evolve from physical cautions to more ethereal matters.


… “University members are reminded to be respectful of the religious diversity of our students and colleagues and are encouraged to use an inclusive approach in celebrating the holiday season,” the document says. Students are encouraged to be more “diverse” by either focusing on winter instead of Christmas or by including decorations for multiple holidays alongside secular decorations.


The university then rattles off a list of decorations that are “NOT consistent” with the school’s “commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.” The discouraged decorations include the following:-Nativity scenes




-Stars (when placed on top of trees)


-Stars of David

While the religious connotations of nativity scenes or Stars of David is rather obvious, it’s not clear why mistletoe is considered as possibly offensive.

The schools says that holly, Santa Clauses, and wreaths might be acceptable decorations, but only after “dialogue within [a] living unit or area” to ensure nobody is offended.

Universities around the country have been issuing Christmas guidelines aimed at discouraging the display of religious symbols. A recent guidance email at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, for instance, warned against letting holiday parties become “Christmas parties in disguise” and discouraged using terms such as “Secret Santa” because they could offend people. …


I was fascinated reading about how Cornell’s brain trust zeroed in on mistletoe as being inconsistent with their policies of diversity and inclusiveness. So, in order to sample the opinions of College Confidential’s august pool of posters, I issued a thread devoted to finding out what they think about the divisiveness of mistletoe.

Here are some of their reactions:

– My son or daughter wouldn’t call me to tell me that all of the holiday decorations in their dorm revolved around anything. 1. Because he/she would recognize that every individual has the right to use whatever holiday decorations they feel reflects their holiday sentiment. 2. Because in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter if they have to walk by a nativity scene every day for a month because they are not Christians and they don’t really care. It is not a microagression.

– The sad part for me is that this is a season of deep meaning. A celebration. And yet the effort to be all including dilutes that special meaning. Whether your Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist whatever…each celebration is a chance for all of us to learn about another slice of humanity. But correctness is changing the landscape…Harvard no longer will have “House Masters” because the word “master” has an association to slavery.

So why not propose eliminating the Masters degree … That may be perceived as controlling people beneath you.

This correctness is a terrible thing and I wish our leadership would not be so weak and cowardly as to suppress elements of our human history… We are not one size fits all.

– Mistletoe has nothing to do with religion in the first place. Shall we ban Santa too? Christmas is a time of unity not discord. Christmas is only religious if you are religious. I know plenty of Atheists who partake in the Christmas traditions and spirit. (I’m an agnostic but still celebrate Christmas) Why does Christmas get all the hate and other religious holidays do not? Let’s keep Christmas a happy time of family and friendship. Then after New Year’s you can continue to live in your hateful and miserable ideology. Grow some skin, you do not need to be offended by everything. We only care about this story because it is Cornell, where (supposedly) the brightest in the country attend. Bright obviously does not equal mature.  

– Apparently the Cornell Club in NYC didn’t get the message since they are holding a “Mistletoe Mixer”

– You know, if these things like holiday decoration and Halloween costume guidelines, 50-square-foot “free speech zones,” draconian suspensions for Yik Yak tweets, and all the rest of it were reliably reported in the “reputable” outlets like the New York Times, there wouldn’t be a need to cite the Daily Caller. But the fact is that for the most part, the NYT and sources like it ignore these eruptions of insanity, or give them three inches on page A24. I live in Los Angeles and the LA Times’s coverage of the infant Robespierres at Occidental is pretty poor. Unless you can point to a factual inaccuracy in the stories in the Daily Caller, College Insurrection, and similar sites, it won’t do for you to just look down your nose at them.  

– There’s a difference between political correctness and “not using slurs”. Political correctness seeks to limit free speech, and those who are PC call people racist, even when such individuals don’t deserve that label. Not using slurs is just common sense; PC is antithetical to that.

– I am for inclusion, but I do not see the connection between mistletoe and the christian religion. Mistletoe has no significance at all in christianity, as far as I know. It is also not used exclusively by Christians. Banning mistletoe seems extreme to me.

– They may not have banned mistletoe, but warning students not to use a decoration because it may not be culturally inclusive is ludicrous.  

– Further Food for Thought at Cornell: ‘Oberlin Students Want More Fried Chicken and Less Culturally Inappropriate Sushi and Vietnamese Sandwiches in School Cafeteria.’


And so it goes … Anyway, I feel cautiously confident that at this time of the year, I can say to all of my readers: Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most joyous traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, but with respect for the religious persuasion of others who choose to practice their own religion as well as those who choose not to practice a religion at all!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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