Lipscomb University President Randy Lowry apologized Friday for cotton stalk centerpieces that offended some African-American students invited to his home Thursday for a dinner to promote diversity on campus.
“The content of the centerpieces was offensive, and I could have handled the situation with more sensitivity,” Lowry said in an email to the Lipscomb community that the school shared on Facebook. “I sincerely apologize for the discomfort, anger or disappointment we caused and solicit your forgiveness.”
Lipscomb is a private Christian liberal arts school in Nashville affiliated with the conservative Churches of Christ.
One student who attended the dinner wrote on Facebook, “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 student’s post included a photo of one of the cotton stalk centerpieces, a type of trendy decor depicted in many varieties on Pinterest.
Hobby Lobby is getting slammed by a woman on social media for selling similar decor because “there is nothing decorative about raw cotton” as it represents “a commodity which was gained at the expense of African-American slaves.”
In his apology, Lowry said, “I have heard from a number of students who would like to spend more time together engaging in conversation. I am most pleased to do so either in small groups or individually.” He included names and contact information of people at Lipscomb for people to reach out to if interested in participating in such a discussion.
The school’s Facebook post featuring the apology has drawn more than 550 comments. Opinion is divided, with some saying Lowry was right to apologize. “Why is it that so many of the white people commenting on this post are so quick to invalidate the experience of Black students?” wrote one commenter upset with people saying that those offended were overreacting. But more comments were critical of Lowry for apologizing. “Cotton used in centerpieces is very popular right now all over the country,” wrote another commenter. “This PC business is getting out of hand,” wrote another.
Nashville conservative author and speaker Carol Swain was harsh in her criticism of Lowry on her Facebook page. “What I see is a missed opportunity to encourage minority students to get over this nonsense about banana peels, watermelon cubes, and now cotton ball decorations,” Swain said. “Any president who apologizes rather than challenges false and foolish assumptions isn’t worth his salary.”
Last year, Lipscomb was criticized for hosting a speaker on campus who is a Black Lives Matter activist. Michelle Higgins is influential in the conservative Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and has ties to a Christian conference held recently in St. Louis that asked white attendees to recognize that their participation “means hearing, repenting and listening more than you speak” and also asked them to devote one seminar hour to “intensive training in anti-racism.”