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University faces questions after staffer in training video suggests Easter is taboo

Staffer told resident assistants not to mention Christian holidays, but one RA promoted and hosted atheism event.

Published: April 2, 2021 6:08pm

Updated: April 3, 2021 11:20am

Western Carolina University said it doesn't ban "religious terminology" after a virtual training showed a staffer telling resident assistants (RAs) not to use the words "Easter" and "Christmas."

But the public university has not answered queries from Just the News on whether it has changed the RA training so that staffers do not give potentially unconstitutional instructions to RAs.

The Young America's Foundation obtained and posted the virtual training session on Thursday, saying the session was mandatory for RAs.

"The video footage was recently unearthed through our [campus bias] tip line, but the training itself took place before the school year began––when RAs were brainstorming how to engage their residents," according to a YAF spokesperson.

The training shows a housing coordinator evaluating an RA idea.

"One thing I do want to let you keep in mind: Inclusive excellence is a part of our creed, so we can't assume that all of our residents celebrate Easter," the coordinator says in the video.

She alludes to a section of the training that YAF didn't share, where an RA apparently mentions "Easter eggs." The coordinator said she associates this term with its meaning in film, which refers to hidden images or messages in a movie, rather than the pastime associated with the Christian holiday but possibly rooted in European paganism.

The coordinator then suggests that instead of hosting an "Easter egg hunt," an RA could run a "scavenger hunt" where they "hide things in the building." Even during holidays, "we can't, you know, say 'Christmas' or [terms] specific to one religious holiday. We always say 'holidays' just because we have to be inclusive here at Western," she says.

YAF said this was selective enforcement of inclusiveness. It posted a "dorm-wide" March 25 email from an RA that invited residents to a virtual talk on atheism by WCU philosophy professor Andrea Daventry. The RA is listed as co-hosting the talk.

"The event is to provide a[n] understanding of what Atheism is and also share ways that you all might be able to find resources about it outside of this program," the RA wrote.

The conservative youth organization also said the RA handbook doesn't include a policy prohibiting religious terms.

A spokesperson for WCU left some questions unanswered in a Fox News interview, but stated there is no ban on religious terms at the school.

"This was a conversation among RAs in training and a housing coordinator, who was merely suggesting that we should consider that not everyone observes the same religious holidays, so we need to be inclusive of everyone. That was all," spokeswoman Marlon Morgan said.

The university has not "banned any religious terminology, and we have no policies to that effect," he said. "WCU is committed to a diverse and inclusive community," and its RA training reminds them "to be inclusive of all religious views when they are considering programs for students."

Morgan and public communications specialist Geoff Cantrell didn't answer Just the News emails and calls Friday asking why RAs wouldn't understand the coordinator's comments to be a mandate.

Just the News also asked if the university has since told residential staff they can't tell RAs not to promote activities related to religion, so long as they don't discriminate in what they promote, and to explain what rights WCU gives students to promote holidays in residence halls.

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