The clock tower at Southern Illinois University has played Christmas carols for nearly 15 years. But this year, someone complained – and that led university officials to briefly silence the holiday tradition until they could add a more diverse selection of music.
“We got a complaint about not being inclusive in the music,” university chancellor Rita Cheng told Fox News Radio.
She backed off comments she made to a local television station that claimed the music was indeed removed because it was “religious” and “offensive to non-Christians.”
“No one really complained about it being religious,” she told Fox News Radio. “They asked that their religion also be reflected in the music.”
Cheng said they were specifically asked to include Jewish music – and they may also add some Kwanza tunes.
“That is part of the season,” she said. “We have a large number of African-American students at Southern Illinois University and we would want to be as inclusive as we can.”
It’s unclear who complained but Cheng denied the silenced chimes were part of a war on Christmas.
“Students who were on the campus from across the world raised the issue and we’re trying to be as responsive as possible and as inclusive,” she told Fox News Radio. “Christmas is a wonderful time of year and we don’t want to dampen the spirit and the good will people have.”
But that’s exactly what it’s done among some students and the Carbondale community.
“I miss the Christmas music,” student John Piencak told KFVS-TV. “It was really cold and (when I) walked out of my class to my car and I heard Jingle Bells, it made me happy.”
Beth Freeburg, works near the clock tower and told WSIL-TV that she enjoyed the Christmas music.
“I think it’s just a wonderful, inspirational thing,” she said.
Others, however, suggested the university should strictly play secular Christmas tunes.
“If it was Jingle Bells or White Christmas or something like that, I think it would be a lot more respectful,” student Christine Stowell told WSIL-TV.
And another student, Leah Rosenblat, said the change was appropriate. “I think it’s awesome. My respect for the university has gone up immensely with its decision to do this.”
Chancellor Cheng said the university staff assured her they could add other religious songs to the chimes without taking away from the Christian element.
“On a college campus, I would expect some dialogue,” she said. “We just wanted the full campus community to feel included.”