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UNC-Chapel Hill library drops Christmas trees

Associate Provost Sarah Michalak said she eliminated the displays after getting questions and complaints from employees and library users about the Christian display.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Christmas trees will not be displayed in the two main libraries at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this year, library staff decided.

In previous years, a Christmas tree stood in the lobby of both the Wilson and Davis libraries, but Sarah Michalak, associate provost of University Libraries, decided against putting them up this year.

The Christmas tree display had been set up in Wilson Library for the past 30 years and in Davis Library since it opened in 1984.

Michalak said she eliminated the displays after getting questions and complaints from employees and library users about the Christian display. She said that it didn't seem right to celebrate one set of customs when libraries offer information about all belief systems around the world without judgment.

Michalak said there are no Christmas trees in the libraries at Duke and North Carolina State University.

Reaction among students was mixed, with some criticizing the decision as politically correct and others suggested adding decorations from other religions to the display.

"As Americans, we have a tendency to reinvent the wheel to make one person feel more comfortable," sophomore Jocelyn Frelier said.

"Unless a lot of people had a problem with it, they probably could have left them there," freshman Alma Barasorda said.

Student Rakhee Devasthali, who is Hindu, said she didn't feel strongly enough about the decorations to ask for them to be taken down, but she hoped the debate would make people think about what a symbol means to different people.

"It would nice if an institution like UNC would be more multicultural and, like, more mindful of like the other students who are here," Devasthali said. "I think it looks nice and you feel like you are in a holiday mood, but really they are not putting up a menorah or anything for anybody else's religious holiday."

Since the decision to not put up the trees was made, the Chancellor's Office has gotten more than 40 complaints via email, university officials said. They have received some positive feedback to Chancellor Holden Thorp's response to the issue, officials said.

Thorp said that each department decides on their own about holiday decorations and that the library staff put "a lot of thought" into their decision.

"The university administration doesn't get involved in decisions like that. Departments can choose to put up a tree or not," Thorp said. "And if you take a walk across campus, I think you'll see that."

On Friday, wreaths hung in other places on campus Friday, and Christmas trees, menorahs and stockings decorated the Student Union, Student Stores and Memorial Hall. A "Twelve Days of Christmas" display was up in the Carolina Inn, and the Nutcracker and The Star of Bethlehem will be shown at UNC venues, the chancellor said.

"Christmas is recognized on this campus," Thorp said.


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