(WBIR) After a backlash from employees, Oak Ridge National Laboratory decided to drop a class that teaches how to minimize a Southern accent.
ORNL spokesperson David Keim said employees had requested the class, and the laboratory's human resources department decided to open it up to all of its 4,000 employees.
"The human resources department offers classes regularly for accent reduction," Keim said. "Now, typically that's for folks who are from other countries, because we have researches and staff from almost 100 foreign countries at the lab."
"Well, some employees with southern accents said, 'Hey, can we get some accent reduction training, ourselves?'" Keim continued to explain, "HR began to arrange that, and they wanted to make it available lab-wide. When that email went out, it gave the impression, unfortunately, that Oak Ridge National Lab had a problem with southern accents, which is of course not the case."
Keim admitted that the email came across completely wrong and apologized for the miscommunication. He added that ORNL employs "hundreds and hundreds" of people from the South, and many southerners have roles in management and leadership.
"ORNL has been in Tennessee for more than 70 years and is very proud to be here. And a huge number of our employees and leadership have southern accents and including many of my staff and my wife, so there's no problem at all with having a southern accent."
Once the public learned about the email, it prompted a renewed pride in local accents. During the lunch hour at Razzleberry's Ice Cream in Oak Ridge on Wednesday, customer Lindsay Lee listed some well-known southern phrases.
"Ya'll is really kind of the thing, and we all have our little idioms we use," she said. "I'll throw some 'butter on my biscuit,' and it 'grinds my gears' and all those sorts of little sayings."
Lee admitted sometimes her accent gets a stereotype.
"People think people from the south are stupid, and that's really the source of the problem: people thinking certain accents are better than others," she said.
Razzleberry's owner, Waldek Kaczocha, embraces his Polish accent. The chef says it's not only helped him throughout his career, but also a perk when meeting new people.
"People are always asking me, 'Oh, where are you from?' And so my funny answer is, 'I'm from outside Crossville.' And they're like, "What?' I have the Crossville accent!"
Jokes aside, Kaczocha said different accents demonstrate how the United States is a melting pot of people and cultures. He encourages others to embrace it, too.
"This country is so big, with so many nationalities, and so many different [ethnicities]. That's what makes this country great!"
According to Keim, ORNL will continue offering the accent reduction training classes to its international employees. Those with southern accents still interested in the training may get individual coaching, but the formal class has been canceled.